Now 81

now81Yes, I am one of those people who has a habit of collecting the Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations, even if I already own most of the songs on it that I like anyway. They are a good snapshot of what is going on in pop music, or at least, chart music at the time.

With the latest addition just released this Monday, they have gone for a cover design of a field of daisies with bubbles floating in the sky, which makes it look a bit like an advert for some sort of ‘spring fresh’ detergent. If that’s what they were going for then, mission accomplished I guess.

The first track is appropriately enough the biggest number one of 2012 so far, ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ by Gotye featuring Kimbra. While it isn’t an unusal track in itself, it’s an unusual number one single, and definitely surprising that it managed 5 weeks at the top. While I think it’s an OK song, I don’t quite ‘get’ why it has been so popular. Gotye, like Owl City who got to number one with ‘Fireflies’ in January 2010, has a feeling of ‘one hit wonder’ about him. Whether he, like Owl City, will turn out to be remains to be seen. One act that should have been a one hit wonder is LMFAO. Their biggest hit, ‘Party Rock Anthem’ was fine for what it was, but they have nothing more to give other than inferior copies of that song, like ‘Sexy And I Know It’ which is the first track on CD2.

The two opening songs on each CD illustrate two of the main trends in the charts at the moment. In the past year we have been drenched in club party anthems, and there are a lot on here, usually of the trend of rappers using electro-dance backing tracks, shown here with Tinchy Stryder, Labrinth, Flo Rida and Taio Cruz (1). But we have seen an increase in hits by singer-songwriters and bands making more reflective songs which will probably be used as a soundtrack to thousands of films, TV shows and adverts. On CD1 we have a bunch of BRIT Award winners illustrating that. Coldplay, the kings of nice, pleasant and vanilla have their number one hit ‘Paradise’ on here, followed by Ed Sheeran and Emeli Sande. Further down we have Florence and the Machine (2) and Lana Del Rey offering slightly more eccentric takes on that formula with dream-like songs.

Sometimes the way other acts copy you shows how well a popstar is doing as well as how their own songs perform. Like Katy Perry or not (and I’m not always sure which side of the fence I’m on as far as she’s concerned), she has that here. As well as one of her songs being included, there is ‘Domino’ by Jessie J, with not only the song but Jessie J herself sounding scarily similar to a Katy Perry. Then we have Pixie Lott’s ‘Kiss The Stars’, which is essentially the B-Movie equivalent of Katy Perry and Kanye West’s ‘E.T.’, even more so with the video (3). There is also ‘Titanium’ which was offered to Perry but turned down by her. In this case though the song is better off for it, because frankly, Sia is a much better singer than Katy Perry, and Sia’s soaring vocals do wonders for the song. Surprisingly, Sia, who is known mainly as an alternative singer-songwriter, has a voice which suits club tracks. Her voice has an uplifting quality to it, which makes ‘Titanium’ and her collaboration with Flo Rida ‘Wild Ones’ all the stronger.

It’s become traditional for the spring release of Now album to feature the X Factor winners song, but… there’s always a slight problem with that. X Factor correlates with Christmas in many ways, both with the release date of the winners single and that both are hyped up for months and months, and by the end of it people have a lot of unwanted clutter that they will be taking to charity shops or throwing out. Putting the X Factor winners single on a spring release compilation album is a bit like bringing out the Christmas decorations for Easter (4). Of course the other problem is that the X Factor winners singles are crap. Now the X Factor itself is probably a valid enough format for finding a pop star, indeed there are plenty of X Factor alumni on this CD (5), but the winners single is just an obligation. Last year’s winners Little Mix have a cover of Damien Rice’s ‘Cannonball’, which is terrible and completely unsuited to them as an act. Again, it remains to be seen if Little Mix will have a successful career after X Factor, but I reckon they might have been planning for them to be like Stooshe, who are on CD2, and I reckon Stooshe have a fun energy and more of an ‘edge’ for want of a better word, than they’ll manage with Little Mix.

I think Little Mix’s fortunes look a little brighter than runner-up Marcus Collins though. I’ve got nothing against the guy, but despite the text in the Now! booklet calling his cover of ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes a “unique cover”, it is in fact a cover of Ben L’Oncle Soul’s cover. That they have chosen to launch his career with a cover of a cover of a well-known song shows that they can’t have much faith in him as a long-term pop star.

CD2 of a Now album at times can be a “have to fit these in somewhere, just dump them at the end” pile, so it can have some of the most rubbish tracks on. The worst track on the album would be (6) ‘Intenational Love’ by Pitbull featuring Chris Brown, because that one surely has to be filed in the ‘collborations from hell’ folder, but instead it’s ‘Alone Again’ by Alyssa Reid featuring Jump Smokers. It’s a ‘reworking’ (or more accurately a ‘murder and then vomit on the corpse of’) ‘Alone’ by Heart, where the passionate melodrama through guitar solos and a powerful vocal is replaced by bored, piss-weak vocals, squelchy keyboard and added rent-a-rapper.

That said, overall I think Now 81 is pretty good as these albums go, and I also think chart music is in a reasonably good place at the moment.

Notes:

  1.  We have on this CD both ‘Levels’ by Avicci, and the track which sampled it, ‘Good Feeling’ by Flo Rida. The latter was a bigger hit, but for me I think the track was fine without Flo Rida rapping over it.
  2. There’s always one song on a Now album that you heard a lot and never really liked much until you heard it on a Now compilation and for some reason it suddenly clicked with you. This time for me it’s Florence and the Machine’s ‘Shake It Out’.
  3. To be fair, both Jessie J and Pixie Lott get other songs in this compilation. Jessie J has ‘Who You Are’, and Pixie Lott appears on Tinchy Stryder ‘Bright Lights (Good Life)’, both of which are very good.
  4. The actual Christmas number one, ‘Wherever You Are’ by Military Wives featuring Gareth Malone is on here as well, and, while it didn’t sound that festive in December, it does sound pretty Christmassy listening in April.
  5. Alexandra Burke’s ‘Elephant’ is one of the best of the dance-club songs on here. Oh, and I like ‘One Thing’ by One Direction. There, I’ve said it.
  6. Dappy’s ‘Rockstar’ is also a contender for the worst track, partly because of the text in the booklet saying this ego-trip for him is his tribute to ‘the 27 Club’. But, like his last song, I guess he gets so-bad-it’s-good points from me for his hilariously cheesy references, like the one he chucks in to I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Outta Here.
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