Now 82

now82The summer Now! album covers have since the early days included summer holiday themed stuff on them, such as beach balls, sea shells, ice lollies and even (eurgh) flip flops.  This time the cover of the summer release album has multicoloured flags flying in the sky. It’s the exact same cover used for the US Now 42, but it’s fairly appropriate for this UK release. What has categorised the last few months of 2012, other than constant rain and cold temperate meaning we  haven’t really had a summer this year, is that Britain has had a lot of celebration and ceremony. Our country is hosting the Olympics this year, and we’ve had the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The latter is represented on here by Gary Barlow & The Commonwealth Band – ‘Sing’. (I am surprised at how much I liked that song I have to say).

What a lot of the tracks included on this compilation show is that we are going through a period of pop music where the boundaries are increasingly blurred. What’s ‘alternative’ and what’s ‘mainstream’ is becoming relative.  OK, so ‘alternative’ in this context may mean “slightly quirky and uses proper instruments”, but it wasn’t so long ago that different genres stayed in their own groups and had little to do with one another. The success of ‘We Are Young’ by fun. featuring Janelle Monae has been surprising, as it’s been called a hipster anthem, but it’s been popular with the general public, topping the charts both here and in the US. Personally speaking, I don’t ‘get’ the song at all and it does nothing for me, but along with ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ by Gotye featuring Kimbra, it’s quite pleasing to see songs which normally would struggle to go top 20 becoming big selling number ones.

There has been some crossover recently, which may be why Maroon 5, Train, Marina and the Diamonds and Paloma Faith have got their highest charting UK singles to date, all of which are included on here. It’s a bit of a mixed blessing. Don’t get me wrong, I really like ‘Primadonna’, but I much preferred Marina and the Diamonds’ first album. I’ve only ever liked ‘Drops Of Jupiter’ by Train, and I’ve never liked Maroon 5, so them now adding a rent-a-rapper won’t change anything. But Paloma Faith’s ‘Picking Up The Pieces’ is a classy track soulfully performed and it’s pleasing that it finally earned her a top ten hit. We also have Flo Rida taking a break from electronic backing tracks and using an acoustic guitar on ‘Whistle’. (1)

The other big hit of the last few months was however a fairly ‘90s sounding sugary pop song, ‘Call Me Maybe’ by Carly Rae Jepson, and I’m slightly ashamed to say I did ‘get’ that track, although at this stage it’s becoming increasingly annoying now after hearing it played so many times. Most of us like a bit of sweet stuff, but too much of it can make your teeth rot and make you feel queasy. (2)

All this doesn’t suggest that club-dance music has any signs of disappearing, as it features prominently on this album. Swedish House Mafia worked with will.i.am and Eva Simons to create ‘This Is Love’, and as well as that Swedish House Mafia have their own song on the CD. David Guetta has collaborations with Nicki Minaj and Jessie J. Calvin Harris seems very in demand at the moment, as on this CD not only does he  have his own song featuring Ne-Yo, but he worked on songs by Rihanna, Scissor Sisters and Cheryl. That is Cheryl Tweedy Cole, who for the purposes of her pop career at least, is not using any surname now. It seems that no longer being a judge on X Factor hasn’t damaged her career much as the song ‘Call My Name’ was a very big seller. As always seems to be the case for me with her songs, I didn’t like it much at first but ended up loving it. Resistance is futile it seems.

Her replacement judge on X Factor, N-Dubz singer Tulisa also has a track on here, and it’s the worst one on the whole album. Let’s just say the song is tailor made for grotty trashy nighclubs. I’ve never been a fan of N-Chavz, or Tulisa herself to be honest, but on their tracks her voice always sounded great, so why her voice sounds so unlistenable and awful on her solo single is anyone’s guess.

As for the strongest track on this compilation, there are two contenders. There is ‘Starships’, an all-conquering majestic dancefloor smash by colourful fierce rap diva Nicki Minaj, and the unlikely collaboration of Coldplay and Rihanna on ‘Princess Of China’. For me the latter edges it, because of the fact that Now albums tend to include the radio edits of songs so anything explicit has to be washed and ironed out, ‘Starships’ isn’t as fun to listen to with all the edit gaps (4). But ‘Princess Of China’ deserves to be called the best track on the album because the fact that it’s an usual choice for a duet between the stadium indie-band and the R&B pop star sums up the way that boundaries between genres have faded over the last decade or so, and more importantly it is a rather beautiful magical fairytale-ish track.

Notes:

1)      The winner of my Finally Clicked With Me After Listening To It On The Now Album Award this time is ‘Whistle’ by Flo Rida. I probably only disliked it to begin with because I can’t whistle.

2)      Apparently Carly Rae Jepson has recorded a duet with Owl City and it’s managed to get into the top 20 on the US chart. There’s a tip for any other potential one hit wonders. Collaborating with another one hit wonder is a good tactic to escape that fate.

3)      Speaking of brief pop careers, things you learn from a Now! booklet; Mike Posner co-wrote Justin Bieber’s song! I can’t decide if it would have been even worse if he recorded it for himself. Random reference on that track as well; he namechecks Buzz Lightyear of all things. The Now booklet also reminds us that strange as it seems nowadays, Emeli Sande’s first chart hit was singing the chorus on ‘Diamond Rings’ by Chipmunk.

4)      Another good track that suffers from being too explicit to be included on a Now! album, so they have to include the radio edit which punches holes in it like Swiss cheese is ‘212’ by Azealia Banks feat. Lazy Jay.

5)      Bit of useless trivia for you; this album has a few cases of an act referencing another act on the album, like D’Banj mentioning Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, but Lawson – ‘When She Was Mine’ takes it further, as the song was written specifically about the lead singer/guitarist’s ex-girlfriend, Mollie from The Saturdays.

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