Now 87

now87The first Now! album of the year is usually released around Easter, so they sometimes have an Easter theme for the album cover. Now 84 last year featured weird cartoon bunnies on the cover. This year, as in previous years, they’ve gone for Easter eggs. But there is a difference this time.  They have a similar design to the Now 84 bunnies, being multicoloured and having smiley faces. They also have arms and legs. So they’re egg-shaped people, a bit like Humpty Dumpty.

I think it all looks a bit creepy to be honest. I think it’s their eyes. Some of them are small and jet black, some of them have enormous eyeballs with tiny pupils, and one of them looks kind of blissed out. It all looks a bit trippy. They are all in a field with enormous yellow flowers. On the cover of the US counterpart, Now 49, they are spared the invasion of the egg-people, but it’s still has a slightly happy-clappy spring theme. It’s full of rainbows and a grassy field with daisies with stems which look as tall as trees.

Anyway, when the tracklisting for Now 87 was announced, many saw there was a glaring omission. ‘Rather Be’ by Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne is one of the biggest hits of 2014 so far (and it is a great song!), and many were surprised to see it isn’t included on Now 87. Apparently, there were issues with getting rights to include songs which are on the Warner Music label, so ‘Rather Be’ and a few others weren’t able to be included on here. The album does have Jess Glynne’s second chart topper as a guest vocalist on a dance track, ‘My Love’ by Route 94.

The album does include the biggest hit of the year so far on pride of place on track 1 CD 1, which is ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams. This retro-R&B track is a lot of fun, and gives Pharrell Williams his third massive international hit within a year, each of which have sold over one million in the UK alone. The two from 2013 were when he featured on Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ and Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’. Popular though they might have been, I didn’t actually like those two songs very much, but I do really like ‘Happy’.

Regardless, Pharrell Williams is probably the big star of the moment, so I imagine we will be seeing more of him, as a lot of other acts will want to do songs with him. Ed Sheeran’s forthcoming single was co-written with him, and on this compilation there is Paloma Faith’s ‘Can’t Rely On You’, which Pharrell Williams co-wrote and produced.

With “Global Superstars” TM One Direction being as big as they are, record companies are bound to sign similar acts, and we have an Australian version, 5 Seconds Of Summer. Actually, they’re more in the vein of Busted or McFly in that they are a boyband that play their own instruments. Actually, scratch that too, they sound more like Son Of Dork, the short-lived band James Bourne from Busted formed after Busted split up, they have a similar pseudo-American thing going on. But you know what, 5 Seconds Of Summer’s song ‘She Looks So Perfect’ isn’t bad in a throwaway fun pop-rock from a teen movie soundtrack sort of way.

One Direction themselves however seem to be trying to sound like Mumford & Sons with their more acoustic, reflective track ‘Story Of My Life’. In fact, a few acts on this CD seem to be going for a Mumford & Sons sound. Another boyband with guitars, The Vamps are with ‘Wild Heart’. So is Gary Barlow with ‘Let Me Go’, which is just as bland as you’d expect Gary Barlow trying to sound like Mumford & Sons to be.

I’d say if that’s the main problem with Now 87 overall, most of the songs are bland and flavourless. Listening to CD 1, it’s a breath of fresh air when Lady Gaga comes on with ‘Do What U Want’, because whatever you may think about her she’s always interesting. But it’s saying something that ‘Do What U Want’ stands out so much, as that’s one of her most conventional songs in a long time.

Maybe we’re just in a bland time for the pop charts. The last few tracks on CD one are piano ballads, but it speaks volumes that they are also probably the best run of songs on either CD. We have John Legend’s soulful and romantic ‘All Of Me’, which has become his biggest hit since ‘Ordinary People’. Then there’s ‘Say Something’ by A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera. Don’t get me wrong, I like Xtina when she’s belting out, but it’s still refreshing to hear her be understated for once. Ellie Goulding sounds sweet on ‘How Long Will I Love You’, and we get the obligatory X Factor winner’s single, ‘Skyscraper’ by Sam Bailey, but it’s one of the better X Factor winners singles, and she has a great voice.

These are all preceded by ‘Crying For No Reason’ by Katy B, which I think is the best track on the compilation. It is a piano ballad, but it has electro-dance elements too, and has emotional lyrics about bottling up feelings until it causes you to break down completely. Katy B sings it nicely and the electronic beats compliment her vocals well. I am pleased that the version included on the CD is not the radio edit, which cuts out the last 40 seconds. It might not sound like much, but the last 40 seconds of this track are an amazing electronic instrumental coda.

As for the worst track on the album, there are a few contenders. I would have thought Pitbull’s 15 minutes would be long over by now, but he appears on TWO tracks on this compilation. ‘Timber’ with Ke$ha has a harmonica and a wild west theme which makes me think of ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ by the Rednex, but it’s not quite as bad as the Enrique Iglesias song Pitbull features on ‘I’m A Freak’, which is just tacky and forgettable.

Pixie Lott’s aptly named ‘Nasty’ sounds a random mess, which is probably because it samples three different songs. I normally quite like her voice, but on this track it sounds like she has a whole pondfull of frogs in her throat. But if ‘Nasty’ is a random mess, it sounds clear and pleasant compared to ‘Dibby Dibby Sound’ by DJ Fresh vs. Jay Fray feat. Ms. Dynamite, which is a repetitive racket of whistles and horns. That track is followed immediately by ‘Dr. Who!’ by Tujamo & Plastik Funk feat. Sneakbo, which despite the song title has nothing whatsoever to do with the popular TV series, or indeed anything else as far as I can tell. The track also only peaked at number 21 in the charts, making it one of the least justifiable inclusions.

But despite tough competition, the worst track on the compilation is ‘#SELFIE’ by The Chainsmokers. It’s a vapid nightclub dance track with some obnoxious Valley Girl-esque voice talking over it. It’s not the first top 40 song this year to talk about the social media trend of selfies. Nina Nesbitt had a track called ‘Selfies’ a few months ago, which is more of a break-up song than about the trend per se, but ‘#SELFIE’ on the other hand is vacuous enough to just be about selfies. It is just a cash-in on a bandwagon.

While I think that, taken as a whole compilation, this isn’t one of the better ones in the Now! series, there are a lot of tracks I like. CD 2 has some good club-dance tracks including Calvin Harris & Alesso feat. Hurts – ‘Under Control’, Martin Garrix & Jay Hardway – ‘Wizard’, Sub Focus – ‘Turn Back Time’ and Matrix & Futurebound feat. Max Marshall – ‘Control’, and while not they are not dance DJs or producers, new girlband Neon Jungle have a good club track on here ‘Braveheart’.

Indie band Bastille are on with ‘Of The Night’, which is a mash-up of two ’90s dance classics ‘Rhythm Is A Dancer’ by Snap! and ‘Rhythm Of The Night’ by Corona, and they give them a darker more melancholy take. I like that they did something different with the songs.

Foxes has mainly sang gloomy songs, such as Zedd’s ‘Clarity’ and her own song ‘Youth’. But my favourite track if her’s to date is the one included on this compilation, ‘Let Go For Tonight’, which is more fun, energetic and catchy.

5 Seconds of Summer aren’t the only Australian act on Now 87, Vance Joy is a singer -songwriter and his track ‘Riptide’ is a nice breezy acoustic song. It’s a track I’m liking more and more. I think it suits the warmer-but-not-hot weather we’re getting at springtime in the UK, even though I imagine it wouldn’t be considered warm at all compared to Australia.

Notes

1) As I predicted in my Now 86 review, ‘Wrecking Ball’ by Miley Cyrus has been included on this CD. Listening to it nearly half a year after it reached number one has confirmed to me that it is actually a very good pop song. I doubt it would have been as big a hit without Miley Cyrus “twerking”, sitting naked on a wrecking ball and licking sledgehammers, but it’s a shame all that got in the way, as the song stands up on its own.

2) Little Mix have covered Cameo’s ‘Word Up!’ as a charity single for Sport Relief. Here’s my list of best to worst versions of that song which were released as singles.

1st Gun’s fantastic rock cover from 1994, their version of the song made it sound powerful, especially the guitar solo.

2nd Cameo’s good original R&B version from 1986 which is funky and very, very ’80s.

3rd Korn’s average nu metal cover from 2004 featuring the band’s faces superimposed on dogs in the video.

4th Little Mix’s mediocre pop cover for charity in 2014, which also revives Gordon Brittas from the largely forgotten ’90s sitcom The Brittas Empire of all things in the video.

100000th Melanie G (as she was credited at the time, but better known as Scary Spice Mel B) awful, awful, AWFUL cover from 1999 which was used on the soundtrack to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

3) American Authors – ‘Best Day Of My Life’ seems like this year’s Imagine Dragons – ‘Radioactive’, an indie-rock track which will be heard on the soundtrack to everything. The two songs have been compared a lot, but it might also be because of both tracks have comical furry Muppet-like monsters in their music videos.

4) Tinie Tempah appears on ‘Tsunami (Jump)’ by DVBBS & Borgeous, having previously featured on ‘Earthquake’ by Labrinth in 2011. I wonder if he’s going to make a habit of appearing on songs with natural disaster themes on the title? Maybe he’ll rap on a remix of Florence & The Machine’s ‘Hurricane Drunk’ or Damien Rice’s ‘Volcano’, or he could take his pick from Take That, Katie Melua or Cheryl Cole who have all released singles called ‘The Flood’.

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