The cover has ice sculptures of horses, swans, polar bears and penguins. It reminds me a little bit of Edward Scissorhands. There are also some aurora borealis in the background, suggesting the scene is in the North Pole. It’s not particularly festive or even all that wintery really, but it is pretty.
The last few months have seen number one hits from acts which may end up being one hit wonders. It’s not that they are novelty acts as such, more that there is a feeling that people are more invested in the song than the artist. I suppose you never know, but I would be surprised if we see much more of them in the future.
Meghan Trainor has ‘All About That Bass’, a retro-soulish feelgood track about being positive about your body shape (well, aside from that rather catty line about “skinny bitches”). Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz have ‘Am I Wrong’, a song which has the distinction of being the first track to enter the UK top 100 on streams alone. It is quite a brilliant track really, making good use of guitars, beats and brass sounds. It’s one of the most sophisticated number one hits we’ve had in a while. Then there’s the Robin Schulz remix of Lily Wood’s ‘Prayer In C’, which gives us a track which has music that is very lovely to listen to coupled with some very dark lyrics. ‘Rude’ by Magic! is influenced by Jamaican music, but the band itself are Canadian. Who would have thought cod-reggae of all things would make a come back in fashion? It’s about a bloke asking his girlfriend’s dad for her hand in marriage, the dad refusing and the bloke saying he’s “going to marry her anyway”. I guess it makes a change from pop songs being deliberately vague about their storyline. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh on this song, it’s not bad. I can see why it’s a radio favourite.
Speaking of reggae inspired songs, ‘Kisses For Breakfast’ by Melissa Steel feat. Popcaan is also included on this compilation, and while it sounded great in the summer, it’s the sort of track that despite not being specifically about sunny weather, sounds a bit odd when you listen to it in late autumn and winter.
‘I’m Not The Only One’ by Sam Smith is another tearjerker heartbreak ballad from him, this one is about someone who knows they are being cheated on. The song’s video features Dianna Argon as a cheated wife breaking down in tears and trying to put on a facade that everything is fine. It’s one of Sam Smith’s best songs, and showcases his vocals well.
Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne had one the biggest songs of 2014 back in January when they released ‘Rather Be’, and they team up again for ‘Real Love’, which is a rather nice track, and has ’90s sounding house piano and spacey bleeps.
There is another song called ‘Real Love’ on this compilation, a cover of a John Lennon song by Tom Odell. It’s the obligatory John Lewis Christmas advert soundtrack, which this time features a penguin. Now you won’t have to read much of this blog to know I love penguins, but even so that advert is a load of twee, sugary sentimental glurge.
Listening to this compilation in one go made me appreciate what good songs ‘Don’t’ by Ed Sheeran and ‘Blame It On Me’ by George Ezra are. Before I’d been mainly indifferent to those tracks by the two singer-songwriters, but they are decent songs and well put together, and they sound a hell of a lot less dull than the two tracks which precede them. Those are the John Lewis soundtrack one mentioned above and Gareth Malone’s All Star Choir covering ‘Wake Me Up’ by Avicci feat. Aloe Blacc. OK, fair enough it’s a charity record for Children In Need, so it’s for a good cause and all that, but dear God as a song it is boring to listen to.
It’s not just the songs which come before Ed Sheeran and George Ezra in the tracklisting that make them sound more interesting, it’s the ones which come soon after too. Those are by bands stuck very firmly in the middle of the road such as OneRepublic and Maroon 5. I think I prefer OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder as a songwriter for other artists, as his voice is a total buzzkill. ‘Love Runs Out’ is a fast paced track, but the way he sings it he manages to make it sound so slow and tedious. Still, it could be worse. At least he doesn’t sound like Adam Levine from Maroon 5. You never quite get used to how awful Adam Levine’s voice is, and he squawks even more than usual on ‘Maps’.
Similarly, we get a bunch of boybands all lumped together near the end of CD1, and while 5 Seconds Of Summer’s ‘Amnesia’ is the most aptly named track on the whole compilation with it being completely forgettable, it’s not as bad as One Direction’s cheesy and dated ‘Steal My Girl’ and The Vamps feat. Shawn Mende’s unlistenable ‘Oh Cecelia (Breaking My Heart)’.
It is refreshing when we finally get two interesting tracks next to each other, and they are totally different from each other. There’s ‘Take Me To Church’ by Hozier, which has very low pitched sounds, is very confessional and sombre, with ghostlike chants, lyrics like “sharpen your knife” and religious imagery. Then there’s a bit of Mood Whiplash when on comes ‘Boom Clap’ by Charli XCX, which is a bright, colourful, upbeat electro-pop love song from the soundtrack to the film The Fault In Our Stars.
‘Ugly Heart’ by GRL is also a fantastic pop song with a fun backing track, and the lyrics pointing that physical beauty really isn’t the be all and end all. The track is tinged with sadness however, after the recent death of group member Simone Battle.
Ariana Grande teams up with dance producer Zedd for electro-pop song ‘Break Free’, and while I liked Ariana Grande’s chart topper ‘Problem’, I enjoyed ‘Break Free’ a lot more. I have similar feelings about ‘Won’t Look Back’ by Duke Dumont. It is the follow-up to Duke Dumont’s number one hits ‘Need U (100%)’ and ‘I Got U’, and while ‘Won’t Look Back’ only reached number 2, I think it’s the best Duke Dumont track to date.
‘Antenna’ by Fuse ODG and ‘Wonderful’ by Angel are two tracks I adored, and on this compilation Fuse ODG and Angel collaborate for ‘T.I.N.A.’, and I don’t know if I was just expecting more, but I found it disappointing. It’s not a bad track as such, but it is very average.
I don’t really believe in “guilty pleasures”, but there are songs I like on this compilation despite seeing flaws in them. I like ‘Superheroes’ by The Script, even though it’s bland and corny it is still uplifting. I quite like Katy Perry’s ‘This Is How We Do’ even if it is a load of nonsense. Then there’s ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ by Cheryl
Tweedy Cole Just Cheryl Cole Fernandez-Versini Just Cheryl, which features Tinie Tempah. It’s a brassy pop-R&B track, and it always seems to happen with me and her songs, I never reckon much to them at first, but they always get relentless radio and TV airplay, so they grow on me and I end up loving them. Then there’s ‘Black Widow by Iggy Azalea feat. Rita Ora (1). It’s an OK song, but I like it mostly for the Kill Bill inspired video which features Michael Madsen along with Iggy and Rita in a fast food restaurant, which has a logo of “killer burgers” which look like something out of the cartoon series version of Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes.
I’m not normally a fan of Professor Green, but I have to say I am impressed with ‘Lullaby’, which features singer Tori Kelly. In ‘Lullaby’, Professor Green is very frank about depression and anxiety, and Tori Kelly’s angelic vocals are absolutely beautiful. The video is very moving too.
Now 89 is a little bland overall, and doesn’t really feel as “big” or showstopping as the final (main) Now compilation of the year usually does, but it’s still a good and pretty varied selection of hits.
(1) Another instance of a pop song which might have come out in quite a different form to what it was released as. ‘Black Widow’ was originally written for Katy Perry’s Prism album, but it was decided not to use it on there. At some point a demo of the song was sent to Iggy Azelea who liked it and wanted to release it herself, intending for Katy Perry to sing the chorus. However, by this time Katy Perry was unavailable, so Rita Ora was asked instead.
(2) I don’t have much to say about ‘Bang Bang’ by Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj, other than I agree with some comments I’ve seen online by others, like a) if you add say, Rihanna, the line-up for this single could easily be like a 2010s version of when Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya and Li’l Kim collaborated on a version of ‘Lady Marmalade’ in 2001, and b) what bizarre casting this song has by having Jessie J as the “good girl” and Ariana Grande as the “bad girl”.
(3) CD2 features a few songs which are reworkings of ’90s hits. ‘Don’t Tell ‘Em’ by Jeremih feat. YG quotes lines from ‘Rhythm Is A Dancer’ by Snap!, the second to have a top ten hit doing so, after Bastille’s ‘Of The Night’ in 2012. Nicole Scherzinger’s ‘Your Love’ references MC Hammer, there’s a remix of R Kelly’s ‘Bump & Grind’ by Waze & Odyssey, a cover version of Chris Issak’s ‘Wicked Game’ by Parra For Cuva feat. Anna Naklab, and the final track on the album, ‘Anaconda’ by Nicki Minaj, is a reworking of the original and best “big butts” anthem ‘Baby Got Back’ by Sir. Mix-A-Lot.
(4) Paloma Faith gets her first number one single singing on drum and bass duo Sigma’s ‘Changing’, which was co-written by Ella Eyre.