The first Now That’s What I Call Music compilation of the year was released on the same week Easter falls as usual, but they decided to do a different sort of album cover this time. Instead of Easter/Spring themed stuff floating around, they had the logo splattered with multicoloured paint. The dark blue background, the shiny white text and all the different and bright colours of the paint make it one of the nicest looking logos the series has done.
Track 1 on CD 1 showcases the biggest hit of the year so far, and this one has a good chance of still being the biggest hit by the end of the year, ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars. It has been an international charttopper, has sold over a million copies here in the UK and at the time of writing is still number one in the US. It has very funky, catchy and brassy music coupled with punchy lyrics like “living it up in the city” and “this hit, that ice cold, Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold” and is a floorfiller. It is just an excellent hit song. Interestingly it’s the second hit song in as many years to namecheck Michelle Pfeiffer, 2014’s being a very different sort of song, the languid, acoustic track ‘Riptide’ by Vance Joy, which featured on last year’s spring Now! compilation Now 87.
The second biggest hit of the year, ‘Love Me Like You Do’ by Ellie Goulding, doesn’t appear on Now 90 and it comes off as a glaring omission. But I think it’s a safe bet that it wasn’t included because of licensing issues. It is the main theme on the soundtrack of the 50 Shades of Grey film, and another big song from that soundtrack, ‘Earned It’ by The Weeknd isn’t on this compilation either. Ellie Goulding herself does appear on this album however, on CD2 with her collaboration with Calvin Harris ‘Outside’ (1). It is the second time they have done a hit song together, after 2013’s ‘I Need Your Love’.
Continuing to follow the usual patterns for the first Now! album of the year, Now 90 is full of winners from various end of the year/beginning of the year awards.
Indie-pop band Years and Years won the BBC’s Sound of 2015 and they’ve got that off to a good start by going straight in at number one with ‘King’, which is a very catchy and refreshing pop tune.
The runner-up to Sound of 2015 was singer-songwriter James Bay, but he did win the BRITS Critic’s Choice award, which Years and Years were also on the shortlist for. (That’s the thing with award ceremonies isn’t it? It always seems to be the same people nominated for all of them!) Anyway, James Bay’s track on here ‘Hold Back The River’ is a real grower. I was indifferent to it at first, but I love it now! That seems to have been the case for music buyers/streamers too, as it has slowly but surely been climbing up the singles chart, so far peaking at number 2.
Sam Smith has won loads of Grammys and BRITS over the last few months, and the track included on CD1 ‘Like I Can’ is one of his best. It’s another heartbreak ballad yeah, but it’s very catchy and uptempo.
And then there’s the X Factor winner’s single. Ben Haenow with a cover of OneRepublic’s ‘Something I Need’. It’s… fine. It’s not spectacular or memorable, but it’s listenable and fits right in on the CD. That is something you can say about a lot of the songs on this compilation really, such as the song immediately after Ben Haenow’s, Take That’s ‘These Days’. ‘Something That I Need’ and ‘These Days’ are both influenced by middle-of-the-road soft rock, but the general tepidness seems to be the case across genres too. For example, DJ Fresh feat. Ella Eyre – ‘Gravity’ and Sigma feat. Labrinth – ‘Higher’ are both soul-ish dance tracks and are both OK but aren’t brilliant. It’s also the case for R&B music too, with Usher feat. Juicy J – ‘I Don’t Mind’ and Ne-Yo – ‘Coming With You’ both mainly getting a bit of an “alright, I guess” response.
I normally don’t like Maroon 5, but their track on here ‘Sugar’ isn’t too bad by their standards. It does sound a bit like ‘Birthday’ by Katy Perry though. (2)
It’s probably a bit redundant to say that pop music is derivative these days, and perhaps I’m just noticing it more because I’m getting older. But there are a lot of “songs that sound like other songs” on here. Even the star song on here ‘Uptown Funk’ is very out and out “old school”.
Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Heartbeat Song’ sounds like ‘The Middle’ by Jimmy Eat World. Meghan Trainor’s whole sound is influenced by doo-wop, and her track on here ‘Lips Are Moving’ sounds very like her previous one ‘All About That Bass’, in fact it even references it in the lyrics. ‘The Nights’ by Avicii has a similar country/electro vibe with pseudo-philosophical lyrics as one of his previous hits ‘Wake Me Up’, but it isn’t as good.
There are of course direct samples and interpolations. Philip George – ‘Wish You Were Mine’ samples Stevie Wonder’s ‘My Cherie Amour’, Alesso feat. Tove Lo – ‘Heroes (We Could Be)’ interpolates David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, and Alex Adair’s ‘Make Me Feel Better’ is a reworking of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing’.
Dance music appears to be going through a ’90s revival with Jess Glynne – ‘Hold My Hand’, Gorgon City feat. Jennifer Hudson – ‘Go All Night’ and Blonde feat. Melissa Steel – ‘I Loved You’ all sounding like they could have come from the ’90s. Having said that, ‘I Loved You’ is actually a reworking of a Noughties track, namely ‘More’ by Tamia from 2004.
There isn’t anything truly terrible on here until we get to the end of CD1, with the annoying to type out and even more annoying to listen to ‘L.A. LOVE (la la)’ by Fergie, which apparently is the theme tune to some reality TV show or other starring Kim Kardashian’s sisters. This track is followed immediately after by ‘So Freakin’ Tight’ by Tough Love, which is rubbish, a bit outdated and wasn’t even that big a hit anyway.
While CD2 is as usual kind of the B list to CD1’s A list, it doesn’t have anything as bad as those two tracks, though Flo Rida feat. Sage the Gemini & Lookas – ‘GDFR’ comes close. It’s very sleazy, oily and obnoxious. But what is noticeable about CD2 is how the last three tracks seem to have been squeezed in there because they don’t really fit in anywhere else on the compilation.
There’s McBusted – ‘Air Guitar’. It might look like it’s a new kind of fast food meal deal, but McBusted are McFly and Busted merged together. If you haven’t heard ‘Air Guitar’, but have heard a Busted song and a McFly song before, then ‘Air Guitar’ is likely exactly as you imagine it to be. Florence + The Machine – ‘What Kind Of Man’ is different from the rest of the compilation, it’s a lot choppier in sound, but it is pretty good. The final track is ‘Lay Me Down’ by Sam Smith, which has been a number one hit, but as a Red Nose Day charity single duet version with John Legend. The version included here is the solo version which to date has only peaked at number 15.
There are a handful of tracks which were decent sized hits, but still I think a little unfairly overlooked. David Guetta and Emeli Sande are serial collaborators, so it was only a matter of time before they teamed up, and now they have with ‘What I Did For Love’, which is a pretty good piano dance ballad.
Marlon Roudette’s ‘When The Beat Drops Out’ is an electro-R&B track with a steel drum sound, and for me is one of the best hit songs of the year so far. Charli XCX feat. Rita Ora is a fun, frothy pop song. And I’m just going to say it, Cheryl (insert your own “she’s had a lot of surnames” joke here) – ‘I Don’t Care’ is one of the most enjoyable tracks on the whole compilation.
I suppose a problem with Now 90 is that there is not a lot to say about most of the songs. That this album has a lot of filler isn’t anything out of the ordinary for the first Now! compilation of the year, in fact that’s pretty much the default. What is different about this compared to previous ones is that while there isn’t much that is horrible on here, overall it feels lukewarm. Which is a shame, as it starts off very well.
1) A fairly random observation, but I thought Ellie Goulding sounded a lot like Sophie Ellis-Bextor in places on ‘Outside’.
2) In contrast, Rixton – ‘Wait On Me’ sounds more like a Maroon 5 song than the actual Maroon 5 song!
3) ‘Night Changes’ by One Direction is dull, lethargic and forgettable, but it might be notable in a pub quiz/chart geek trivia sense in that it was the last single released before Zayn Malik quit.