The CD cover for Now 91 once again goes with a summer holiday theme and features water slides, palm trees and a pool. I’m not sure many people want to jump into a pool given that at the time this CD has been released we’re getting more than enough water from the clouds above. That’s not the fault of the cover designers of course, but unfortunate timing with the weather being like it is.
Disc one begins with a couple of film soundtracks that have been huge hits. They’ve even put the film titles in the tracklisting.
The first song is ‘Love Me Like You Do’ by Ellie Goulding from Fifty Shades of Grey. I haven’t seen that film (and frankly I probably never will, unless it’s on TV and I’m really, really bored), but I think the song is quite lovely. It was co-written by Max Martin, who has penned many hit songs over the past couple of decades, his most famous still probably ‘…Baby One More Time’ by Britney Spears. Another one of the writers on ‘Love Me Like You Do’ is Swedish pop star Tove Lo. I am pleased she has managed to build on the success of her track ‘Habits (Stay High)’. There is a sort of bookend, as ‘Love Me Like You Do’ is the first song on CD1, and the final track on CD2 is Tove Lo’s own song ‘Talking Body’.
The second track on CD1 is hip hop ballad ‘See You Again’ by Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth, from the soundtrack to Furious 7. This song is a tribute to Paul Walker, who was a star of the Fast and Furious film series and died in a tragic accident in 2013. I haven’t seen any of the Fast and Furious films, so I can’t claim to have any fan based connection to this song, but I do still find it very moving.
The first six tracks on this compilation were all UK charttoppers. ‘See You Again’ and the following track ‘Cheerleader’ by Jamaican reggae artist OMI also reached number one in the US too. ‘Cheerleader’ was originally released in 2012 in Jamaica, but became an international charttopper during 2014/2015 after it was remixed by German DJ Felix Jaehn.
Jason Derulo’s ‘Want To Want Me’ is next, and I’m still a bit puzzled how this managed to get to number one. It is really bland and generic, and Jason Derulo’s not really a big enough star to get there on his name alone.
‘Black Magic’ by Little Mix is in my opinion the best track the girlband have ever done. It’s a fun pop song, and while it’s not from a film it sounds like it could easily be on the soundtrack to a teen movie. The video reminds me a little of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It is their third number one after their X Factor winners single ‘Cannonball’ and their first proper single ‘Wings’. (Well, fourth if you count them appearing with the other 2011 X Factor finalists on a charity single with JLS and One Direction, but I don’t think anyone really counts that).
The sixth number one comes from Tinie Tempah feat. Jess Glynne – ‘Not Letting Go’ which reminds me both of ’90s R&B and ’90s dance, and is a very summery song. It’s a pity the weather isn’t suited to it at the moment.
Speaking of ’90s dance, Sam Feldt feat. Kimberley Anne provide a mid-tempo ballady rendition of the classic Robin S track ‘Show Me Love’. For me, it’s not a patch on the original, but it’s nice enough.
Natalie La Rose feat. Jeremih – ‘Somebody’ interpolates Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’, and while ‘Somebody’ is nowhere near as great as that pop classic, it is still a pretty good pop-R&B song. While both the songs are about happiness and having a good time, there will be a poignant feeling to them with the tragic news that Whitney Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown passed away this week.
Rita Ora – ‘Poison’ is not a cover of the Nicole Scherzinger track, nor the Alice Cooper one, but if it had have been it might have turned out a bit more interesting than the song that we got. It was co-written by Kate Nash, who’s probably most famous for her 2007 hit single ‘Foundations’, but almost any current female pop star could be singing ‘Poison’.
There are some collaborations that work very well on this CD. ‘Bloodstream’ is a collaboration between Ed Sheeran and Rudimental, and Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and Johnny McDaid had a hand in writing some of it too. It’s a mix that works very well, particularly Ed Sheeran’s voice fitting with Rudimental’s production.
Avicci – ‘Waiting For Love’ was created by him with another dance producer Martin Garrix, and features vocals from Simon Aldred from the band Cherry Ghost. It’s a very soaring song, and one of the tracks I like most on this CD.
Iggy Azalea feat. Jennifer Hudson – ‘Trouble’ fits right in on this compilation as a reasonably good retro brassy pop-R&B track, and it at least it has better casting for its singers than ‘Bang Bang’ by Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj did. At least ‘Trouble’ had the sense to cast Iggy Azalea as the “bad girl” gangster’s moll and Jennifer Hudson as the “good girl” police woman.
James Bay – ‘Let It Go’ is not an acoustic guitar cover of the Frozen Disney ballad, and for that we should be thankful. The world really doesn’t need that. I hope John Lewis aren’t getting any ideas along those lines for their inevitable slushy Christmas advert. James Bay’s ‘Let It Go’ is his own song, and it’s alright really. It’s inoffensive rather than attention-grabbing, but he sings it pretty well.
The Jonas Brothers were never that big here in the UK, but Nick Jonas has managed a hit solo song with ‘Jealous’, reaching number 2, and you know what, it’s good. It’s quite funky and smooth, he’s handsome, he has a decent voice. Definitely one of the better attempts for a former boybander to go solo.
Which is more than can be said for poor Aston Merrygold, who used to be in JLS. They were quite successful here in the UK at one time, but his solo career hasn’t gotten off to a great start with ‘Get Stupid’. It’s a random, overproduced mess, the high pitched computerised vocals are laughable, and it doesn’t even end, it just stops abruptly.
In fairness to ‘Get Stupid’ though, it is nowhere near as overproduced as ‘Where Are Ü Now’ by Skrillex & Diplo with Justin Bieber, which has a really horrible squeaking sound like an ice scraper on a car window. I don’t particularly want to listen to Justin Bieber singing, but I want to hear a robotised version of his voice even less.
Back to back on CD 1 we have two irritating, saccharine teeth rotting should-have-been-one-hit-wonders Carly Rae Jepson and Meghan Trainor. Carly Rae Jepson’s ‘I Really Really Really Really Really Really Like You’ is really really really really really really annoying, but it is basically harmless. Meghan Trainor’s ‘Dear Future Husband’ is the worse of the two, as there feels something a bit spiteful hidden behind the superficial pastel ‘pleasantness’ and the “just joking” defence.
I don’t know much about girlband Fifth Harmony other than that they were on the US version of The X Factor, but the track they have here ‘Worth It’ with rapper Kid Ink doesn’t show much promise. It sounds just like the Eastern tinged pop-R&B The Pussycat Dolls (and many others) did better about ten years ago.
CD2 also opens with a number one hit, the languid ‘Are You With Me’ by Lost Frequencies. I thought this would turn out to be a sort of indie-dance band, but in fact Lost Frequencies is a Belgium DJ, and the track is a remix of a country song by American singer Easton Corbin.
Galantis – ‘Runaway (U &I)’ is one of the most intriguing dance-pop tracks in a while, and features vocals from none other than Cathy Dennis, who has written number one hits such as S Club 7’s ‘Never Had A Dream Come True’, Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, Britney Spears’ – ‘Toxic’ and many, many more. Galantis themselves are made up of two Swedish producers Cristian Karlsson and Linus Eklöw who between them have worked with Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, Usher, Madonna and others.
One of the tracks I like the most on this compilation is ‘Ship to Wreck’ by Florence + The Machine, fresh from stepping in to headline Glastonbury after Foo Fighters had to pull out when frontman Dave Grohl broke his leg. ‘Ship To Wreck’ is a great track, and so full of hooks I’m surprised it hasn’t had more radio airplay.
Years and Years followed up their number one hit ‘King’ with ‘Shine’, which is a nice love song, and is said to be about lead singer Olly Alexander’s boyfriend, Neil Milan Amin-Smith from Clean Bandit.
Clean Bandit themselves have a song on this album, ‘Stronger’. It is a very uplifting track, and features vocals from Glee‘s Alex Newell (who also features on this compilation on Blonde’s ‘All Cried Out’). The other singer on ‘Stronger’ is Sean Bass, who’s sister Sharna sang on one of Clean Bandit’s over tracks ‘Extraordinary’.
But my favourite track on here is ‘Shut Up And Dance’ by Walk The Moon. It’s a great and very enjoyable pop-rock track and is very, very catchy. I can imagine it being on the soundtrack to Peter Kay’s Car Share, it would really suit that show.
There are lots of brassy, horn filled sounds on this CD. It seems there are still a lot taking inspiration from old soul records. Some go for more of a piano based sound, like ‘Bills’ by hip hop act LunchMoney Lewis.
Now 91 is a mixed bag, as these always are, but on the whole it’s pretty good. If there is a problem with it it’s that a lot of these songs seem a bit old, it feels like they came out ages ago. But listening to it as a whole, I found it a decent selection.
1) For some reason, both Walk The Moon and Rita Ora’s names are written in capital letters on the tracklisting.
2) The “what is says on the tin” award has to go to the final number one single on this compilation, ‘House Every Weekend’ by David Zowie, which is indeed about loving house music every weekend.
3) Lethal Bizzle feat. Diztortion – ‘Fester Skank’ was, according to the CD booklet, inspired by Uncle Fester from The Addams Family.
4) Martin Garrix feat. Usher – ‘Don’t Look Down’ is fine, but I think what I mostly remember about it when it came out was that it had two different versions of the video, one with a Towel Boy and the protagonist and one with a Towel Girl. In both, they had work in a posh hotel and be the dogsbody to rich people there, and then developed a crush on one of the rich people, and then tried to get their attention. In the end of both though, the Towel Boy and Towel Girl get together.
5) ‘Flashlight’ by Jessie J has a lot in common with other songs on this compilation. It is from a film (Pitch Perfect 2), and was co-written by some other pop stars (Sam Smith and Sia). But other than that, it’s kind of a boring song, much as Jessie J’s oversinging is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.