Now 92

now92It’s traditional for the winter Now release to use ice motifs, and this is true with the latest release. The cover has a slightly tacky ice and snowflake theme. But a lot of these songs came out in the autumn, and we had a lovely Indian Summer this year, with blue sky and sunshine backing red, orange and yellow leaves, and fairly warm weather to go with our pumpkin and parkin.

There’s also the fact you often end up with summer songs on the winter Now, and this is the case here with ‘Cool For The Summer’ by Demi Lovato. It’s an electro-dance track with guitars, and it actually still sounds quite good despite the weather being much colder now.

CD1 opens with ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’ by Sam Smith. It is the first ever James Bond theme song to reach number one in the UK believe it or not, which is a bit of a shame, as it is a really boring song, and I think most people have already forgotten about it.

Justin Bieber has hardly been an underground artist, but most of the time he was just “that thing tweenage girls like”. But he has crossed over into more of a mainstream pop star now, with ‘What Do You Mean’ becoming a huge hit. At the time of writing he has the three songs in the top 5 of the singles charts, including number 1 and number 2. That can not be a good omen…

Solo male pop stars in general seem to be doing better than they have done in ages, after recent years saw the charts being dominated by female solo pop stars. This year’s big new male solo pop star is The Weeknd. He writes and produces his own songs, with the intriguing ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ included on this CD.

While the songs aren’t alike in any way, Naughty Boy feat. Beyonce and Arrow Benjamin – ‘Runnin’ (Losing It All)’ reminds me a little of ‘Say Something’ by A Great Big World feat. Christina Aguilera. They are both quite nice songs featuring guest vocals from a belty pop diva singing in a more understated way rather than the usual vocal gymnastics, and it works very well. I wouldn’t mind if Beyonce did more songs like this.

Similarly, Ed Sheeran’s voice sounds very nice on Rudimental’s ‘Lay It All On Me’. Rudimental and Ed Sheeran had previously collaborated on the track ‘Bloodstream’, and I like that they’ve worked together again, as ‘Lay It All On Me’ is an absolutely lovely song. I prefer it to Ed Sheeran’s solo song on here, ‘Photograph’, which is a bit dull.

‘Don’t’ by Ed Sheeran is widely believed to be about Ellie Goulding, and her track on this compilation ‘On My Mind’ is widely believed to be her response/her side of the story. I like both Ed Sheeran and Ellie Goulding, so I’m not going to take sides, though I will say what I like most about both tracks is the amusingly bitchy line  “You wanted my heart but I just liked your tattoos” in ‘On My Mind’. I quite like the Lower Than Atlantis cover of it too.

‘Marvin Gaye’ by Charlie Puth & Meghan Trainor is quite turgid and lazy, despite namechecking the legendary soul singer. Let’s be honest, the world wouldn’t have been any poorer had Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor been the one-hit-wonders they initially seemed like they were going to be, would it?

Speaking of likely one hit wonders, we have Rachel Platten with ‘Fight Song’, which is an self-empowerment anthem and musically sounds a bit like Carly Rae Jepson’s ‘Call Me Maybe’. ‘Fight Song’ isn’t a ‘bad’ song I suppose, it’s just… not a particularly good one.

It’s followed by another self-empowerment anthem, and for my money a much better one. ‘Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself’ by Jess Glynne, which has very classy production and
Jess Glynne’s vocal performance is brilliant.

‘Kiss Me’ by Olly Murs is a very pleasant surprise. It was co-written by Taio Cruz. The production is great, fitting in very well with what’s going on in the charts at the moment. Not only that, but it makes good use of Olly Murs’ voice. He has never been the strongest vocalist in the world, but his voice works well on this track.

Little Mix are better than ever in their current era. ‘Black Magic’ was an excellent pop song, and they continue with this on ‘Love Me Like You’. It’s not a cover of Ellie Goulding’s ‘Love Me Like You Do’, but is a rather lovely ballad which at the same time has echoes of past girl groups from the 1960s and of the Spice Girls’ Christmas number one singles.

Another nice ballad is the very lush-sounding ‘Eyes Shut’ by Years & Years. It’s a track that initially passed me by and I didn’t fully appreciate until I listend to it on this compilation, but better late than never.

‘You Don’t Own Me’ by Grace feat. G-Eazy is a cover of Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit, and the original producer Quincy Jones also worked on this version! This version has choppy production, a sassy vocalist, added rapper and it sounds slightly sleazy, but it works perfectly.

Aurora – not to be confused with the princess in Sleeping Beauty or the British acoustic/trance act in the 2000s who released ‘Dreaming’ (I LOVE that song!), or the Russian screamo band, or the Danish melodic death metal band, or the Hungarian punk band, or the Latvian indie band or the Finnish reggae singer, or many, many others. It seems to a be a very frequently used music name. This Aurora is an 18 year old Norweigan singer-songwriter, and she is doing the obligatroy John Lewis Christmas advert cover version. I actually somewhat like the “man on the moon” advert itself this year, but yet again I don’t like the cover version. Maybe Aurora’s own songs are better, but this is like every other John Lewis cover, amaemic and sickly. It’s a cover of ‘Half The World Away’ by Oasis, which is probably best known as a soundtrack itself, being the theme tune to The Royle Family.

Another singer-songwriter, Jamie Lawson, has ‘Wasn’t Expecting That’ on this CD. I’m a little ambivalent on this track, and I also don’t really want to spoiler it as it’s telling
a story, namely of how both the good and bad events in your life are unexpected. I’ll just say it sounds sweet, almost too sugary, but it has a very tragic end.

CD2 opens with one of the best tracks in the whole compilation, house song ‘Turn The Music Louder (Rumble)’ by KDA feat. Tinie Tempah & Katy B. It’s another example of when a dance instrumental gets a mainstream release and they add lyrics and a pop singer to give it wider appeal. This time rather than a straight-up ‘pop’ singer though they’ve decided to use a rapper, Tinie Tempah, and a dance/R&B singer, Katy B, which for this track I think was a good decision it allows it to retain a bit of edge rather than smoothing it out too much.

There are also a lot of dance cover versions on CD2. Sigala – ‘Easy Love’ is a dance re-working of the Jackson 5’s 1970 hit ‘ABC’. Apparently Tito Jackson likes it. The current trend seems to be covering/sampling ’90s hits though. ‘Be Right Here’ by Diplo & Sleepy Tom samples the 1992 hit ‘Don’t Walk Away’ by Jade. ‘The Party (This Is How We Do It)’ by Joe Stone feat. Montell Jordan is a remix of Montell Jordan’s original 1995 track ‘This Is How We Do It’. Nick Brewer feat. Bibi Bourelly – ‘Talk To Me’ samples 1991’s ‘Gypsy Woman’ by Crystal Waters.

‘Alone No More’ by Philip George and Anton Powers is a reworking of Another Level’s 1998 track ‘Be Alone No More’, and not only do I think that Philip George and Anton Powers have done a brilliant version of it, I think it’s better than the original. It has performed a bit better in the charts too. ‘Alone No More’ peaked at number 4, while the original peaked at number 6.

Felix Jaehn feat. Jasmine Thompson – ‘Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better)’ is indeed a cover of the 1983 Chaka Khan classic. Well, if we’re being pedantic, the 1983 Rufus and Chaka Khan classic. Also, technically this version is Felix Jahen’s remix of Jasmine Thompson’s cover version. While you could argue it isn’t as good as the original, it is quite a decent take on it. ‘Ain’t Nobody’ has been covered and/or sampled many, many times, and the version on this compilation is one of the better tries at it.

‘How Deep Is Your Love’ by Calvin Harris and Disciples however is not a cover of the Bee Gees track, though I can’t help wondering how that might have sounded.

There are times when a song released early in the year ends up on the last Now! release of the year. This time it is ‘Trap Queen’ by Fetty Wap. It’s a good track and it’s good to hear it again, but it still feels more like a song from the beginning of the year.

The most annoying track on here is ‘Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)’ by Silento, which is a disposable novelty hit that wasn’t even that big a hit.

The final track is ‘Second Hand Heart’ by Ben Haenow feat. Kelly Clarkson, which is about as straightforward a track as you can get, it’s a pop-rock bloke who won The X Factor dueting with a pop-rock chick who won American Idol.

There’s a lot of moody electronic dance, acoustic guitar playing singer songwriters, and colourful pop. There is a trend of pop-rock influenced boybands (One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer, The Vamps), and music used on TV adverts. A lot of the songs on here are pretty good, but there is a feeling of them being background noise to be played on the radio, or I suppose be streamed online by people. Perhaps the increase of streaming is going to make chart hits more like that, but I guess we’ll see.

NOTES

1) The booklet points out that Naughty Boy won £44,000 on Deal Or No Deal before he was famous. Coincidently Olly Murs was on Deal Or No Deal before he was famous
too, but he won a somewhat less impressive sum of £10.

2) The booklet looks like they were struggling to find something to say about ‘Fight Song’. All they say is that it got to number one here and went top ten in “various countries”.

3) In contrast, they wax lyrical about Galantis – ‘Peanut Butter Jelly’, saying “Galantis destroys current electronic music tropes, demonstrating that emotion and musicianship
can indeed co-exist”. Which is a little… grandiose, to be honest. Though that’s nothing compared to how flowery they get about ‘In2’ by WSTRN. “They converge at the butterscotch barrier of good melody and vibe”. ?!?!

4) Sigala are not to be confused with Sigma, who are also on this compiltation with ‘Glitterball’. That track features Ella Henderson, not to be confused with Ella Eyre.
Ella Henderson features on two dance tracks on this CD, ‘Glitterball’ and ‘Here For You’ by Kygo.

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