Now 93

now93The cover for Now 93 is very crowded, with blue sky, rainbows, cobwebs covered in dewdrops, daisies, a ladybird, a blue butterfly and multicoloured umbrellas. It’s seems to be going through a sort of Springtime/April Showers theme. Though the past few months the weather in the seasons has been jumbled up. While we had warm autumn, spring
has been snowy, with the weird sight of snow and blossom on trees at the same time.

A singles chart tradition over the past few years is for a number one single which dominates the early months of the year. Last year it was ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, the year before it was ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams. This year it’s ‘7 Years’ by Lukas Graham, and like the previous two, ‘7 Years’ is track one on CD one of the first Now! release of the year.

Lukas Graham are a Danish band rather than a solo artist (though you could hardly blame anyone for being confused, as they are named after the lead singer). ‘7 Years’ is about going through a life story, from 7 years old, 11 years old, 20 years old, 30 years old and 60 years old, childhood, having your own children, the inevitability that life ends and the death of the lead singer’s father. So you can see why it struck such a chord with people.

A song with a similar theme about time passing and life advancing is ‘Stressed Out’ by alternative hip hop act Twenty One Pilots. This track is a little more upbeat than ‘7 Years’, and is just about being an adult and having nostalgia for your childhood. You played as a kid, but now you’re an adult you have to go to work. But it’s quite a fun track in its own way.

Justin Bieber has two of the seven number one singles on this CD. ‘Love Yourself’ was co-written by Ed Sheeran, and sounds more like an Ed Sheeran song than a Justin Bieber song. The title might imply it’s one of those love songs crossed with a confidence booster song that have been popular in recent years, but it’s in fact the exact opposite, a bitter break-up song about someone who has too high an opinion of themself. Resisting temptation to say whether Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran are guilty of that…

Justin Bieber’s other charttopper on this compilation is ‘Sorry’. I really like it, which is the first time I’ve ever been able to say that about a Justin Bieber song. Maybe it helps that he isn’t in the video. But seriously, it is good. He still can’t really sing I suppose, but let’s face it, that’s hardly an exclusive club when it comes to popstars. It’s the production that is the best part of it, which is by Skrillex, and I love the tropical house sound this track has.

Shawn Mendes, a newcomer is like Justin Bieber a Canadian popstar who’s a favourite with teenybopper girls. His track on here ‘Stitches’ also sounds like it could be an Ed Sheeran song, but Ed Sheeran didn’t have anything to do with it. To be honest, it is a lot better than ‘Love Yourself’.

Zayn Malik from One Direction has turned out to be the Robbie Williams/Geri Halliwell, as being the the first member to scarper from a big bubblegum pop group as such does well in their a solo career. Not only has he left the band, he’s jettisoned his surname as well, and is just going by Zayn. Or rather, ZAYN, written all in capitals. The track ‘PILLOWTALK’ is written all in capitals too. Is this going to be his “thing”?

‘PILLOWTALK’ has been a hit, it got to number one in the UK, and it was also a number one in the US, something One Direction never managed (or Robbie Williams, or Geri Halliwell for that matter, well unless you count ‘Wannabe’ when Geri was still part of the Spice Girls). I don’t care for ‘PILLOWTALK’ myself though, it’s a random mess of production and vocally it meanders all over the place. 1)

Another number one single on this CD got there on the same day this compilation was released! That is ‘I Took A Pill In Ibiza’ by Mike Posner. Though it’s titled ‘In Ibiza (SeeB Remix)’ on the CD back cover. Which is a bit odd, as they don’t censor the lyrics on the CD track itself. Who would have predicted Mike Posner would get another hit, let alone a number one?! Certainly not me, as I think ‘I Took A Pill In Ibiza’ sounds awful.

The final number one single is 2015’s Christmas number one, ‘A Bridge Over You’ by The Lewisham And Greenwich NHS Choir. It’s a medley of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’. Ironically, the song is a bit sickly to be honest, but it was definitely for a good cause, so I’m pleased it got the Christmas number one.

Jess Glynne also has a charity record on this compilation, for Children In Need. ‘Take Me Home’ is not a cover of the Cher and later Sophie Ellis-Bextor song, in fact it’s not a cover at all, which is rare for charity records. Jess Glynne co-wrote it herself, and once again gives a great vocal performance.

Another trend on the first Now! album of the year is to include the winners of the BBC Music Sound of [the year] and the BRIT Awards Critics Choice, and in 2016 both are one and the same, Jack Garrat, whose track ‘Worry’ is intriguing enough. He’ll probably be more of an albums artist than a singles one though.

‘Army’ by Ellie Goulding contains the lyrics “army of two”, which reminds me of the Dum Dums song ‘Army Of Two’. What an underrated band the Dum Dums were, and what an overlooked classic ‘Army Of Two’ was! They were ahead of their time really, Busted and McFly did a similar guitar-pop thing four years later and did very well. McFly’s bassist is Dougie Poynter, who was the long-term boyfriend of Ellie Goulding but they recently split up. Sorry, I don’t really have anything to say about Ellie Goulding’s ‘Army’ in its own right. 2)

Immediately after ‘Army’ on Now 93‘s tracklisting is ‘History’ by One Direction, which contains the lyrics “a whole lotta history”, similar to ‘A Whole Lotta History’ by Girls Aloud. ‘History’ is kind of their goodbye single for when they are “on hiatus”. I imagine they’ll get back together at some point, but yes whatever your opinion on One Direction
it’s definitely a bit of an end of an era.

Little Mix and Jason Derulo seem like a random collaboration, but then Little Mix have released a song with Missy Elliot before. Is that more strange or less strange than when she dueted with Mel B? I’m not sure. Anyway, Little Mix and Jason Derulo’s track ‘Secret Love Song’ is very, very overwrought and melodramatic. 3)

Quite a few songs on here have a bit of an alternative R&B feel to them. For the last couple of decades genres in pop music have all been borrowing from each other, and with R&B there is a lot with dark, eerie production and singing almost as if in a drunken haze. ‘The Hills’ by The Weeknd is perhaps the biggest example, but it is shown throughout this compilation.

While Beyonce doesn’t technically have a song of her own on this CD, she has a couple of guest appearances. Coldplay’s ‘Hymn For The Weekend’ (that’s as in the end of the week, not The Weeknd the popstar), features Beyonce on uncredited backing vocals. It’s alright, but as far as Coldplay working with a pop-R&B diva goes, I think I prefer Coldplay’s collaboration with Rihanna, ‘Princess of China’, or even when Chris Martin wrote and played the piano on ‘See It In A Boy’s Eyes’ for Jamelia. Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars performed ‘Adventure Of A Lifetime’ at the American Super Bowl half time show, though the version included on this CD is the original Coldplay studio version.

Beyonce’s second appearance on the CD is on ‘The Girl Is Mine’ by 99 Souls feat. Destiny’s Child and Brandy. It is not a cover version of the Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson track of the same name, which isn’t a very good song really. I mean, there’s a reason why their much better duet ‘Say, Say, Say’ is remembered and ‘The Girl Is Mine’ isn’t so much.

This ‘The Girl Is Mine’ is a mash-up of ‘The Boy Is Mine’ by Brandy & Monica and ‘Girl’ by Destiny’s Child by production duo 99 Souls. It had sampled the two tracks and been released as a bootleg before, for this commercial release Beyonce gave permission for her sampled vocals to be used and Brandy re-recorded hers. ‘The Girl Is Mine’ got to number 5 in the charts. It isn’t the first time ‘The Boy Is Mine’ has been sampled for a mash-up though. Stuntmasterz got to number 10 in 2001 with ‘The LadyBoy Is Mine’, a mash-up of ‘The Boy Is Mine’ and ‘Lady (Here Me Tonight)’ by Modjo.

I did wonder if ‘Me, Myself and I’ by G-Eazy x Bebe Rexha would turn out to be a cover of Beyonce’s song of the same name, but it isn’t.

I was surprised that ‘Sax’ by Fleur East didn’t appear on Now 92. It is on here. While ‘Sax’ is a good, fun sassy pop song, it feels like it came and went ages ago. Even odder that the booklet calls it “Fleur’s hugely anticipated single”. 4)

Chainsmokers were infamous for their irritating novelty track ‘#SELFIE’. On their song on this compilation, ‘Roses’, they’ve collaborated with a singer called… ROZES. Yes, it is spelt and typed like that. To be fair, I have heard one song from her before, ‘Burn Wild’, which I liked. ‘Roses’ has been a big hit in the US, and I hadn’t heard it before listening to this CD, but on first impressions I like it. The production is good and her vocals suit the song.

If ‘I’m In Control’ (which features Popcaan) is anything to go by, AlunaGeorge are going in a slightly more poppy direction. The song is nice enough, but a bit less interesting compared to what they did before.

There are a lot of tracks I love on this compilation.

‘Ex’s & Oh’s’ by Elle King is great, one of the best pop-rock hits in a long time. I kind of love the campy, trashy video with shirtless men, a barbecue and a trailer park in a desert.

‘Here’ by Alessia Cara is refreshing. With so many “in-your-face” PARTYPARTYPARTY songs out there, it’s nice to have one for those of us who are introverted and can end up being wallflowers sometimes. I like ‘Here’ because I felt just like that when I was younger and dragged along to clubs and parties I didn’t like. I don’t feel like that so much these days, but it’s always pretty good to know others have felt a similar way to you even if it’s how you felt in the past.

Tropical house is a popular trend I like at the moment. I adore ‘Sweet Lovin’ by Sigala feat. Bryn Christopher, a very uplifting and soaring dance track.

One I’m not so keen on is the tropical house covers of ‘Fast Car’ by Tracy Chapman. It’s one of my all-time favourite songs, but it seems to be getting covered in a tropical house style which I’m not sure fits. The one that has been the biggest hit is by Jonas Blue feat. Dakota, and to be honest I think they turned what was a very poignant song into a vapid, air-headed disposable one.

My favourite, in fact my favourite track of the year so far, is a tropical house one, ‘Lush Life’ by Swedish singer Zara Larsson. While it’s been a big hit, it’s one of those songs that should have been a summer anthem. I’ll probably listen to it a lot during the summer.

Now 93 had a few problems to contend with. One is how the singles charts are currently. With the introduction of streaming it has become a bit frozen in time, with the top 40 remaining unchanged and no new entries for weeks. It also seems to be getting difficult for them to licence songs from the biggest stars. Adele and Rihanna are noticeably absent despite having big hits. You can tell they were struggling for stuff to put on, with many of the songs not even making the top 40. ‘Stevie Knows’ by Olly Murs didn’t even chart at all! But, in a strange way, Now 93 doesn’t feel like it has as much filler as some previous early year Now! compilations have. The good stuff on here is very good. Maybe the key is finding interesting, varied songs that are “relevant”, for want of a better word.

NOTES

1) ‘PILLOWTALK’ is a random mess, but it’s a coherent neat freak in comparison to ‘Hands To Myself’ by Selena Gomez. Put it this way, if a room was as messy as this
song is, you’d be better of demolishing it than attempting to tidy it.

2) ‘Faded’ by Alan Walker features an ethereal female vocal, which isn’t Alan Walker himself obviously, he’s the producer. The voice sounds very like Ellie Goulding, but it isn’t her, it’s a singer named Iselin Solheim.

3) Jason Derulo has a song of his own on here, ‘Get Ugly’. The chorus goes “diddly-diddly-diddly-diddly”. I’m not sure Ned Flanders would care for it though. To be fair, ‘Get Ugly’
is hard to actively dislike. I mean, it’s crap, but it’s hard to actively dislike.

4) Still, at least Fleur East can say her single was included. That’s more than last year’s winner Louisa Johnson can say! Her X Factor winner’s single bombed spectacularly,
not even making the top 8 let alone number one, it’s still a shock to see it not included. The X Factor winners single is usually a certainty to feature on the first Now! album of the year. Even more of a snub when you consider how slow-moving the charts are these days and how the first one of the year is a struggle to fill anyway. Don’t get me wrong, Louisa Johnson’s single was awful, The X Factor winner’s song always is, but it does increasingly look like The X Factor is just going to pretend series 12 never happened.

5) Zara Larsson has another track on this compilation, featuring on ‘Girls Like’ by Tinie Tempah. I like the lyric “I can make a honey give away her last Rolo” and the shout-out to ‘Sing It Back’ by Moloko.

6) Craig David appears on here with ‘When The Bassline Drops’. The CD booklet says he had “returned to his childhood love of DJ-ing”. I’m sure it doesn’t mean this, but it makes me think of a sort of Fisher-Price toy mixing desk or turning the radio on and off during
Musical Chairs.

7) ‘Coming Home’ by Sigma & Rita Ora is OK I suppose, but I had a mondegreen with the lyric “all I got left is rubble and dust”. For a second I thought she sang “all I got left is rubber ducks”!

8) The compilation ends with a tribute to the late David Bowie, by including the classic ‘Heroes’.

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