Now 95

now95Now 95 has one of the prettiest covers for a Now! compilation. It features snow, ice, penguins, igloos, icicles, shooting stars and aurora borealis. But then, aurora borealis means the Northern Lights that are seen in the North Pole, and penguins are in the South Pole, so they must be aurora australis, i.e the Southern Lights. But then the igloos suggests that it’s closer to the North Pole. OK, OK, I know nobody’s expecting gritty realism from a Now cover. It looks really nice and pretty. One of their best covers ever I think.

While The X Factor TV series may be stumbling along hopelessly, former contestants on it are doing quite well in the charts. Tracks 1 and 2 on CD 1 are from former X Factor winners.

The booklet says James Arthur came back “after taking a few years out of the limelight”, which is a …. polite way of putting it. He managed to turn a lot of people against him by coming across as an awful person most of the time. But he’s redeemed now, honest guv. For “guv”, read “Simon Cowell”, as James Arthur is back in the Syco fold now he’s behaving himself. It is kind of scary how much post-X Factor pop stardom depends on being in Simon Cowell’s good books. But either way, James Arthur is back and believe it or not, more successful than ever. James Arthur’s new popstar persona is a bit like a hungover Ed Sheeran, but it seems to be working for him. I don’t reckon much to his
number one single on here ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’, other than I kind of like that it uses “I held your hair back while you were throwing up” delivered as a sincere romantic line.

Little Mix are next with their number one hit ‘Shout Out To My Ex’. It sounds very like ‘Ugly Heart’ by GRL from 2014. Well, it sounds like the dilute fruit squash version of it anyway. ‘Ugly Heart’ is a much better song, but Little Mix are much more well known and there’s a showbiz goss hook with ‘Shout Out To My Ex’ being about Little Mix member Perrie Edward’s split from ex-One Direction member Zayn Malik.

There are 8 former The X Factor acts on here. James Arthur, Little Mix, Olly Murs, Fifth Harmony (from the US version), Louisa Johnson, Zayn Malik (or ZAYN as he’s going by for his solo career), and Niall Horan. Plus, though uncredited, Laura White, who features on ‘Love On Me’ by Galantis & Hook N Sling (I’m not sure anyone would recognise Laura White’s voice though, it’s been put through some kind of robot filter. The whole song is a bit of a din to be honest).

Niall Horan also sounds a bit like he’s trying to be Ed Sheeran on his solo track ‘This Town’, the final track on CD2. So Now 95 is bookended by The X Factor acts trying to sound like Ed Sheeran! That said, if ‘This Town’ reminds me of any song it’s ‘Hey There Delilah’ by the Plain White T’s.

The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey – ‘Closer’ is one of the biggest songs of the year, and made it to number one in many countries. ‘Closer’ took a while to grow on me, but it is really good. A down-to-earth, slightly bittersweet love song about getting back with someone you broke up with, and has been called “a millenial anthem”. You can’t help singing along to it, and it has a fantastic riff. I like the Blink 182 reference. There was some controversy that ‘Closer’ was similar enough to ‘Over My Head (Cable Car)’ by The Fray that the writers of that song now also have a co-write credit on ‘Closer’, but many songs are inspired by other songs. ‘Closer’ is very good and deserves its chart success.

At the time of writing Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie – ‘Rockabye’ is the current number one. It’s an uptempo tropical house and dancehall influenced dance track, and one with a serious subject matter, as it is about a single mother struggling to make a better life for her son.

‘Cold Water’ by Major Lazer feat. Justin Bieber & MØ is very well produced, there is a bit of an ice-cool sound to it, which is fitting, given the title. Justin Bieber even sounds good on this song! While I think ‘Lean On’, which was by Major Lazer & DJ Snake feat. MØ, was a much better song, ‘Cold Water’ isn’t bad at all really.

MØ is a Danish solo female singer, real name Karen Marie Ørsted, and she has a solo track on here, ‘Final Song’. I absolutely love this song! It’s probably my favourite on the whole compilation. It has intriguing production and is excellent and uplifting!

MØ is not to be confused with M.O., who are also on Now 95. M.O. are an English girlgroup, on here with the OK-ish pop-R&B-tropical house track ‘Who Do You Think Of?’.

Anne-Marie who sings on ‘Rockabye’ also has her own song on here, ‘Alarm’, which is a bit overbearing. She oversings it, and it has an “everything but the kitchen sink”sort of production. ‘Alarm’ is a lot better than ‘False Alarm’ on CD2 though! ‘False Alarm’ is by Matoma & Becky Hill, and I’ve heard real alarms that are easier on the ear than this
track! Becky Hill sounds like she’s inhaled a woodwind instrument.

‘Side To Side’ by Ariana Grande feat. Nicki Minaj is reggae-pop, with a bit of a squelchy sound. I don’t know if Nicki Minaj just got a rhyming dictionary, but she raps icicle, bicycle and tricycle in this song. I wonder if JP Cooper got one as well, as he sings “strong as a lion […] hot as an iron” on his track ‘September Song’.

Calvin Harris – ‘My Way’ is not a cover of the Frank Sinatra song, and for that we should be thankful, as Calvin Harris is singing it himself! I know Calvin Harris seems to have a bit of an ego and he seems to be trying to be a full-blown popstar nowadays, but he probably should stick to writing/producing songs rather than singing on them.

American actress Hailee Steinfeld is the latest to try going from acting to singing. She’s not bad at it, though I’m not sure how I feel about her track ‘Starving’, which is with Grey feat. Zedd. The lyrics are very melodramatic, but the vocals and production are quite earnest and downbeat. ‘Starving’ has synth violins which sound a bit like ‘Call Me Maybe’ by Carly Rae Jepson, and it also has an effect on the backing vocals which make them sound like a creaky gate blowing open and closed in the wind. I don’t like the line “I didn’t know that I was starving ’till I tasted you”either, but I do quite like the line “Don’t need no butterflies when you give me the whole damn zoo”. It’s funny, even if it may be unintentionally so.

Ellie Goulding – ‘Still Falling For You’ is quite nice, but a bit too sugary. It’s from the soundtrack to the film Bridget Jones’ Baby. Is she going to make a habit of providing love themes for chick flick romcoms? She might be heading in that direction. She has previously had the main song ‘Love Me Like You Do’ from the soundtrack to the film 50 Shades Of Grey. But then again, she’s done a few tie-ins. She did the John Lewis Christmas advert song in 2010, and the Official Children In Need charity single in 2013, ‘How Long Will I Love You’.

This year the Children In Need charity single is by Craig David, who has made quite a big comeback. Like last year’s Children In Need charity song, which was ‘Take Me Home’ by Jess Glynne, this year its a self-penned original song. Craig David’s ‘All We Needed’ is… alright, I guess. It’s probably not going to be a future classic, but it’s for a good cause etc.

CD2 opens with ‘One Dance’ by Drake feat. WizKid & Kyla. It has a sound a bit like what you get from blowing on top of bottles filled with different levels of water. I honestly think the main reason this complete nothing of a song spent so long at number one, (15 weeks, one of the longest runs ever!) was due to taking advantage of new chart rules allowing streaming to be included.

CD2 is traditionally the B list to CD1’s A list, and that fits this time. CD2 is full of filler. Lots of anonymous dance tracks like TIEKS feat. Dan Harkna – ‘Sunshine’.

The final member of the collaboration that brought us ‘Lean On’, DJ Snake, also has a song on here, ‘Let Me Love You’. It features Justin Bieber, and was actually kept off the number one spot by ‘Cold Water’! This was the right result though, ‘Let Me Love You’ is a bit boring.

I find that a lot of Fifth Harmony songs sound slightly dated. Kind of like something that would have come out in 2004 or so. Their track on here ‘That’s My Girl’ is an example, it has a similar squawky horn sound that ‘Get Right’ by Jennifer Lopez had.

Zara Larrsson – ‘Ain’t My Fault’ is by-the-numbers brassy and sassy R&B-pop.

‘The Mack’ by Nevada feat. Mark Morrison & Fetty Wap is a remix of Mark Morrison’s 1996 number one ‘Return Of The Mack’. I don’t like ‘The Mack’. OK, fair enough, MAYBE I’m just getting old. I can remember the original being out and the new version is more modern I suppose, but it isn’t as good. The new version only got to number 23 as well. Stick with the original.

There’s also a remix of Bob Marley & The Wailers 1978 track ‘Is This Love’. The remix is by LVNDSCAPE & Bolier. I don’t like this new version as much as the original either. I’m NOT old enough to remember the original first time round though, since you ask.

In contrast with James Arthur doing the whole “I’m a reformed bad boy, please take me back, I’ve changed” routine, incumbent X Factor winner Louisa Johnson is doing the obligatory “good girl gone bad” image change many pop starlets do. She’s doing it before she’s released her debut album though! Well, it’s more of an image change than anything. On ‘So Good’ she’s talking about staying out too late when you have work the next morning as if that’s some kind of massive moral dilemma!

Many songs on CD2 barely scraped the top 40 and some didn’t chart at all. But that’s another issue which has come up with the inclusion of streaming in the charts, the same few songs dominate the top ten for months on end, it’s harder to get a high charting hit for acts who aren’t already well-known.

I’ve been quite harsh about CD2, but it’s far from all bad.

Singer-songwriter James TW has a song on here called ‘When You Love Someone’, which is about divorced parents trying to reassure their children. I found it genuinely moving, which I wasn’t expecting. It’s similar to ‘Blended Family (What You Do For Love)’ by Alicia Keys, which is about a stepmother trying to reassure her stepchild. In the context of Now 95, ‘When You Love Someone’ has something in common with ‘Rockabye’ as it is about a social issue rather than another love song.

Pop music when it tries to be political often ends up looking a bit silly if we’re honest, but when pop music talks about the emotional effects of social issues, they do it pretty well.

I much prefer the Craig David song on CD2 to the track on CD1. The CD2 track ‘Ain’t Giving Up’ by Craig David & Sigala is an uptempo dance track, and I really enjoy it!

‘Tilted’ is an arty song by French act Christine And The Queens. A French language version titled ‘Christine’ was a hit in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland in 2015. ‘Tilted’ is an English language release. Though apparently, she wrote it first in English, then translated it into French, then adapted the French version into a new English version.

I really like ‘Perfect Illusion’ by Lady Gaga. It was only a minor hit, but I think it’s one of the best songs she’s released in ages!

Now 95 features a lot of tropical house and dancehall influenced music, and it sounds better during the snowy winter months than you might expect! On the whole it is quite good, a decent selection of hit songs and others which get a lot of radio airplay even though they don’t chart high. The final Now! release of the year for the Christmas market (the advert for it even says “perfect for Christmas”) is usually the strongest, and that is the case here.

Oh, and this has been my 200th post on this blog! Yay!

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