Now 99

Now 99 is The first Now album of the year, and the album cover really is colour vomit! I think the multicoloured…. stuff on the cover is supposed to be bubbles? It’s similar, but not identical, to the cover for Now 65 in the US.

At the time it was released, Now 99 had no number one singles, it looks like the age old problem of licensing issues.

However, some of the number ones in the time
between Now 98 and Now 99 have annoyed people. Ed Sheeran couldn’t have dropped any bigger hints to the British public what he wanted for Christmas, i.e the Christmas
number one, by releasing about a thousand alternate duet versions and remixes of the schmaltzy ‘Perfect’. Meanwhile, Drake is on his second offence for clogging up the number one spot for months on end purely on streaming, in this case ‘God’s Plan’, a boring nothing of a song, which was number one for 9 weeks, but if the charts were still sales alone it wouldn’t have been number one for ANY weeks, let alone 9!

But, a week after Now 99 was released, it did get a number one single, and it was the one chosen to be track 1 on CD1, so well done on them for backing the right horse. That track is ‘These Days’ by Rudimental feat. Jess Glynne, Macklemore & Dan Caplen. It had been number one on sales alone for some time, but had to wait SEVEN WEEKS at number 2 behind ‘God’s Plan’ on the official chart. ‘These Days’ is Rudimental’s third number one, Jess Glynne’s sixth (!), Macklemore’s second, and Dan Caplen’s first. It is quite a nice song, fairly old school soul-ish, a piano based ballad on heartbreak and hope it will all work out in the end.

‘IDGAF’ by Dua Lipa is not a word pronounced “id gaff”, it’s an abbreviation, and I guess you’re supposed to pronounce each letter individually. In any case, the letters stand for I Don’t Give A … well, it cuts before the F word comes in. Dua Lipa won the British Female Solo Artist award and the British Breakthrough Act award at the BRITs earlier this year, and ‘IDGAF’ is probably my favourite song of hers to date.

In contrast, ‘FRIENDS’ by Marshmello & Anne-Marie is just supposed to be pronounced “friends”. Written like that you might think it’s a cover of the theme tune from the
’90s TV series Friends (‘I’ll Be There For You’ by the Rembrandts). But unlike the title of Friends, there is a purpose for it being spelled in capitals. The lyrics do spell the word out. It’s a friendzone song, but a rare occasion where it’s from the perspective of the person who just wants to be friends. And it sounds like the lad who fancies her really can’t take a hint, which is why she literally has to spell it out! She even says he’s “like a brother”!

Portugal. The Man. As opposed to Portugal, the country I guess. They aren’t from Portugal though, they’re from Alaska. And they’re not a man, they’re a band. You’ve probably heard their track on here, ‘Feel It Still’, on several adverts and films. It’s this years version of ‘Radioactive’ by Imagine Dragons in that respect, the 2010s tradition of having an alternative guitar pop band getting a hit song that will be on the soundtrack to everything for a year. ‘Feel It Still’ is OK, I like the instrumental/production, there’s quite a lot going on.

Now 99 sees the return of Taylor Swift to the Now compilations. She last appeared way back in Now 85 with ’22’. Apologies if I’ve put that awful song back in your head. Try and think of the different Lily Allen song of the same name! Actually, don’t, that song’s crap as well. Let’s get back on topic. The Now compilations have missed out on including such Taylor Swift hits as that one about her exes, that one about her haters, that one that’s meant to be about Katy Perry, that one that’s meant to be about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, and that lonely Starbucks lovers one. But the one they have been able to get, ‘…Ready For It?’ is unfortunately worse than all of them. It’s an absolute migraine of a song!

The worst track on the compilation is ‘Tip Toe’ by Jason Derulo feat. French Montana. It has obnoxious, repetitive electronic production, Jason Derulo’s falsetto is grating, and the whole thing is annoying!

The title of ‘Beautiful Trauma’ by Pink suggests a contradiction, and the music sounds quite sweet and romantic, but the lyrics talk of a couple where she slashes his car tyres and he punches a hole in the wall, and she frames it! The comical and colourful video, which features actor Channing Tatum as the husband, was popular.

‘Finesse (Remix)’ by Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B is very catchy, upbeat track and one of the most fun on here. Both the sound of the track and its music video are an homage to the ’90s, so bonus nostalgia appeal there.

Craig David feat. Bastille – ‘I Know You’ appears on this compilation, and according to the CD booklet it features only Bastille’s frontman Dan Smith rather than the whole band, but for whatever reason the whole band are credited on it.

Jax Jones feat. Ina Wroldsen – ‘Breathe’ feels like a song I’ve heard a million times before and like it came out a while ago, but it’s quite new. It is nice hearing Ina Wroldsen’s vocals again though, ‘We Stand Up’ by Kat Krazy feat. Ina Wroldsen was one of my favourite tracks of 2016.

‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’ by Sigrid featured on last year’s spring Now release Now 96. I said in my review at the time I didn’t like it, but the track grew on me and I loved it by the end of the year, and indeed it made my top ten songs of 2017. I instantly loved Sigrid’s next song ‘Strangers’ (which is included here on Now 99). Then, a bit later Sigrid was announced as the winner of the BBC’s Sound of 2018, so I was a bit ahead of the game! ‘Strangers’ is an excellent song, and it made number one on the sales only chart.

The track I enjoy the most on Now 99 is ‘Dancing’ by Kylie Minogue. Kylie Minogue sounding a bit like Dolly Parton? Of course I’m here for that! In fact, it’s my favourite song of 2018 so far.

Singer-songwriter George Ezra is on Now 99 with ‘Paradise’. After ‘Don’t Matter Now’, his new album’s the lead single, only reached number 66, the second single ‘Paradise’ has done much better. It made number one on the sales chart! At the time of writing it has peaked at number 2 on the official chart, but even then it is George Ezra’s highest peaking song to date, his previous one was his debut single ‘Budapest’, which got to number 3. I guess ‘Paradise’ has done so well because it’s a nice love song, people will always want to buy those. The album it is taken from is called Staying At Tamara’s, and it has gone to number one in the albums chart!

Paloma Faith manages to notch up two appearances on CD1, as the vocalist on ‘Lullaby’ by dance producer Sigala, and also Paloma Faith has her own track, ‘Guilty’, which sounds like a forgotten James Bond theme.

The final track on CD1 is called ‘One Last Song’ (I’m sure it’s not a coincidence). It’s a Sam Smith track, and musically it sounds like something that would be on a Christmas album, but lyrically it has nothing to do with Christmas.

CD2 gets off to a good start with ‘Blinded By Your Grace Pt.2’ by Stormzy feat. MNEK, it’s a pretty classy track really, I like the rock guitar and gospel choir in particular. Stormzy won British Male Solo Artist and British Album Of the Year at this years BRIT Awards.

‘Psycho’ by Post Malone feat. Ty Dolla $ign is a decent hip hop track with cool, icy production.

‘Decline’ by RAYE & Mr. Eazi is a reworking of ‘Always On Time’ by Ja Rule & Ashanti. They’re remaking Noughties classics now. From when I was a teenager. And ‘Always On Time’ is itself now 17 years old! You know you’re getting older when…

CD1 has Mabel & Not3s – ‘Fine Line’, while CD2 has Not3s x Mabel – ‘My Lover’. “You feature on my track, I’ll feature on yours”, I guess.

There are way too many dreary, overwrought ballads on the whole, particularly the ones by James Arthur and Calum Scott. I think the best of the ballads is probably ‘Let You Down’ by NF, which is a bit more mid-tempo and has more interesting production, and I guess it’s more personal, as it is about his relationship with his father.

The X Factor winners song is on here. What do you mean you’ve forgotten who won it already?! It was boyband Rak-Su, and their winners song is one of the better ones. It is uptempo, they wrote it themselves and features Wyclef Jean and Naughty Boy.

5 Seconds Of Summer usually do pop-rock, but their track on this compilation ‘Want You Back’ is more of an R&B-ish electro pop song. I quite like it though, in fact it might be one of the best pop singles of the year so far!

‘Wait’ by Maroon 5 sees them becoming increasingly forgettable and bland, blending into the background sounding like everything else in the charts and much less like Maroon 5… but that makes them a hell of a lot more tolerable to listen to than they used to be!

In contrast, ‘You’re The Best Thing About Me’ by U2 sounds like pretty much any U2 song ever.

The last song on Now 99 is ‘Live Forever’ by Oasis, which previously appeared 66 Nows ago on Now 33 in 1996. It is still a great track, and is included here after Liam Gallagher performed it at The BRIT Awards in tribute to the victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena terrorist attack.

Now 99 as a whole is typical in that there are slim pickings for the first Now compilation of the year, and usual elements such as winners of The X Factor, The BRIT Awards and the BBC Sound Of The Year are included. The Now albums and the charts in general are also in a bit of a tricky position, as they are in any transitional period. The inclusion of streaming has led to a more static chart, and the Official Charts Company have to come up with new rules to try to balance things out during these transitional times as they did when downloads were included at first. Streaming is increasing as sales are declining. It does seem to be the way it’s heading in terms of how people consume music, which again was the same before with download sales increasing as physical sales declined.

A lot of the more urban, hip hop and grime tracks on here did better on streaming than they did on sales (Dave feat. MoStock – ‘No Words’, J Hus – ‘Bouff Daddy’, BlocBoy JB feat. Drake – ‘Look Alive’), none of which even made the top 40 on sales alone. But you can’t deny the relevance of streaming. At the same time, there are tracks that reached the top 10 or top 20 on sales that ended up lower on the official chart due to lack of streaming, some of which have already been mentioned. If people are actively purchasing a track, that is, at present time anyway, probably a better indicator that they actually like it and a better reflection of its popularity, so it isn’t just “official” chart positions that matter.

I think all things considered, Now 99 has done a good job at selecting songs that are popular with the general public, and if anything it feels a lot less empty than many spring Nows do.

The next Now, due for release in July, is going to be a milestone, as it will be Now 100!

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