Now That’s What I Call Music 39 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1998)

Now 39

Now 39 r

Review
The first Now album of 1998 was released on 6 April and included five number ones. You’ll already have read about the following tracks which originally appeared on:
Smash Hits ’98: Robbie Williams – Angels, Louise – Let’s Go Round Again, Bamboo – Bamboogie.
Big Hits: Natalie Imbruglia – Torn.
New Hits ’98: Catatonia – Mulder And Scully, Steps – 5, 6, 7, 8, Aqua – Barbie Girl, Run DMC and Jason Nevins – It’s Like That, Cornershop – Brimful Of Asha (Norman Cook Remix), Lutricia McNeal – Ain’t That Just The Way, Backstreet Boys – All I Have To Give.

CD1 begins with the devastating Never Ever, a work of advanced maturity from All Saints. The story of a break-up which focuses on what the protagonist did wrong, set to 67 BPMs and based upon the overlay of the hymn New Britain. Sales figures were 1,200,000+ – the second highest for a British girl group after the Spice Girls’ Wannabe. It also picked up best British single and best British video at the industry’s awards ceremony. Forever You And Me: the Lighthouse Family drop another smooth number with the addictive rush of High. Get a groove on with Janet Jackson’s uptempo yet sombre memorial to a friend Together Again while the Spice Girls take us on a Motown spin with the poptastic Stop.

“Hello, can you hear me?” began Billie Myers’ signature tune, the moody tale of growing pains, Kiss The Rain. Remember it from Dawson’s Creek. Not aged 13 and 3/4. In close proximity is the star-studded (including Lou Reed) Perfect Day, all proceeds to Children In Need. Christmas number one in Ireland, 1997. Background: originally used by the BBC in a lengthy corporate promotion of its diverse music coverage. “Whatever your musical taste, it is catered for by BBC Radio and Television. This is only possible thanks to the unique way the BBC is paid for by you. BBC. You make it what it is.” Reap what you sow.

Roll call: Lou Reed, Bono, Skye Edwards, David Bowie, Suzanne Vega, Elton John, Boyzone, Lesley Garrett, Burning Spear, Thomas Allen, Heather Small, Emmylou Harris, Tammy Wynette, Shane MacGowan, Sheona White, Dr John, Robert Cray, Huey Morgan, Ian Broudie, Gabrielle, Evan Dando, Courtney Pine, Andrew Davis, Brett Anderson, Visual Ministry Choir, Joan Armatrading, Laurie Anderson, Tom Jones.

Shades of pop abound: Boyzone’s heartfelt Baby Can I Hold You gives way to a surprising cover version of a Sundays’ album track. I remember the bracing cold Monday morning in January 1990 when I walked from Waterford RTC to the KG Discs at Lisduggan Shopping Centre. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic was the vinyl prize. Back to reality: Tin Tin Out’s version is a form of electronic dream pop and quite pleasant. Next the inspired pairing of Cerys from Catatonia and Space indulging their mutual passion for Tom Jones in the form of a quirky ballad. And for their fifth single from White On Blonde, Texas serve us up the brooding Insane. Equally downbeat are Hanson with their all grown-up Weird. Respect.

We continue to drift along. LeAnn Rimes’ soul-searching How Do I Live, a song with serious chart staying power – 34 weeks in the UK. Elsewhere Shania Twain starts to make it big with the impressive ballad You’re Still The One while the 007 franchise gets another memorable theme – Sheryl Crow’s Tomorrow Never Dies. OK Computer has just turned 20; its third single the mournful No Surprises is a thing of beauty. Childlike guitars and a Pet Sounds vibe. This mini Brit pop section continues with another third 45, The Verve’s melancholy urban hymn Lucky Man. The end of the line: Pulp’s This Is Hardcore which reached #1 in my annual top 50. A epic soundtrack to a dark fantasy. A hell of a show.

Robbie Williams still has the record for the most appearances in the Now series. Easy when you get a few double appearances. Let Me Entertain You is a slamming track, although desperately over-familiar now. The remainder of the second disc is primarily geared towards the club zone. Back once again – Wildchild’s Renegade Master was already compiled on 1995’s Now That’s What I Call Music 32. The new mix is courtesy of Norman Cook, man of the moment. On the upside: Ultra Nate’s Found A Cure, Sash’s sensational holiday banger La Primavera and Camisra’s twisty techno Let Me Show You. And now for the unessential selection: Chumbawamba’s Amnesia.

It’s a turkey shoot for DJ Quicksilver as the melancholy trance of Planet Love storms the charts. Rest Assured’s Treat Infamy comes with the familiar strings from the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time. Also heard on Bittersweet Symphony. Classical meets hip hop on Warren G’s intricate Prince Igor. More royals: Prince Buster’s Whine And Grine (a 1967 skanker) gets revived on foot of a Levi’s advert. A blue breakbeat via a sweet exorcist: the All Seeing I’s sampling delight Beat Goes On (Buddy Rich vs Sonny & Cher). In other news, Goldie returnz with undercooked Believe which is not quite all that. Last orders on Now 39 go to Barnet’s Vanilla and the hilarious No Way No Way. A Reynolds Girls for the 1990s generation or a Poundland Spice Girls?

“You’re living in a dreamworld.”

Favourite tracks
Natalie Imbruglia – Torn

Sash! – La Primavera

Pulp – This Is Hardcore

Radiohead – No Surprises

The Verve – Lucky Man

Lest we forget
Hanson – Weird

Missing tracks and other thoughts
The first disc is a top selection of pop, both uptempo and reflective. CD2 is solid but pales in comparison. Here are some alternative options which could have helped:

Portishead – Over or Only You. Both equally excellent singles from their second LP.
The Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up. Wicked, violent, crucial.
U2 – If God Will Send His Angels. Another fifth single. This from the underrated Pop.
Bernard Butler – Stay. Grandiose debut single, one of Britpop’s underrated tunes.
Ian Brown – My Star. Unfinished monkey business with a lot to offer.
Air – Sexy Boy. After three killer 12″s came this poppy lounge stunner.
Hurricane #1 – Only The Strongest Will Survive. Unsung classic, not landfill indie.

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New Hits ’98 (Global Television / Sony / Warner ESP, 1998)

New Hits 98.jpg

New Hits 98 r

Review
The 31st volume of the Hits series, New Hits ’98, was released in March 1998. Making the “featuring” section of the front cover were Celine Dion, Cornershop, Run DMC, Five, Oasis, Will Smith, Aqua, Backstreet Boys, Another Level, Natalie Imbruglia, Cleopatra, All Saints “and many more.”

Just five of the 40 tracks had already appeared on previous compilations:
Now Dance ’97: Spice Girls – Spice Up Your Life.
Now That’s What I Call Music 38: All Saints – I Know Where It’s At, Lighthouse Family – Raincloud.
The Best Of Dance ’97: Robyn – Show Me Love.
The 1998 Brit Awards: Jamiroquai – High Times.

CD1 is front-loaded with heavy hitters. Run DMC’s 1983 debut single, It’s Like That, was remixed by house DJ Jason Nevins at end of 1997 and went on to sell over 5,000,000 copies, topping the UK charts for six weeks. The memorable promo video featured a male vs female breakdance battle on the streets of L.A. Sadly for the Spice Girls, It’s Like That brought their run of #1 singles to and end with Stop stalling at #2. In close proximity are Five with the colourful When The Lights Go Out and Cleopatra’s Theme, a one hit wonder on the joys of dancing in your room. Plus Will Smith’s ace Getting Jiggy With It, built on samples of Sister Sledge’s He’s The Greatest Dancer and The Bar-Kays’ Sang And Dance.

Another unlikely success were Cornershop whose Brimful Of Asha 45 also hit the jackpot in early ’98 when reissued and remixed by Norman Cook. The band had previous critical acclaimed; NME plaudits for In The Days Of Ford Cortina and Lock, Stock and Double Barrel EPs, the hypnotic 12″ singles 6am Jullander Shere and Butter The Soul, a perfectly-realised third album When I Was Born For The Seventh Time while Brimful topped John Peel’s Festive 50 of 1997. However the enhanced version of their tribute to Indian playback singer Asha Bhosle set them firmly into the public domain and it remains a pivotal ’90s memory. I still haven’t found a curry-coloured 7″ of the first EP though. Anyone?

The debut single from Another Level – Be Alone No More – continues the smooth R&B groove – ’98 boyband style. This is replicated later with the more experienced sound of the Backstreet Boys on the emotional All I Have To Give. Time for some baroque chords to meet a dance rhythm: Aqua’s Mattel doll tribute Barbie Girl. Or if you prefer social commentary that’s dissing femininity. Break out the moves for the Italian singer Alexia’s sparkling international breakthrough Uh La La La. Staying global, Cameroon’s Wes and the evocative Alane which is sung in Duala. It now plays back like a Pure Mood tune, recalling the peaceful era before the new millennium. Edit: it’s on World Moods.

Finley Quaye drops Your Love Gets Sweeter and we all smile. Total positive rush. More birth: Destiny’s Child set out their stall with No, No, No. This is Part 2 – the remix – with Wyclef Jean on guitar. Dolls #2: Barbi Benton’s Ain’t That Just The Way is given a soulful makeover by Lutricia McNeal. 2,000,000 sold. Getting into a serious groove is Shola Ama’s intense Much Love while Peter Andre joins forces with Warren G on the tasty as honey All Night All Right. Hey ho. And its the end of the road for OTT on their gorgeous Story Of Love, the ballad that keeps on giving. The first half ends with Wham! and their faster ’97 update of Everything She Wants – a funky house sound courtesy of Forthright.

CD2: Natalie Imbruglia take #2 – the sprawling Big Mistake, the follow-up to Torn. Video shot in Barcelona and inspired by Godard’s Weekend. Part of the indie sequence; it was also compiled on Shine 10 later on that year. Nice treat next, the radio edit of Oasis’ All Around The World, the epic blizzard of sound that closes Be Here Now. In competition: Catatonia whose manic pop thrill Mulder And Scully still comes across a helium-filled hook-laden classic. Bedfellows Space are next, unleashing Avenging Angels, not a riposte to Robbie Williams. What comes afterwards is absolutely horrendous; I can say with definite certainty that Lilys’ Maid In Manhattan is the worst track in the entire Hits series. The most ugly cacophony of noise that I’ve ever heard. Take a bow.

Celine Dion’s The Reason zips by anonymously but not before a messy guitar solo. M People’s Angel St is an improvement but a little bit away from their best work despite the sax solo. Deep disco time, a jumpin’ pumper from Juliet Roberts, the aptly named So Good. There’s a look back to the recent past on De’Lacy’s Hideaway. You’ll remember the 1995 original appearing on Smash Hits 3. Now it gets the mean speed garage treatment. Meanwhile get ready to scatter and swing with Lionrock’s devastatingly great take on Rude Boy Rock. Rap action: Puff Daddy’s guitar-heavy It’s All About The Benjamins (Rock Mix), Ginuwine’s exciting Holler and Mase’s catchy Feel So Good. Would Mogwai approve?

If you can’t beat ’em. . . Jay-Z gets Gwen Dickey to join him on his cover of Rose Royce’s Wishing On A Star. This version appeared on the UK version of In My Lifetime Volume 1. Following this hip hop stretch is Dannii Minogue’s seriously frantic Disrememberance. And now, electronica Kylie. The sumptuous Breathe is lifted from Impossible Princess and became her final single for Deconstruction. It’s a seductive and hypnotic groove that still sounds amazing 20 years on. One for the primary discos – Steps 5, 6, 7, 8 that sounds like the bastard son of Cotton Eye Joe. We finish with an exclusive: The Cast From Casualty murdering Everlasting Love. Instant karma. And it’s back to music now. . .

Favourite tracks
Natalie Imbruglia – Big Mistake

Wes – Alane

Lionrock – Rude Boy Rock

Kylie Minogue – Breathe

Oasis – All Around The World

Lest we forget
OTT – The Story Of Love

Missing tracks and other thoughts
A solid round-up of the winter / early spring chart action. Some more tunes which could also make a case for inclusion:

Teletubbies – Teletubbies Say Eh Oh. Does a bear shit in the woods?
Propellerheads featuring Shirley Bassey – History Repeating. Another banger.
Rakim – Guess Who’s Back. The Northbrook Avenue year – a favourite spin.
David Holmes – Don’t Die Just Yet. Cinematic shuffle with ace remixes.
Usher – You Make Me Wanna. A chart-topper that’s not that well remembered.
Green Day – Time Of Your Life. Bitter not sweet. For the mallrats.
ETA – Casual Sub (Burning Spear). Funky demon all across my KAMs.

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The 1998 Brit Awards (Columbia, 1998)

Brit Awards 98.jpg

Brit Awards 98 r

Review
The 1998 Brit Awards were the 18th edition of the biggest UK pop ceremony and took place on 19 February at the London Arena. The host was Ben Elton. The accompanying album contained a record 40 tracks and was the 10th in the series.

Many of its songs have already been covered on this blog. You’ll find them on:
New Hits ’96: The Wannadies – You And Me Song.
Now That’s What I Call Music 36: Blur – Beetlebum.
New Hits 1997: Lisa Stansfield – The Real Thing.
Now That’s What I Call Music 37: Robbie Williams – Old Before I Die, No Doubt – Just A Girl, Eternal – I Wanna Be The Only One, Sash featuring Rodriguez – Ecuador.
Pure Hits ’97: Conner Reeves – My Father’s Son.
Fresh Hits 1997: Republica – Drop Dead Gorgeous.
Now Dance ’97: Chumbawamba – Tubthumping, PF Project featuring Ewan McGregor – Choose Life.
The Greatest Hits Of 1997: Erykah Badu – On and On.
Huge Hits 1997: Finley Quaye – Even After All, Shola Ama – You’re The One I Love, Coolio – Ooh La La, Dario G – Sunchyme.
Now That’s What I Call Music 38: Oasis – Stand By Me, Radiohead – Karma Police, Texas – Black Eyed Boy, Meredith Brooks – Bitch, Louise – Arms Around The World (Remix on Now Dance ’97), All Saints – I Know Where It’s At, LL Cool J – Phenomenon.

Bachelorette was the second single from Homogenic, Bjork’s third album. She previously won Best International Female Artist in 1994 and 1998. The song was originally intended for a Bernardo Bertolucci film which never went ahead. A tune worthy of a Bond film and its video, directed by Michel Gondry is a surreal masterpiece. We get the radio edit – the full length video version is linked below. Next is Paul Weller with the heavy soulful rock of Brushed from an era when it seemed like all the music snobs were ganging up against him. Slacker time: Eels with their gorgeous stop / start delight Novacaine For The Soul. From inbetweeners to where? Sleeper’s last lap gives us the understated She’s A Good Girl which turned out to be the first single purchased by actor Joe Thomas. Producer Stephen Street.

Newcomers: Stereophonics’ Traffic, the fourth 45 from Word Gets Around. I it like a lot more now than 1997, whiskey vocals a gogo. Nice to see the 7″ version too. Then we get the somewhat overlooked Best Bit, title track of Beth Orton’s EP released between Trailer Park and Central Reservation. Totally blissed out folktronica. Also getting started in 1997 were Travis whose upbeat Tied To The ’90s sounds a lot like Thom Yorke fronting a looser rhythm section. The first disc ends with Des’ree and I’m Kissing You which is taken from the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Producer Nellee Hooper. A gorgeous, emotional and lulling ballad using only piano and string instrumentation. From the throat.

CD2 immediately drops some block rockin’ beats with the searing assault of The Prodigy’s Diesel Power which features a rap by Kool Keith. Volkswagen tune. Now for the zenith of drum ‘n’ bass, Roni Size / Reprazent in the house with the genre masterpiece Brown Paper Bag. I step to the rhythm every time I hear this. New Forms: Mercury Music Prize winner and decade champion. Elsewhere: Jamiroquai’s futuristic funk, the switched-on High Times, another classic from Travelling With Moving. Also blowing up the joint are the Brand New Heavies with the loaded groove that is Shelter. To the end: Outlaw Records was my main source of 12″s in ’97, Olive’s aptly-named Outlaw a long-buried space jam.

Favourite tracks
Roni Size / Reprazent – Brown Paper Bag

Des’ree – I’m Kissing You

Eels – Novacaine For The Soul

Bjork – Bachelorette

Paul Weller – Brushed

Lest we forget
Beth Orton – Best Bit

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