Now That’s What I Call Music 41 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1998)

Now 41

Now 41 r

Review
Now That’s What I Call Music 41 hit the shops on 23 November 1998. It contained a total of 42 tracks. 18 of these have already been talked about on the following compilations:
Smash Hits Summer ’98: Spice Girls – Too Much.
Fresh Hits ’98: The Corrs – Dreams (Tee’s Radio).
Big Hits ’98: Sweetbox – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, All Saints – Bootie Call, Aqua – Turn Back Time.
Now Dance ’98: Ace Of Base – Life Is A Flower, Jennifer Paige – Crush (Dance Mix), Billie – Girlfriend (D*Influence Real Live Mix), 911 – More Than A Woman, T-Spoon – Sex On The Beach, Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You, Vengaboys – Up And Down, Touch & Go – Would You?, Fatboy Slim – Gangster Trippin’.
The Greatest Hits Of 1998: E-17 – Each Time, Lutricia McNeal – Someone Loves You Honey, Sash! – Move Mania, Sham Rock – Tell Me Ma.

CD1 starts with a home run of five new tunes. On their marks are Boyzone; the pleasant and inoffensive No Matter What is a song from the 1996 musical Whistle Down the Wind, newly recorded to tie in with the show’s first UK production. Meanwhile Robbie Williams showcases his second LP – I’ve Been Expecting You – with the soaring Millennium. A topical tune for the end of the century with a keen nod to John Barry’s You Only Live Twice – namely a re-recording in a slightly different key instead of a direct sample for cost reasons. Next come The Beautiful South with Perfect 10, a sweet taster for the upcoming Quench. Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott trade verses and ramp up the innuendo. Brilliant.

Originally appearing on the B-side of Where The Streets Have No Name, U2’s Sweetest Thing was written by Bono during The Joshua Tree sessions as an apology to his wife Ali Hewson for forgetting her birthday. The Edge described it as “a beautiful song… which is pop as it should be—not produced out of existence, but pop produced with a real intimacy and purity”. It was re-recorded with some lyrical amendments and released in 1998 as a single in its own right to promote The Best of 1980–1990. The video, directed by Kevin Godley, features Bono taking Ali on a carriage ride along Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Place, and then on to Upper Fitzwilliam Street enlisting a variety of entertainers along the way.

The best concert I saw during the late 1990s was at Dublin’s RDS Showground. The Big Rewind Tour with ABC, Human League and Culture Club. It took place on 3 December 1998 which roughly coincides with when I purchased Now 41. Boy George was in fine form and the melodic I Just Wanna Be Loved is a real treat. Elsewhere Steps gave us their first ballad – Heartbeat – which was paired with their absolutely fabulous version of the Bee Gees’ Tragedy. Heartbeat features Claire and Faye singing the first two verses. Lisa performs the middle eight, followed by Claire. The others join in for the choruses. The video is hilarious; an evil ice queen sending three dwarf guards to kidnap H. It’s followed by the debut of Honeyz and their gorgeous R&B jam Finally Found (Rude Boy Mix).

We go urban on Little Bit Of Lovin’, a sparkling slice of soul from East Ham’s finest, Kele Le Roc. And UB40’s Come Back Darling starts off like a speed garage tune before settling into a wistful plea. On a similar sentiment, Mel B’s I Want You Back – her debut solo single – and one that featured on Why Do Fools Fall In Love. The Spice Girl is ably assisted by Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott on a really dynamic groover that’s scary with a sick beat. CD1 ends with three newbies, a fresh final furlong. There’s another postcard from heaven by the Lighthouse Family – a deep Question Of Faith – followed by Phil Collins competent cover of the Cyndi Lauper hit True Colors. End: Janet Jackson’s moving and emotional ballad Every Time, single #6 from The Velvet Rope. Jam (and Lewis) on.

CD2 starts with the poptastic single version of Billie’s sensational Girlfriend. Further down the road comes The Tamperer with Maya in tow – If You Buy This Record, Your Life Will Be Better – which samples Madonna’s Material Girl. Meanwhile I always thought that Cardigans’ LP was named Grand Tourismo; drop the D and lose yourself in the swirling fat ‘n’ fuzzy bassline of My Favourite Game. Back once again for a third time, James’ Sit Down. 1989 – 1991 – 1998. Apollo 440 at the controls; still can’t top the original Rough Trade single. And in a situation of follow that single, Eagle-Eye Cherry’s slowburning Falling In Love Again. Beside: Sheryl Crow’s cheater classic My Favourite Mistake.

Never fear, Robbie Williams is here. Again. No Regrets tells the story of his time in Take That with backing vocals by the two Neils, Tennant and Hannon. The inlay calls this it “stunning ballad”. A video full of petrol emotion. Hot tip: Space covering We Gotta Get Out Of This Place. Then the return of the anthemic Embrace and My Weakness Is None Of Your Business. Fancy a 10 minute wonder? The Incidentals by Alisha’s Attic was written in that length of time and initially seems to lack the spark of the debut album’s era. But it burrows under and becomes an earworm. More: Dire Straits’ Why Worry is the unlikely sample source for Deetah’s Relax – a gorgeously forgotten treat from the mists of The Green Lizard. And aside from R Kelly’s colourless Home Alone, that’s yer lot.

Favourite tracks
U2 – Sweetest Thing

The Beautiful South – Perfect 10

Melanie B featuring Missy Elliott – I Want You Back

Deetah – Relax

UB40 – Come Back Darling

Lest we forget
Alisha’s Attic – The Incidentals

Missing tracks and other thoughts
Not a vintage entry but there’s a powerful opening sequence coupled with a few prize nuggets dotted throughout the two CDs. These would have made a real difference:

Faithless – God Is A DJ. Magic then and now.
Moby – Honey. Bessie Jones-sampling and first fruits from the endless Play.
Gomez – Whippin’ Piccadilly. Bring It On, Mercury Music Prize winner.
Divine Comedy – Generation Sex. Narration by presenter and columnist Katie Puckrik.
Paul Weller – Brand New Start. A modern classic as featured on Modern Classics.

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The Greatest Hits Of 1998 (Telstar, 1998)

Greatest Hits Of 1998

Greatest Hits Of 1998 r

Review
The Greatest Hits Of 1998 is notable for its packaging – the (slight) return of the fatbox. Last seen on a UK compilation sometime around late 1994. This allows the reverse of the front inlay to carry an advertisement for The Best Of Dance ’98 (which I’ll review on 9 September). The booklet has the customary credits in a larger font and we get six number ones: Never Ever, Doctor Jones, Brimful Of Asha, Three Lions ’98, Feel It, It’s Like That.

I’ve already written about the bulk of the tracks (33). See these:
Big Hits: Natalie Imbruglia – Torn.
New Hits ’98: Cornershop – Brimful Of Asha (Norman Cook Remix), Backstreet Boys – All I Have To Give, Run DMC and Jason Nevins – It’s Like That, Five – When The Lights Go Out.
Now That’s What I Call Music 39: Robbie Williams – Let Me Entertain You, Spice Girls – Stop, All Saints – Never Ever, LeeAnn Rimes – How Do I Live, Space with Cerys – The Ballad Of Tom Jones, Lighthouse Family – High, Billie Myers – Kiss The Rain.
Smash Hits Summer ’98: Aqua – Doctor Jones, The Tamperer featuring Maya – Feel It.
Fresh Hits ’98: The Corrs – Dreams (Tee’s Radio), Simply Red – Say You Love Me, Lutricia McNeal – Stranded, Baddiel and Skinner and Lightning Seeds – Three Lions ’98, Bus Stop featuring Carl Douglas – Kung Fu Fighting.
Now That’s What I Call Music 40: The Mavericks – Dance The Night Away, Fatboy Slim – The Rockafeller Skank, Fat Les – Vindaloo, Embrace – Come Back To What You Know, Mousse T vs Hot ‘N’ Juicy – Horny, K-Ci & Jo-Jo – All My Life, Sparkle featuring R Kelly – Be Careful
Big Hits ’98: Steps – One For Sorrow.
Now Dance ’98: Jennifer Paige – Crush (Dance Mix), Touch & Go – Would You?, Sash featuring Tina Cousins – Mysterious Times, Ace Of Base – Life Is A Flower, Fatboy Slim – Gangster Trippin’, T-Spoon – Sex On The Beach.

“They shaved their heads, and had tattoos, and were a lot, lot cooler than the nancy boys of Take That. In the great five-year battle that dominated British pop, East 17 were also on the winning side. Their music was sharper and more streetwise. It was infused with hip hop and sold by the bucketload: 18 million records across Europe, compared with Take That’s paltry 17 million.” (Guy Adams)
East 17 had gone through a turbulent 1997. Brian Harvey was sacked after praising the taking of ecstasy while Tony Mortimer left a few months later. Harvey was re-instated and the band – now calling themselves E-17 – landed a deal with Telstar. So that means Each Time is the first “exclusive” on The Greatest Hits Of 1998; it’s a slow jam, not one that immediately grabs you.

CD2 throws up Alda’s Real Good Time, uptempo positive Icelandic pop while its final five tracks are fresh. What do I get? Will Mellor’s cover of I Need You is predictably bland. Better is Lutricia McNeal’s reggae-flavoured Someone Loves You Honey. Sash! makes a second appearance and churns out another trance bomb but unfortunately Move Mania is a bit of damp squib. There’s a double from T-Spoon too; Tom’s Party is a bastardised attempt at mashing up Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner into bad Euro house. Stick with DNA. And finally this uninspiring stretch concludes with the garish wedding disco nightmare Tell Me Ma which is brought to you by the abysmal fake folk sound of Sham Rock.

Favourite tracks
All Saints – Never Ever

Spice Girls – Stop

Cornershop – Brimful Of Asha (Norman Cook Remix)

Fatboy Slim – The Rockafeller Skank

Space with Cerys of Catatonia – The Ballad Of Tom Jones

Lest we forget
Fat Les – Vindaloo

Missing tracks and other thoughts
A disappointing entry in The Greatest Hits Of series. As an annual event, it invariably struggles against predictable inclusions. However, in this instance the compilers would have been better sticking to established hits rather than the anaemic “new” tunes. It’s clear that the budget wasn’t there to follow the Huge Hits 1998 template and drop in a couple of monster hits.

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Huge Hits 1998 (Global Television / Sony / Warner ESP, 1998)

Huge Hits 1998

Huge Hits 1998 r

Review
The third year-end Hits collection was released in November 1998. In common with the previous two, many of the tracks had already been included on previous volumes. However the ratio of already on: new-to-Hits songs was seriously disimproved – 37 vs 4 or 35 vs 6 if you allow for the differing mixes of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On and Jennifer Paige’s Crush On You – both are now here in their regular single versions.

To recap, 24 tracks had already made their first appearances on the last three Hits albums:
New Hits ’98: Another Level – Be Alone No More, Will Smith – Gettin’ Jiggy With It, Destiny’s Child – No No No Part 2, Cleopatra – Cleopatra’s Theme, Backstreet Boys – All I Have To Give, Run DMC and Jason Nevins – It’s Like That, Cornershop – Brimful Of Asha (Norman Cook Remix), Catatonia – Mulder And Scully.
Fresh Hits ’98: Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On (Tony Moran Mix), B*Witched – C’est La Vie, Five – Got The Feelin’, Wyclef Jean – Gone Till November, Busta Rhymes – Turn It Up (Remix) / Fire It Up (Clean), Dario G – Carnival De Paris, Kula Shaker – Sound Of Drums, The Corrs – Dreams (Tee’s Radio), Simply Red – Say You Love Me, Baddiel and Skinner and Lightning Seeds – Three Lions ’98.
Big Hits ’98: Sweetbox – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, Aqua – Turn Back Time, Jamiroquai – Deeper Underground, Apollo 440 – Lost In Space, Manic Street Preachers – If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, Des’ree – Life.

And then there were the songs that were first snared by their rivals:
Now That’s What I Call Music 39: Robbie Williams – Let Me Entertain You*, Boyzone – Baby Can I Hold You, Spice Girls – Stop, Sash! – La Primavera, Space with Cerys – The Ballad Of Tom Jones.
Smash Hits Summer ’98: Steps – Last Thing On My Mind*, The Tamperer featuring Maya – Feel It*.
* denotes that these tunes were subsequently included on Fresh Hits ’98.
Now That’s What I Call Music 40: All Saints – Under The Bridge, Mousse T vs Hot ‘N’ Juicy – Horny, Eagle-Eye Cherry – Save Tonight, K-Ci & Jo-Jo – All My Life.
Now Dance ’98: Jennifer Paige – Crush (Dance Mix), T-Spoon – Sex On The Beach.

“”Retaliation, revenge, hate, regret, that’s what I deal with in Frozen” (Madonna)

Madonna’s Frozen is worth the price of admission on its own. Deep breath: wind the clock back to February 1998; I had the radio on while cooking dinner at Northbrook Avenue. 2FM, The Hotline, Tony Fenton. I don’t think this was its Irish radio debut but it was my first time hearing the song. The stir fry was stopped dead with this mid tempo electronic ballad. No tape deck to hand so it stayed in my head for the rest of the evening. I was into Abbey Discs the following morning and picked up the jukebox 7″ (which contains the album version; the radio edit is here). The CD single would follow at a later stage.

“In the middle of Spicestreet Boys-mania, she did this and got all the kids and all the grownups and all the haters aboard.” (Vasilios, Pop Justice)

Inspired by both classical and medieval sounds, Frozen is a cinematic masterpiece from what’s probably her finest LP – Ray Of Light – immaculately produced by William Orbit. At the beginning, there’s some solemn orchestral strings while a dramatic crescendo, rhythm and ambient electronic effects are added gradually. The carefully nuanced lyrics tell of a cold and emotionless man and dovetail perfectly with the electronic textures of the music. The haunting melody, lush strings and lone drum sound combine to heighten the atmosphere, giving the song a Wuthering Heights feel. The video was directed by Chris Cunningham and filmed at Cuddeback Lake within California’s Mojave Desert.

So what else is new? Mariah Carey’s superb tale of one-more-night longing My All also shows up early on. It’s built on a gentle Latin acoustic strum before gradually progressing into conventional R&B albeit a more lush slow jam style. The monochrome video was shot in Puerto Rico and features a beach, a lighthouse and the ocean. Meanwhile Brandy and Monica issue their response to The Girl Is Mine with a male-themed duet which won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. Lastly there’s Natalie Imbruglia’s mellow Smoke, a beautiful final single from Left Of The Middle.

Favourite tracks
Madonna – Frozen

Mariah Carey – My All

Natalie Imbruglia – Smoke

Catatonia – Mulder And Scully

Manic Street Preachers – If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

Lest we forget
Baddiel and Skinner and Lightning Seeds – Three Lions ’98

Missing tracks and other thoughts
I’m still not fully convinced by the need for a mop-up end of year compilations given that the series was releasing regular volumes throughout the previous 12 months. The inclusion of the standard mix of My Heart Will Go On was a nice touch and a clear statement of intent. While the majority of the tracks are familiar, the four “new” songs are of an exceptionally high standard – although I’d have preferred the radio edit of Smoke as opposed to the album version. Maybe this pair of crackers should be there:

Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing). Absolutely crucial.
James – Runaground. Obligatory Best Of single. Video shot in Dingle.

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