Now That’s What I Call Music 20 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1991)

Now 20

Now 20 r

Review
“A New Career In A New Town is both arrival and departure gate; it’s a merger of two fragmented songs, of two musics. The track opens with 20 bars of an electronic-centered piece—call it “Section A”—reminiscent again of Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity. The thudding, metronomic drumbeat seems an offshoot of Geiger Counter, while the harmonised layers of synthesisers suggest the title track (there’s also the influence of the Neu! spin-off band La Düsseldorf: A New Career In A New Town is Bowie pitting Kraftwerk against Neu!). The 4/4 ur-house beat (with a brief fill on the sixth bar) is likely from a real kick drum, as sampled and distorted by Eno’s synthetics, and four distinct synthesisers are panned across the mix. In the right channel one serves as the track’s exosphere, providing a high, hardly varying tone, similar to the choir setting of Kraftwerk’s Orchestron. The two synthesisers in the left channel offer riffs and counter-rhythms while the one mixed in the center slowly plays a lovely descending melody” (Bowie Songs)

A new career in a new town. Harold’s Cross in Dublin, November 1991. Now a working man. Amid the Creation splendour of Bandwagonesque, Just For A Day, Loveless and Screamadelica sat the modest Rykodisc CD reissue of David Bowie’s Low. Usually played quietly as I lay in bed, drifting off to sleep. While the song suite was superb in itself [Sound And Vision, Always Crashing In The Same Car, Be My Wife], it was the instrumentals that won it; utterly gorgeous and spacious. Brian Eno’s beautiful production.

Like Low, the front cover of Now That’s What I Call Music 20 has a somewhat weightless feel. The logo hangs suspended; the Boo Radleys had recently released Ichabod and I. Their second LP, Everything’s Alright Forever, would also terrorise my bedsit neighbours during the spring of 1992. But first Dizzy. Tommy Roe originally performed it and Hugo Montenegro recorded the best cover. The Wonderstuff and Vic Reeves created an enjoyable version that raced to the top of the charts. It swatted a fly to gain the ultimate prize. So we come back to Eno. U2’s re-invention; welcome to Achtung Baby, an innovative journey into sound. It was my first midnight LP, queuing up outside the Virgin Megastore during the late hours of 17 November. The CD version of Now 20 was also purchased; the long walk home, the pouring rain.

Like a whirlpool it never ends. Everything I Do (I Do It For You) held the number spot for 16 weeks. From July until the beginning of November. Aeons. It’s not here because it was on a rival label. You can find it on Now That’s What I Call The Movies. I may get round to reviewing that in a few years time. Bryan Adams was deposed by “the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree”. The Fly was seriously good, a heavier and abrasive sound from U2. The floundering brought on by Rattle and Hum was well and truly banished. A taster for a main course that did not disappoint. The meal was savored at approximately 1.00am on that Sunday night. And then a repeat play on the turntable. The following day was not a productive one. I fell, I did not rise. Sheer exhaustion.
“Every artist is a cannibal,
Every poet is a thief”
.

Sandwiched between Dizzy and The Fly was Belinda Carlisle. The success story continued with Live Your Life Be Free. A defiant show of self-confidence. And in a supremely clever piece of sequencing, the Pet Shop Boys came after U2. Their 15th successive top 20 hit – a widescreen cover of Where The Streets Have No Name welded with I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. Bono meets The Boystown Gang. Synth pioneers continued to make waves on track 5; Erasure’s superb Love To Hate You which spookily pre-empted the following summer’s Abbaesque EP as the chords sounded a little like Take A Chance On Me. And like a jack-in-the-box up pop Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. Sailing On The Seven Eyes was an unlikely smash, a somewhat diluted return to chart action. The parent LP, Sugar Tax, remains one of my least-favourite albums of the year. Instead I yearned for the subtle re-invention of Crush or The Pacific Age.

Passion at play with stars in their eyes: Simply Red’s Something Got Me Started is a fiery number. “Yes I would” intoned the sinister backing vocal as the romantic endearments gushed from the lady. It’s suitably partnered by Lisa Stansfield’s dignified soul of Changes before the dayglo Zoë sets out her stall once again and Sunshine On A Rainy Day gets another roll. Give Youth a chance. The all-seeing eye that works in both darkness and light. It complements the two tracks that have preceded it and provides a bridge for the raunchiness that will follow. First up is Let’s Talk About Sex, a humourous ditty courtesy Salt ‘N’ Pepa. Spinderella cutting up one more thing. A pleasant interlude before the horror show of Color Me Badd’s I Wanna Sex You Up, the bad boy of New Jack City. A hit during late spring and for a few weeks around Easter 1991, a permanent feature in my friend’s car stereo. The two track cassette single that played the same tracks [Master Mix / Smoothed Out Mix] on both sides. The 15 mile trip to Waterford. Endless, endless.

Kenny Thomas’ third hit of the year was the anodyne Best Of You. Must try harder fly guy. Thankfully Prince picks up the baton on his first Now appearance [he had featured in the early volumes of the Hits series]. The New Power Generation in tow with the funky jam of Gett Off. Elsewhere we finally get moving towards a clubbing vibe with Rozalla’s uptempo Faith (In The Power Of Love) before the bone-crushing simplicity of 2 Unlimited’s ultra-catchy Get Ready For This. You have not heard the last from our Dutch overlords. It’s fair to say that Now 20 is relatively light on dance music with Now Dance ’91 picking up a lot of the slack in the absence of the main series’ summer release.

Moby’s Go builds itself around a sample from Laura Palmer’s Theme [from the television series Twin Peaks] and a vocal snippet by Bauhaus side-project Tones on Tail’s song also named Go. The yeah sound is from Jocelyn Brown and remains uncredited. The second season of Twin Peaks aired in 1991 simultaneously captivating and baffling me. The strings make the Moby track; it remains an evocative late night anthem. And once again, Ashley Abram’s choices come up trumps as he follows up with It’s Grim Up North. The KLF had reverted to their original moniker – The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu. A simple formula: a list of towns and cities in the North of England set to a pounding industrial techno beat and percussion that sounds like steam whistles. Segue it all into an orchestral instrumental of the Jerusalem. The 7″ mix [known as Part 1] is here. You need the full horror of the 12″ version. Disc 1 ends with a lullaby: PM Dawn’s float downstream chiller Set Adrift On Memory Bliss. Hazy thoughts of Christina Applegate. This is the sound of my soul.

“Life’s a piece of spit”.

It is a game of two halves and in the second instalment, you really don’t know what you’re going to get. We’re eased in by Paul Young’s cover of Don’t Dream (It’s Over). The obligatory new greatest hits track; his renaissance was far from complete. Enya next – the eagerly awaited Caribbean Blue with its luxurious promo video. I wasn’t too gone on this at the time but it now feels oddly mesmerising and makes me think of those endless walks around Dublin 6 flatland. On the other hand, Julian Lennon’s Saltwater is self-pitying and insipid. A billion children rolled into one? No thanks. The flatlining continues with Paula Abdul’s high-maintenance ballad Rush, Rush before a musical treat from Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – Jason Donovan’s likeable Any Dream Will Do.

Move To This was a fine debut LP from Cathy Dennis. You can’t really dance to Too Many Ways; a half-hearted slow set sashay is about the height of it. A flawless vocal to die for – its strength is within. This House was a moody yet haunting effort from Alison Moyet while Marc Cohen’s Walking In Memphis still packs a punch. I’ve mentioned Glass Tiger a few times before [see the Formel Eins series] but My Town is a disappointment – subs-bench Deacon Blue with a Rod Stewart backing vocal. Glasnost anthem Wind Of Change is next; a global smash that coincided with the fall of the Eastern Bloc. I wonder if the Manchester record shop of the same name sold many copies of this stirring power ballad? The hot air continues with INXS and the very flat Shining Star. Take a break!

There’s a spark of life with Roxette’s choppy go-lucky singalong Joyride. Another spring hit [finally] was Sit Down from James. The original Rough Trade single from June ’89 was a failure but Flood’s remix of Come Home and a rebooted Gold Mother album finally saw success come their way. Following on are Voice Of The Beehive and their spunky cover of The Partridge Family’s I Think I Love You. And then – my, oh my – it’s Slade’s powerful propellerhead rocker Radio Wall Of Sound. Go Ga Ga glam racket. So we come to Monty Python’s Always Look On The Bright Side Of The Life: in true anarchic style it looked Bryan Adams off the top of the Irish charts. The Life Of Brian had been banned here in 1979. Eric Idle recorded alternate lyrics for the radio mix, with the swearing censored, and the comments about the end of the film changed to record. This is the version appears here – a nice bonus. And if that wasn’t enough, we end with the longest song ever to appear on a Now album – Don McLean’s American Pie. Bye-bye.

“Bolton, Barnsley, Nelson, Colne, Burnley, Bradford, Buxton, Crewe, Warrington, Widnes, Wigan, Leeds, Northwich, Nantwich, Knutsford, Hull, Sale, Salford, Southport, Leigh, Derby, Kearsley, Keighley, Maghull, Harrogate, Huddersfield, Oldham, Lancs, Grimsby, Glossop, Hebden Bridge.

Brighouse, Bootle, Featherstone, Speke, Runcorn, Rotherham, Rochdale, Barrow, Morecambe, Macclesfield, Lytham St. Annes, Clitheroe, Cleethorpes, the M62.

Pendlebury, Prestwich, Preston, York, Skipton, Scunthorpe, Scarborough-on-Sea, Chester, Chorley, Cheadle, Hulme, Ormskirk, Accrington, Stanley, Leigh, Ossett, Otley, Ilkley Moor, Sheffield, Manchester, Castleford, Skem, Doncaster, Dewsbury, Halifax, Bingley, Bramhall”.

Favourite tracks
U2 – The Fly

Pet Shop Boys – Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)

Moby – Go

Cathy Dennis – Too Many Walls

Lest we forget
Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu – It’s Grim Up North

Missing tracks and other thoughts
Now That’s What I Call Music 20 is a real curate’s egg. The real heat lies on disc 1 while the second CD is a much more ordinary event. Some of the year’s other memorable tracks can be found on Awesome!! 2. 1991 was the last time the Now series would restrict itself to two volumes. Since 1992 it’s come out three times a year – Easter, summer and Christmas. Now 20 was also the last one to have an accompanying video selection. So what else would have spiced up our lives?

Metallica – Enter Sandman. 11 years later this tore up the dancefloor on my wedding day.
Blur – Bang. Food glorious food.
Stone Roses – I Wanna Be Adored. Two years on and the LP is still selling bucketlands. Originally an import 12″ in 1989, it finally emerged as a UK single in August.
Queen – The Show Must Go On. Five days after Now 20’s release, Freddie Mercury issued the following statement:

“Following the enormous conjecture in the press over the last two weeks, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease. My privacy has always been very special to me and I am famous for my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue”.

I was stunned. 24 hours later he was dead. For many, the day the music really died.
This would have been a fitting closing song for disc two. However it did kickstart proceedings [in true Queen compilation album style] on Now’s Millennium Edition 1991.

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5 Responses to Now That’s What I Call Music 20 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1991)

  1. Feel the Quality says:

    I’ll always have a soft spot for this one as after 19 vinyls I bought the CD (and the vinyl too). There are some great tunes on here (including a great version of Gett Off, which is sadly marred by some unnecessary censorship) and it did well to compile the story of 1991 whilst not including Bryan Adams. Although, I’m Too Sexy should’ve been on there, even if it was already on Now Dance 91. I love the inclusion of the full length American Pie as it’s one of my favourite songs ever. Shame that guy who did the Now That’s What I Call a Music Blog didn’t feel the same (what happened to that blog? I know it was never updated as regularly as this one but it’s been ages. That blog led me to here) and royally slagged it off. Oh well, different strokes and all that.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      I love the sleeve design on this one. I think it’s a memorable entry and despite the somewhat lacklustre second disc, is still one that I go back to occasionally. Probably because of where I was at the time.

      What made you switch from vinyl to CD? I’d love to know the sales figures for the vinyl editions of Nows 21 – 35. My policy then (and still somewhat adhered to now) was to buy vinyl in preference to CD with two exceptions – “long” albums and compilations.

      I like American Pie and it was a nice touch to include it. Not sure what the story is with that Now blog – no updates since last July. It’s not an easy task – hard to stay motivated and make time. You need a routine to make it work.

  2. Feel the Quality says:

    There’s many reasons for the switch to CD. Mainly it was because I was older and had a part-time job so could afford the extra instead of saving pocket money when I was younger. It also seemed that it was the smart thing to do as vinyl seemed to be doomed (yeah right) and I wasn’t careful with my records (something I hugely regret now), so an “unscratchable” format was better.

    This may sound incredibly geeky but another reason was to be able to see the running length of songs. I was always fascinated with reading the sleeve entries a million times, who produced the record, wrote the songs, what album it was from and I absorbed it like a sponge. But other than on the actual label of the record itself on Now 1, running time was never there. CD could provide me with that at the touch of a button. So when I bought Now 20, I went straight to American Pie to see how long it was.

    As for the cover, I really liked it. Especially after the blandness of 18 and 19 and it was great to have the number back in large form (one big “19” would have been infinitely better than several small ones in the background). But I didn’t expect it to still be in use today and it got boring after a while. At least with the old “balls” logos, you always got a bit of variety and thought went into it. Seeing what they came up with for the cover was something I looked forward to nearly as much as the track selection.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      The running times were something I was very interested in as well. If I bought an LP with no times, I would get the stop-watch out and slip a yellow sticky on the front with the durations of each track. A return to balls would be nice – it was good to see a revival of sorts on Now That’s What I Call 80s Dance.

  3. Pingback: Now That’s What I Call Music 1991 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1993) | A Pop Fan's Dream

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