Now That’s What I Call Music 1996: The Millennium Series (EMI / Virgin / Universal, 1999)

Now Millennium 1996

Now Millennium 1996 r

Some thoughts from Jo Payton: “Blur were still enjoying the success of their fourth album, The Great Escape, released in September 1995. The album spent an impressive weeks on the UK chart and included the top 10 singles Country House, The Universal, Stereotypes and Charmless Man. During the year, Blur’s Damon Albarn also contributed to the soundtrack of top British cult flick Trainspotting, recording the James Bond-inspired track, Closet Romantic, for the project.” Yes, you’ve read it correctly – she doesn’t clarify the number of impressive weeks. There’s also a form of collective amnesia knocking around – one that fails to notice that Blur’s The Universal was already included on Now That’s What I Call Music 1995: The Millennium Series, released a mere three months earlier. Of all the sloppy errors with this project, including the same track on two successive volumes has got to take the booby prize.

All bar one of the 36 songs have already been discussed as follows:
Smash Hits 3: Backstreet Boys – We’ve Got It Goin’ On.
The ’96 Brit Awards: Blur – The Universal.
Now That’s What I Call Music 33: Lighthouse Family – Lifted, Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger, Pulp – Disco 2000, Babylon Zoo – Spaceman, Cast – Sandstorm, Supergrass – Going Out, Gabrielle – Give Me A Little More Time, Radiohead – Street Spirit (Fade Out).
New Hits ’96: Garbage – Stupid Girl.
Now That’s What I Call Music 34: Ocean Colour Scene – The Day We Caught The Train, The Bluetones – Slight Return, Joan Osborne – One Of Us, Space – Female Of The Species, Suede – Trash, Underworld – Born Slippy, Spice Girls – Wannabe, OMC – How Bizarre, Louise – Naked, Peter Andre – Mysterious Girl, Livin’ Joy – Don’t Stop Movin’, JX – There’s Nothing I Won’t Do.
Huge Hits 1996: Babybird – You’re Gorgeous (also on Now 35)
Now That’s What I Call Music 35: Boyzone – Words, The Beautiful South – Rotterdam, Pet Shop Boys – Se A Vida E (That’s The Way Life Is), East 17 featuring Gabrielle – If You Ever, Dina Carroll – Escaping, Neneh Cherry – Woman, Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over, 911 – Don’t Make Me Wait, Stretch ‘n’ Vern – I’m Alive, BBE – Seven Days And One Week.
The Brit Awards ’97: Dodgy – Good Enough.

Boyzone started CD2 of Millennium 1995 but for the 1996 edition they were promoted to CD1, track 1. Their cover of the Bee Gees’ Words is just ok; a passable entry for the quintet seen by some as inheritors of the Take That legacy. It’s followed by the smooth sound of the Lighthouse Family, the almost gospel-like Lifted. Keeping things easy, the Beautiful South’s wickedly great Rotterdam, so far superior to the Wedding Present track of the same name. You’ll find the latter on 1991’s Seamonsters; by 1995 the band were struggling after the comparative failure of their Watusi LP (Island records’ underrated gem produced by Steve Fisk). No further albums were recorded for Island, and the best part of 1995 was spent the same way as 1993: touring, writing new material, no recording. Paul Dorrington decided to quit the band; no replacement was made as Darren Belk doubled on bass and guitar. In the autumn of 1995, they released Sucker, a self-financed single that was sold at their gigs only. Shortly after, the band signed with independent label Cooking Vinyl.

And so to Brit pop: Ocean Colour Scene – Oasis – Pulp – The Bluetones – Space – Dodgy – Suede – Cast – Supergrass – Radiohead – Blur. It’s all here. London’s Bluetones formed in 1993 and appeared on two Fierce Panda releases, the Return To Splendour double 7″ (No. 11) and Nings Of Desire CD (Slight Return). During 1995, they released Slight Return in February (#21 on John Peel’s Festive 50), Are You Blue Or Are You Blind? in June and Bluetonic in October. Slight Return was reissued in January 1996, reaching #2 in the national charts. It was kept off the top by Babylon Zoo’s Spaceman. The debut album, Expecting To Fly followed shortly, a solid and well-crafted album that didn’t get enough credit at the time. Pyenapple would disagree: “One single gleaming gem in a bag of mostly unremarkable stones.” They went on to release a further single from it Cut Some Rug and a standalone 45, Marblehead Johnson, in autumn 1996.

Waiting for the great leap forward: the difference in quality between Pablo Honey and The Bends is nothing short of remarkable. Radiohead’s debut album was a plodding and dull affair, enlivened by the singles and a memorable video for Anyone Can Play Guitar. Supporting The Frank and Walters on their UK tour of 1993 seemed entirely appropriate for them – although people are aghast to hear it now. The Bends arrived in March 1995 and The album was produced by John Leckie and engineered by Nigel Godrich, who would go on to co-produce all future albums by the band. It also marked the band’s first full collaboration with graphic designer Stanley Donwood, who with Yorke experimented with snapshots taken from videotape recordings. More abrasive that the debut but with a much more multi-layered texture, it’s aged brilliantly. What they said at the time: “Powerful, bruised, majestically desperate record of frighteningly good songs” (Q), “The consummate, all-encompassing, continent-straddling ’90s rock record” (NME)

There were five singles released from The Bends. My Iron Lung EP emerged in September 1994. Its lyrics were telling – the millstone of Creep:
“This is our new song
just like the last one
a total waste of time
my iron lung”

In February ’95 we got a double A-side, Planet Telex / High And Dry. While both tracks got their chance at leading CD1 and CD2, High And Dry got most of the airplay. The superb Fake Plastic Trees followed in May – a record that’s associated with cramming for my finals. The sound of panic and Jolt Cola coupled with heaped instant espresso. August gave us Just with its enigmatic video – man lying on street. Finally Street Spirit (Fade Out) hit the shops at the end of January 1996. Anthem. Video directed by Jonathan Glazer who said “That was definitely a turning point in my own work. I knew when I finished that, because they found their own voices as an artist, at that point, I felt like I got close to whatever mine was, and I felt confident that I could do things that emoted, that had some kind of poetic as well as prosaic value. That for me was a key moment.”

The Pet Shops Boys’ sixth album, Bilingual, was released three years after Very. You can read about the 1993 PSB experience in my review of Now That’s What I Call Music 1993: The Millennium Series. When Bilingual emerged, I was ecstatic and considered it their strongest work to date: I wasn’t the only one. “The last of their great LPs, a checkpoint-charlie between the lost magic and the ongoing craft. I’d risk to call it a concept album, with an untold story behind it, an overall message wrapped in cerebral tunes. The outstanding B-sides don’t drive away from the album at all – they just depict the amount of material the Boys had then, and how much energy, magic, and melancholy was in question.” (Eliks PostIndustry) There’s a big worldwide vibe going in here; especially the influences of Latin America. It Always Comes as a Surprise contains a sample of Astrud Gilberto from Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars) by Stan Getz. Single (titled Single-Bilingual for single release) is a Spanish / English language composition while Se A Vida E (That’s the Way Life Is) has a wonderful Portuguese / Brazilian feel. Behaviour = winner.

Eternal’s soaring ballad I Am Blessed is the only song here that has not been previously discussed or included on the canon compilation releases of the time. They performed it for Pope John Paul II in the Vatican during 1995. Madness’ House of Fun was top of the British charts when the same Pope visited there in 1982. “So during the first Papal visit for some time (and it would be decades before another one), the #1 song was about contraception.” (as pointed out by regular reader Feel The Quality) The Pope came to Ireland at the end of September 1979 but nothing so subversive topped our charts. We got:
29 September: Catriona Walsh – Viva Il Papa
6 October: Jim Tobin – Welcome John Paul II
The commemorative album was released by RTE and brings together some of the great moments of the Pope’s autumn journey through Ireland, from first greetings to last farewells, as recorded in Dublin, Killineer, Clonmacnoise, Galway, Knock and Limerick.

Favourite tracks
Dodgy – Good Enough

The Bluetones – Slight Return

Cast – Sandstorm

Pet Shop Boys – Se A Vida E (That’s The Way Life Is)

Lest we forget
Radiohead – Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Missing tracks and other thoughts
Blur duplication notwithstanding, this 1996 Millennium edition does a fairly decent job in covering the year’s hits. The first disc is well sequenced with a somewhat easy opening sequence before going into a comprehensive Brit pop charge. Garbage and Babylon Zoo both provide meat for the indie disco while it’s just Joan Osborne that seems out of place. Ending the first half with Born Slippy is a nice touch; Trainspotting was the big movie of the year and its soundtrack was immense. I love its final track: Damon Albarn’s Closet Romantic – a piece of music that treads the same conceptual ground as Parklife album-closer Lot 105. Meanwhile CD2 rounds up a solid pop and R&B selection with a neat slow section (Dina Carroll to Crowded House) and a few really choice dance bangers to see us home. 1996 was when I purchased two KAM turntables and a two channel mixer that’s so dusty and covered in stickers that I cannot remember the make. Two transform buttons enhancing the likes of JX or BBE into something out of this world. Bedsit bangers.

There were three regular Now albums released in 1996 and 31 of their songs are featured on this Millennium entry. This includes You’re Gorgeous which was first nabbed by Huge Hits 1996. We got a whopping 24 number ones in 1996 with a measly four included here. George Michael’s Jesus To A Child or Fastlove should have been first out of the bag. Also missed: The Chemical Brothers’ Setting Sun, anything from The Fugees (Killing Me Softly was the best seller of 1996), either Firestarter or Breathe from The Prodigy and I would have used 2 Become 1 instead of Wannabe. More, more, more: Mark Morrison’s slamming Return Of The Mack, Gina G, Three Lions, Robert Miles’ haunting Children or One & One, Jamiroquai’s cosmic Virtual Insanity, Faithless’ Insomnia. Elsewhere Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill got seriously heavy airplay in 1996 and you can take your pick (Ironic, All I Really Want, You Learn, Head Over Feet). And what should replace The Universal? Easy, A Design For Life by the Manic Street Preachers. An indie anthem in all but record label.

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Big Hits ’99 (Global Television / Sony / Warner ESP, 1999)

Big Hits 99

Big Hits 99 r

The 38th volume of the Hits series, Big Hits ’99, was released in September 1999. On the “featuring” section of the front cover were plugs for Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Jamiroquai, Five, A1, Westlife, Another Level, Lou Bega, TQ, Aerosmith, Moloko, Basement Jaxx, Fatboy Slim, Stereophonics “and many more.”
Just five of the 42 tracks had already appeared on a previous compilation:
Now That’s What I Call Music 43: Backstreet Boys – I Want It That Way, Adam Rickitt – I Breathe Again, New Radicals – You Get What You Give, Basement Jaxx – Red Alert, Honeyz – Love Of A Lifetime.

Like it or loathe it, Livin’ La Vida Loca was a phenomena. Widely credited with showing the way for the Latin pop explosion of 1999 and 2000, it sold a whopping 8,000,000 copies. Kudos: Livin’ received six nominations at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards including Video of the Year, Best Male Video, Best Choreography in a Video and Viewer’s Choice. It won two primary awards for Best Pop Video, and Best Dance Video, and was voted three additional awards in the international Viewers Choice categories. It also won Ritmo Latino Music Award for Music Video of the Year. For Ricky Martin, the success that ensued was a just reward for almost a decade’s worth of solo material (four Spanish LPs) in addition to his 1980s releases with Menudo. In other news, he was a headliner in the 2001 inauguration celebration for President George W. Bush.

In the second lot are series regulars Five. The funkier than usual If Ya Gettin’ Down was the lead single from Invincible and includes a sample from In Deep’s Last Night A DJ Saved My Life. It reached #2 – kept off the top by Ricky Martin. Going one better were Westlife with their second 45, the competent If I Let You Go, a step up from Swear It Again. Pushing the envelope in the music world, Jennifer Lopez’s If You Had My Love is a pretty impressive debut, a neat combination of swingbeat and salsa with a distinct edge. The memorable video has a voyeuristic theme, taking in the still-new(ish) internet theme, wherein a range of viewers watch Lopez through webcams by accessing “Jennifer Lopez Online.” On a similar tip, Lou Bega drops in with Mambo No. 5, a Perez Prado cover which is then followed by Perez himself with Rosemary Clooney in tow – Sway. At the time, there were two versions of Sway in the charts – Dean Martin’s and a heavier dance version from Shaft so the inclusion of the 1960 collaboration is unusual but welcome.

After this fiery beginning we then settle into a club groove with Another Level’s party blaster Summertime which sits nicely against Jamiroquai’s spacious and intensely expansive Canned Heat. Remember it from Napoleon Dynamite and hang up your hang ups. We’re back in the boyband arena with A1’s first outing, the soaring Be The First To Believe. Shining brightly – but briefly – the cute duo Marvin and Tamara with the juvenile fluff of Groove Machine. Sweeping them aside are Destiny’s Child with the absolutely divine Bills, Bills, Bills; Beyoncé singing deep alto. The music video was directed by Darren Grant and shot in a beauty salon as a tribute to Beyoncé’s mother, Tina. The R&B heat continues with TQ’s mournful Better Days, closing track on They Never Saw Me Coming and should have done an awful lot better than stalling at #32 in the UK chart.

Guitar heroes: it’s single #4 from Performance And Cocktails, the road trip set to music, I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio. The video is a homage to Easy Rider while there’s a whole lotta regret going on. Meanwhile Tsunami were a US indie outfit from Arlington that delighted hipster fans of Velocity Girl and Bikini Kill. The Manic Street Preachers’ song of the same has nothing to do with them. Instead it’s inspired by The Silent Twins, June and Jennifer Gibbons, who gave up speaking when they were young, became involved in crime and ended up being sent to Broadmoor Hospital. Equally cursed are Catatonia with their weary and affecting Londinium while Suede’s She’s In Fashion is marvelously summery, featuring a swirling synth line that makes everything dreamy. Elsewhere Aerosmith crash in with the re-released Pink, a form of garish rock jangle. Best ’til last: channel some teen spirit with Hepburn’s evocative Bugs. “You’re the last thing in my head.” A gem that grows with repeated plays, it’s tough punka suss belying a vulnerable centre.

One of 1999’s most ubiquitous tunes was Kiss Me by US Christian rock group Sixpence None The Richer. The original music video is a homage to Jules Et Jim while the track featured in Dawson’s Creek and was the main theme song of Miramax’s teen romantic comedy film She’s All That. The BBC used the song as a closing theme during its broadcast coverage of Prince Edward’s royal wedding upon the request of the British Royal Family. It’s followed by another massive number, Moloko’s Sing It Back which became a late summer smash the second time around – following a remix by DJ Boris Dlugosch. Don’t confuse them with Morcheeba. Elsewhere Doolally’s Straight From The Heart was first released in 1998, and reached #20. They then became Shanks and Bigfoot and after the success Sweet Like Chocolate, re-released Straight which peaked at #9. Born to party.

We’re in the midst of the Playstation’s golden era. Phats & Small’s Feel Good takes me right back to those days; a fine example of quality vocal house. Check my paranoia! Apollo 440 break through with Stop The Rock: remember it from the soundtracks to FIFA 2000, Gone In 60 Seconds, Boys and Girls and Bedazzled. Inspired by Status Quo’s Caroline and vocals by Ian Hoxley, ex-Gaye Bykers On Acid. Feeling blue? Eiffel 65 “blend Cher-esque vocoder vocals, trance-like synth riffs, unabashed Eurodisco beats and a baby-babble chorus so infantile it makes the Teletubbies sound like Shakespeare.” (Rolling Stone) It’s followed by an oddity: Soul Surfing, a Fatboy Slim album track of indeterminate quality. And then Best Friend, Mark Morrison’s joint jam with Conner Reeves with Gabrielle in the background. She gets no credit because her label didn’t approve the project.

It’s probably more familiar as a 2001 record, but BBMak’s gorgeous Back Here was originally released in 1999. An extremely well-crafted slice of harmonious pop. We go blue with Fierce’s nifty bass-led So Long while Brandy’s Almost Doesn’t Count slips past, a ghostly ballad. Still in the R&B zone, Imajin’s competent jam No Doubt. Next come The 3 Jays and the urban filter disco classic Feeling It Too which is followed by the strung out beach banger Makes Me Love You from Eclipse. Heavy on the Sister Sledge Thinking Of You sample, Harry. Meanwhile Grace resurfaces to assist Planet Perfecto promote Not Over Yet ’99 – still a catchy number. Less memorable are the dubious Dope Smugglaz who fail to lift their version of Malcolm McLaren’s Double Double Dutch above mediocrity. Suck rock. To close the disc, there’s what appears to be a change of pace as Gary Barlow’s Stronger gently strums in before speeding off in a dance direction. Nice. And almost like a postscript, a country tune from the Dixie Chicks, There’s Your Trouble. Austin visit vibes.

Favourite tracks
BBMak – Back Here

Suede – She’s In Fashion

Manic Street Preachers – Tsunami

Stereophonics – I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio

Catatonia – Londinium

Lest we forget
Hepburn – Bugs

Missing tracks and other thoughts
Definitely one of the strongest volumes of the late 1990s, this instalment manages to evoke a peak nostalgia buzz from almost every single track. More tunes to consider:

Will Smith – Wild Wild West. Good tune, flop film.
Lauryn Hill – Everything Is Everything. Third and final Miseducation treatise.
Alanis Morissette – So Pure. Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Midst of life etc.
Eminem featuring Dr Dre – Guilty Conscience. Slim Shady horrorcore.
Super Furry Animals – Fire In My Heart. Stuart and Marie’s wedding song.

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Now That’s What I Call Music 43 (EMI / Virgin / Universal, 1999)

Now 43

Now 43 r

Now That’s What I Call Music 43 was released in mid July 1999. It contained a total of 41 tracks. 12 of these have already been discussed on the following compilations:
New Hits ’99: Shanks and Bigfoot – Sweet Like Chocolate.
Smash Hits Summer ’99: Martine McCutcheon – Perfect Moment, Phats & Small – Turn Around, Geri Halliwell – Look At Me, Precious – Say It Again, Fierce – Dayz Like That, Fatboy Slim – Right Here, Right Now, Stereophonics – Pick A Part That’s New.
Fresh Hits ’99: ATB – 9PM (Till I Come), Tina Cousins – Forever, Wiseguys – Ooh La La, Chicane featuring Maire Brennan – Saltwater.

Anne Murray singing You Needed Me. Now there’s a childhood memory from the late 1970s. The song was one of my mother’s favourites. Back then our 3-in-1 stereo was in the “good” room. Sometimes she’d sit there and play LPs. Us children would play quietly or read. We had a compilation called Country Life (released on EMI during 1979) that had 20 tracks – all in the same vein: Ode To Billie Joe, Take Me Home Country Roads, Snowbird, The Gambler etc. Sadly Boyzone’s cover fails to capture the moment and it’s a rather dull experience. In a head-to-head battle with Geri Halliwell’s Look At Me, Boyzone came out in top and outsold Ginger Spice by 700 copies to hit #1. Much more satisfying is I Want It That Way, a pretty fine pop ballad from the Backstreet Boys. Taken from their Millennium album – people were really getting geared up then – it topped the chart in 25 countries.

S Club 7 get into the groove on their uptempo debut single Bring It All Back. The stars of BBC series Miami 7: Jon, Bradley, Hannah, Jo, Rachel, Tina and Paul shot straight to the top of the charts. The colonel was Simon Fuller who had been fired as the Spice Girls’ manager at the end of 1997. We boom once more with the Vengaboys torturous third single before the situation is remedied by Basement Jaxx’s Clinton-inspired Red Alert. The primary sample is Locksmith’s Chinese Funk Song. Moving on: Without Love saw Dina Carroll’s relaunch as a dance diva. Originally she planned to release a cover of Son Of A Preacher Man but was shelved due to Dusty’s death. Elsewhere Coronation Street’s Adam Rickitt broke out of his Nick Tilsley character role to release his debut single, I Breathe Again. I was cynical before I heard it but I have to say – top stuff. Like a male Madonna fronting a Euro dance outfit. Its bare-all promo video helped achieve a top 5 placing.

“Lolly is a super cool funster from the West Midlands who loves shopping, rollerskating, fluffy jumpers and Hollyoaks.” Vive La Radio is anodyne bubblegum but looks deep, complex and intricate when compared the Cartoons’ monstrous and offensively dire Doo Dah. Slowing things down are Honeyz with the syrup R&B jam Love Of A Lifetime, a nice slow burner. Sadly, 911’s version of the Stax classic, Private Number – sung so well by Judy Clay and William Bell in 1968 – is watery stuff. Culture Club’s reunion continues with the underrated Your Kisses Are Charity which unfortunately couldn’t repeat the success of I Just Wanna Be Loved. Wrapping up the first half are Beverley Knight’s summer anthem Greatest Day and Melanie G’s ill-advised train wreck cover of Word Up.

“Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.”
This column by Chicago Tribune journalist, Mary Schmich, and published in June 1997 was framed as hypothetical commencement speech. In it she forcefully recommends the wearing of sunscreen, and dispenses various pieces of advice which are intended to help people live a happier life. The complete text of the essay was used by Australian director Baz Luhrmann for a track on his 1998 album Something For Everybody. The original seven minute track was cut down to 5:05 for a 1999 single release which went to #1 in both Ireland and the UK. Listening now, it comes across as both weirdly uplifting and intensely sobering. And naturally, it makes a lot more sense to me now than it did in 1999.

Texas’ second coming continued with their another massive album – The Hush – which was a worthy successor to 1998’s White On Blonde. The rather serious In Our Lifetime was also included on the Notting Hill soundtrack. Meanwhile the New Radicals sound like a hybrid between Wham! and Wheatus on the anthemic You Get What You Give. Annie Zaleski for The A.V. Club wrote that the song was “surprisingly influential on popular music, just in a non-obvious, almost obscured way”, and that it was “both a nostalgic artifact and a song that transcends any era.” One for a road trip – Supergrass’ catchy glam rock of Pumping On Your Stereo – before the inclusion of a brand new single by Madness, the charming Lovestruck which was the band’s first fresh material of the decade.

The Chemical Brothers’ Hey Boy, Hey Girl can be filed under total dance stomper. The vocal sample “Hey girls, B-boys, superstar DJs, here we GO!” was taken from The Roof Is On Fire by Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three. The music video features skeletons. And in some neat sequencing, Chicane’s Saltwater is followed by their remix of Bryan Adams’ Cloud Number Nine, a reworking that’s exceptionally memorable. We’re on a roll now, Blur are next, Graham Coxon singing about his battles with alcoholism on the superb Coffee And TV; here we have the 5:03 radio edit. You can also hear the song on the Cruel Intentions soundtrack. Cast’s Beat Mama is a good song that’s hard to find, first single from the upcoming third LP that seems to have been lost in the millennium rush.

Bring It On sees Gomez use the name of their debut album on the lead 45 from the second LP, Liquid Skin. A stop / start track with only sudden bursts of melody, the video carries a health and safety theme, “Music can be dangerous.” Clearer: Semisonic’s crunchy Secret Smile with a guitar riff that’s once heard, never forgotten. After 1998’s Best Of, back come James with the direct sound of I Know What I’m Here For. I remain unconvinced. For the last three tunes we return to the club zone: Yomanda’s Synth And Strings brings us back to 1980 with is samples of Liquid Gold’s Dance Yourself Dizzy while Better Off Alone is the sound of the Euro trance wave crashing on rocks. Finally we get some decent and uplifting house music: Masters At Work presents India – To Be In Love. Ibiza ’99 forever.

Favourite tracks
Baz Luhrmann – Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)

Supergrass – Pumping On Your Stereo

Blur – Coffee And TV

Masters At Work presents India – To Be In Love

Bryan Adams – Cloud Number Nine

Lest we forget
Cast – Beat Mama

Missing tracks and other thoughts
A mixed bag. The first disc is a struggle but CD2 ups the game with a pretty ace selection. Here’s a few more recruits that should have been drafted in:

Electronic – Vivid. Arthur Baker back in the game. No confusion.
Moby – Run On. Let us play.
Happy Mondays – The Boys Are Back In Town. After a seven year absence.
Shed Seven – Disco Down. Let it ride.
Gay Dad – Joy. The next big thing. Hugely underrated and lashings of glam.
Orbital – Nothing Left. Arrival from the middle of nowhere.


And thanks to Smash Hits Mag for this advert.

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