Friday, January 29, 2016

#382, in which a cardinal rule is violated

I knew they couldn't all be as good as Now! 5, but I had hoped that many of these compilations would be at least somewhat listenable. I'm no great fan of pop, but if nothing else, I expected that these songs would be catchy and toe-tapping, if reprehensible on some level.

In Now! 20, we find a collection of songs that don't even reach that level. Nearly every moment of this album is utterly forgettable, and if a compilation of pop music isn't even fun to listen to, what's the point?

There are big names on this album, like Backstreet Boys, Ciara, Destiny's Child, Weezer, Fall Out Boy, Franz Ferdinand, and the like, but for the most part, none of the songs particularly stood out. They all sort of blended together into one unremarkable hum to me, and if I'm having a hard time telling apart Destiny's Child and Weezer, the music is pretty generic indeed.

Normally I have a lot to say about these albums, whether how much I loved or hated the music, but the fact that I'm four short paragraphs in and already tapped out I think is indicative of just how dull this album is, so I'll leave you with this: the album kicks off with "Don't Phunk With My Heart," and as repellent a song as I think that is, I wish the rest of the album had been more like it so that I'd at least have something to write about.

My recommendation: don't buy this album, and don't stream it, either. There are so many better ways you could spend 90 minutes of your time, like doing charity work or nailing your hand to a wall. Anything would be more interesting than this.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

#381, in which we have a new champion

I started this project with the expectation that these compilations would all be, at best, wretched, and at worst, literally painful to listen to. I went into the project with a full understanding of that because I care about you, the reader.

The first album I listened to was bad, but the second wasn't too terrible. This third one, though?

You guys, this third album is very close to pure freebased pop perfection.

I haven't done this yet, but I want to give you a complete listing of the tracks on this album:

"It's Gonna Be Me," *NSYNC
"Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)," 98 Degrees
"Jumpin' Jumpin'," Destiny's Child
"Don't Think I'm Not," Kandi
"I Think I'm in Love with You," Jessica Simpson
"Faded," soulDecision
"Shake It Fast," Mystikal
"Case of the Ex," Mya
"Aaron's Party (Come Get It)," Aaron Carter
"Lucky," Britney Spears
"Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely," Backstreet Boys
"Incomplete," Sisqo
"I Wanna Be with You," Mandy Moore
"Doesn't Really Matter," Janet Jackson
"Back Here," BBMak
"Absolutely (Story of a Girl)," Nine Days
"Kryptonite," 3 Doors Down
"Wonderful," Everclear
"It's My Life," Bon Jovi

This album is an absolutely flawless encapsulation of what pop music sounded like in 2000. Chalk it up to my sense of nostalgia (I was 17 when this album came out), chalk it up to my pure and unabashed love of boy bands, but I absolutely love all of this. Make no mistake: these songs are truly awful. But they're so awful that they come back around the other side. They're bad in a Plan 9 From Outer Space sort of way rather than a Manos: The Hands of Fate sort of way.

Look at that lineup again. We get all three of the major boy bands from the late '90s, and we get HUGE songs from all three of them. We get early Destiny's Child crushing it with "Jumpin' Jumpin'," we get strong contributions from both Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson, we get some staples of terrible alt-rock with "Story of a Girl," "Kryptonite," and "Wonderful," and we get a spectacularly hilarious radio edit of Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass."

And I feel confident in saying that all of these songs pale in comparison to the bright sun in the center of this dazzling array of pop planets that is AARON CARTER. This song is exactly what you would expect if you gave an 11 year-old a Casio synthesizer piano and asked him to rap about middle school, then turned that rap over to a producer to remaster and put on the radio. (Yes, I am aware that Aaron Carter was actually 12 when this album came out. My point stands.) He raps about throwing a party when his parents are out on a date. He raps about throwing your hands in the air. He refers to himself in the third person. And at the end of the song, HIS PARENTS COME HOME AND HE GETS GROUNDED. This song is spectacular in its awfulness. It is truly brilliant. I am convinced that the only reason this song was not digitized and placed on the Voyager Golden Record was that it had not yet been recorded when the probe was launched. If we had only been willing to wait 21 years, we, as a human race, would have unanimously agreed that this should be the song that would represent our species to alien life forms.

When you listen to this album, you'll be shaking your head and remembering how horrible early 2000s pop was, but you'll have a smile on your face the whole time. You will thank yourself, and you'll do it while shaking your hips to songs like "Lucky" and "I Wanna Be with You."

I don't expect this will be a recommendation I can make often this year, but you should absolutely listen to this album in its entirety at your earliest convenience. There's a reason this album went quadruple platinum and was the best-selling of the series. It's probably difficult to find, because who would sell the album back, but if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend purchasing this compilation. You will not regret it.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

#380, in which a resolution has not been forgotten

You may think that I've already quit on my resolution, or that I've forgotten, or that for whatever reason, this resolution has fallen by the wayside. Don't you worry, though. The only reason I didn't post anything last week was because I got really quite sick and wasn't able to listen to much of anything, let alone write about it.

This week, I listened to NOW! 15, and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised with this one. 32 was club music nearly the whole way through, but this had a nicer mix of various genres that only rarely made me want to turn off the music and hurl my computer through the window in disgust. (Three of the last four tracks are by blink-182, Good Charlotte, and Fuel, so, you know.) It's toe-tapping, infectious pop, and really, that's exactly what these albums should be in my mind. You get alt-rock, hip-hop, girl pop, and even a bit of punk, so there's something for everyone here. Unless you're a big fan of club music, in which case, may I recommend 32 to you.

The album starts with "It's My Life" by No Doubt, which is a perfect encapsulation of what this project should be. It's enjoyable, catchy, and fun, while not being particularly challenging. It's the musical equivalent of cotton candy. Nothing too tricky about it. "Toxic" is more or less the same thing, although your personal mileage may vary with this one because of the screechy hook. This music should make you want to get up and shake around, and it should stick in your head through the day without making you want to claw your brains out. (Again, your personal mileage with Britney Spears may vary.) Ludacris' "Stand Up" and Chingy's "Holidae In" are similar, but for hip-hop. You'll want to move, you'll want to shake, and you'll feel pretty okay about it.

Yes, this album has a Black Eyed Peas song on it. No, I don't particularly want to dwell on it. Not every song in this project can be a winner.

About halfway through the album, the tone switches from groovy pop to mellower girl pop-type music, for lack of a better term for it. We switch from Nick Cannon and Eamon to Jessica Simpson, Norah Jones, and Sheryl Crow. It's all nice, but the switch is a little jarring. I'm not sure what formula, if any, they used to determine which songs would be included on the album, but it sort of feels like they had to put these songs on them, so they just jammed them in as best as they could. Again, they're lovely, but when the song that precedes them is "Shorty DooWop," it makes for some strange juxtaposition.

Ideally, they would have ended the album with Sheryl Crow, but as I mentioned, they went on and included some truly dire punk pop. I am no great fan of blink-182 or of Good Charlotte, so while I tried not to let my personal biases color my experience with the album, I couldn't help but suffer through the last few tracks. They are not good, and by the time I had slogged through them, I was rewarded with Five for Fighting's "100 Years," which sort of felt like being hit with tire irons for fifteen minutes only to be rewarded with five minutes of a MasterCard commercial.

This album isn't great, by any stretch of the imagination, but for what it is, it's pretty okay. I don't know that I'd recommend purchasing it, but if you're looking for some music to put on while you're cleaning the house to give you a bit of energy, this is a pretty solid choice.

Friday, January 01, 2016

#379, in which a very stupid resolution is made

For the last several years, I've made one serious and one stupid resolution for the new year. The stupid resolution usually ends up being something entertaining that doesn't feel like a chore to do, which helps me to stay focused on my real resolution. And it's worked for the last three years! I've actually maintained focus and done what I intended to do.

For whatever reason, though, I had a hard time coming up with a good stupid resolution for this year. That's not to say that some of you out there weren't forthcoming with resolutions:

But finally, with about six hours to go in 2015, I figured it out:

It's stupid, yet measurable, and there are 56 of these compilation albums out there, so it works out well to do about one of these a week. I'm not sure what I'll do when three or four more of these are inevitably released this year. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

This morning, I randomized the list of albums and came up with Now! 32. I pulled it up on Spotify and started listening.

Let me be perfectly frank before we start, though. I'm not a fan of 2000's and 2010's-era pop, and even less of a fan of club music in general. I made this resolution knowing that I would probably hate most of the music on these albums. I'm going to try not to let my personal biases interfere with reviewing the albums.

But oh my goodness, oh my sweet heavenly dogs, friends, this is not a good album. It's very, very heavy on autotune. Some autotune is often needed, and overdoing it a little can be interesting, but when it's prevalent through several songs in a row, it wears thin. (Yes, I'm talking about you here, Jason Derulo. "Whatcha Say" would be about thirty seconds long if you took out the autotuned sections.) The same bumping and thumping club chords dominate nearly every song, and after a while, the songs seem to blend together. It doesn't help that I'm not that familiar with artists like Lady Gaga, Li'l Wayne, and Pitbull, which don't sound that different to me, but they all blurred into one sound to my ears. (This is by choice, incidentally. Offers to help familiarize me with these acts are unsolicitied and unappreciated.)

It's not just the club sound of the music that's prevalent, either. Several of the songs focused on what I'll call a club mentality toward women. The songs tend to be either men singing about objectifying and abusing women or women singing about being objects. Mariah Carey's "Obsessed" and David Guetta & Akon's "Sexy Chick" are notable offenders, featuring lyrics like "I'm trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful/damn girl/damn who's a sexy bitch". I cringed more than once listening to these songs.

But that's not to say that the album is terrible all the way through. This was my first time listening to many of these artists, and I was pleasantly surprised with a couple of them. Shakira's "She Wolf" has a great pseudo-disco beat, is largely free of autotune, and even has non-objectifying lyrics. I'd willingly listen to it again, something I can't say about many of these other songs. I'm not particularly familiar with Drake, except for the fact that he's virtually omnipresent in society lately, but I had a difficult time finding a reason to dislike "Best I Ever Had." I'm not a huge fan of slow jam-style R&B, but this was solid.

But here's the real head-scratcher in this collection: the second-to-last track on the album is "Only You Can Love Me This Way," by Keith Urban. Almost every song on the album is noxious un-tss un-tss style club music to this point, and then we're left to conclude with a soulful country ballad. It's nice, though I'm not a fan of pop country, but it feels weirdly out of place. All I can think of is that either the Now! people have criteria that they use to determine which songs make the cut and that they were forced to include this song, or perhaps they wanted to diversify their audience at least a little and threw in this token country song. Either way, it just doesn't quite fit.

My recommendation is not to purchase or even listen to this album, but your mileage may vary.