Monday, March 07, 2005

Now (That's What I (Mostly) Call Music) Vol 18 - Review

When one creates a personal mixtape, one has the liberty to include (and exclude) music based on one's preferences. Indeed, that is the very objective of a personalized mix. Commercial compilations are driven more by an effort to capture the currently cool, to define hipness, and to collate popular hits.

The Now series, in it's various incarnations, has done precisely that. Each instance provides an overview of cultural musical talent at the time, without venturing too far into the outre.

Now 18, as the release shall be known colloquially, is no exception. With tracks ranging from U2's Vertigo to Hoobastank's Disappear, it does not disappoint. A more intelligent selection, however, might have chosen "Love Or Peace Or Else" over "Vertigo", or Leonard Cohen over Snoop Dogg. Apparently Leonard's not hot, in some circles.

Working with what we have, the song list for Now 18 is:

1. "Vertigo (Radio Edit)" - U2: Not markedly different from the album version, there is little mystery left in this overplayed hymn to arena rock, dance clubs and love. I like the middle section, where Bono pleads "All of this can be yours/Just give me what I want/And no one gets hurt" - an appeal to trade places with the ordinary or an offer of temptation by an arch-devil in deserted places of the heart?

2. "What You Waiting For" - Gwen Stefani: Oozing with manufactured sexuality, Gwen provides a self-referential commentary on 'ars longa, vita brevis' - warning that time is running out, fame is fleeting and 'Your moment will run out/cause of your sex chromosome'. She yearns for more style a la 'Harajuku girls', from Tokyo's teenager district. The trouble is - it's all be done before - from Abba to Madonna, the commandments of sex for sale are a well-hewn line, good beats notwithstanding.

3. "Rumors" - Lindsey Lohan: Not a mash-up of Fleetwood Mac, the "Mean Girls" star does a pretty good piece, featuring another star apparently tired of 'rumors','bein' followed' and 'people lyin'. The best piece comes at the beginning, with the star 'stepping into the Club' and knowing that "I cant tell that your watchin me/And your probably gonna write what you didnt see/Well I just need a little Space to Breathe/Can you please Respect my Privacy"

4. "Drop It Like It's Hot" - Snoop Dogg: Talking about manufactured acts and music, the talented Snoop Dogg rhymes about his image as a "a Bad Boy, wit a lot of ho's/Drive my own cars, and wear my own clothes/I hang out tough, I'm a real Boss". Despite the deliberately offensive lyrics and pseudo-gangster style, one feels the singer is mocking the over-the-top nature of his act. Much "-izzle" appears in the song, as is normal for Snoop - "So don't change the dizzle, turn it up a little/I got a living room full of fine dime brizzles/Waiting on the bizzle, the dizzle and the shizzle/G's to the bizzack, now ladies here we gizzo"

5. "Soldier" - Beyonce Knowles: Beyonce does the Destiny's Child song on her own, providing another perspective of street cred, where the girls apparently "like them boys up top from the BK/Know how to flip that money three ways/Always ridin' big on the freeway" and the "Low-cut caesars with the deep waves" - an interesting image. The guest vocals chime in, noting that " cash, money is a army/I'm walkin' with Purple Hearts on me". Good beats

6. "Only You" - Ashanti: A tale of obsessive love, it features some strong bass and chords that would not be out of line in "Kill Bill: The Street Gang".

7. "Balla Baby" - Chingy: Quick, fast, rhyming featuring Bugs Bunny - "I know my err{ear} related to the wasky wabbit/Carrots{karets} all in it jazzy, it's a habit". This is another song rich in pimp cred - "I like em black, white, puerto rican or haitian/Japanese, chinese, or even asian/It don't matta what color on this occasion/Like smoke, take a hit of what I'm blazin/Instead of GOD it's me these girls praisin'./Meet me at about 6 at the Days Inn./5 of dem, 1 of me, I'm feelin' caged in."

8. "Used To Love You" - John Legend: Perhaps the best song on this compilation, John Legend revitalizes neo-soul and offers cool harmonies, as well as a wry look at choices - between love, bling-bling, and all else.(I reviewed this song at length earlier)

9. "Over And Over Again" - Nelly & Tim McGraw: An unusual collaboration between icons of hip-hop & country, this gentle piece about tmemories of loss, love and 'the last breath you took right in front of me' creates visual and aural images that linger. Nice.

10. "Obsession" - Frankie J: A song reminiscent of Enrique Ig., Ricky M, etc, this is not tongue-in-cheek, unlike others on the album. Romantic obsession seems to be de rigeur for the times.

11. "O (Clean Radio Edit)" - Omarion: The 'O' in the title is a reference to the singer, as well as the sound he wants to hear from his lady. Omarion puts in his bid to be 'the one' for the woman of his dreams, stressing that he is not self-serving, like all the other men who say "time and time again,/That they would rock your world and change ur life". He confesses he wants much the same thing, but from more altruistic motives - "Well im gone put my bid in 2 get at u. no disrespect/but i want it bad as they do. The only difference is they look out 4 themselves/but im doing it just 2 here u yell yea."

12. "Collide" - Howie Day: More boy-pop/boy-rock, this romantic interlude deals with self-doubt, writer's block and collisions between defenceless hearts - "Even the best fall down sometimes/Even the wrong words seem to rhyme/Out of the doubt that fills your mind/You finally find/You and I collide". Nice beats, catchy rhythm.

13. "Disappear" - Hoobastank: Obsession-romance again, rock-style, although this time it feels authentic, and well-versed, pun intended. The fear of loss, departure, and as Roland Barthes might say - the knowledge of the lover leaving before she leaves - "There's a pain that sleeps inside/Sleeps with just one eye/And awakens, the moment that you leave/And I search through every face/Without a single trace, of the person/The person that I need/Do you know, that everytime you're near/Everybody else seems far away/So can you come and make them disappear/Make them disappear and we can stay"

14. "Vitamin R" - Chevelle: There are not many songs dedicated to prescription drugs. Chevelle's "Vitamin R" evokes Ritalin, the Attention Deficit Disorder(ADD) drug. Reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman" ("You know me, I'm your friend,/Your main boy, thick and thin./I'm your pusherman") - which is interesting, given that one deals with street drug sellers, and this one deals with the "ask your doctor if Ritalin is right for you" kind of marketing. Chevelle notes that "if they're making it/Then they're pushing it/And they're leading us along/The hassle of/All the screaming fits/That panic makes remorse". Drugs bring relief, but like other external solutions to ailments of the body, mind and soul, "Over and over a slave became".

15. "Home" - Three Days Grace: The band delivers a hard-rock eulogy for the single man and failed, lingering relationships - "I'm coming home just to be alone/'Cause I know you're not there/and I know that you don't care". The emptiness of the house/not a home and the retreat into la la land("By the time you come home/I'm already stoned") are simplistic, yet frank avowals of despair.

16. "Lady" - Lenny Kravitz: The rocker delivers a scratchy, hazy piece on love with some characteristic riffs and yells - "Never knew there was such a lady/That would make me want to straighten/Out my life at this time but I find/I'm thinkin' 'bout this pretty lady/I would love for her to have my baby/'Cause you know she's no fool/She's refined/I know she's a super lady/I'm weak and I've gone hazy yeah"

17. "I Just Wanna Live" - Good Charlotte: This song, too, builds on the theme of stars tired of their publicity, and questions, complaining that "Don't really care about the things that they say/Don't really care about what happens to me/I just wanna live." Set to an Erasure-style beat.

18. "Jesse's Girl" - Frickin' A: A remake of Rick's Springfield's 80's song on envy, lust and self-doubt - not much changed. A better inclusion from this band would have been their "Merry Merry Merry Frickin' Christmas" about the Red Sox win at the World Series - "Schools out Christmas break/Back to Boston, the Red Sox in four straight /First the Yankees then St. Louis /The curse, reversed, the Bambino really blew it /Derek Jeter's lost his mind /Trippin’ on a broom stick, better luck next time /Have a Merry, Merry, Merry Frickin' Christmas /All you New York Yankees fans can kiss this /The tree the gifts the mistletoe kiss /Swing, a miss, Steinbrenner’s really pissed /Have a Merry, Merry, Merry Frickin' Christmas ". Heh

19. "Tangled Up In Me" - Skye Sweetnam: The interestingly named Ms. Sweetnam riffs on unexpressed desire and "reverse psychology" as a means of seduction in this girlie-pop number - "Can't you see I want you by the way I push you away, Ya! /Don't judge me tomorrow by the way I'm acting today /Mix the words up with the actions do it all for your reaction Ya! /Hey! Hey! Get tangled up in me "

20. "You're My Better Half" - Keith Urban: A fast country-rock song, dealing with the relative worth of it all, true companions and fulfilment - "They say behind every man is a good woman /But I think that's a lie /'Cause when it comes to you I'd rather have you by my side "

In all, a good collection, representative of the top acts around, with an interesting consistency of themes, intentional or not. The album will be available on March 15, available on Amazon currently for pre-order.

Now That's What I Call Music! 18/Various Artists How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb/U2 Love, Angel, Music, Baby/Gwen Stefani The Reason/Hoobastank Three Days Grace/Three Days Grace Concrete Rose/Ashanti Get Lifted/John Legend

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