NOW That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 54 [US] review

Author’s note: This blog post was originally made as part of the author’s final requirement for the MMS 142 (Internet Technologies) course, namely, a website creation using content management system (CMS). The topic he chose is making reviews of music albums.

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Album details

Year of release: 2015

Genre: Top 40

Record label: Universal Music Group

No. of tracks: 21

How I got it

Released in May 2015, NOW 54 is my personal choice for the strongest numbered NOW release in the US in the said year, with volume 56 (released in late October 2015) coming at a close second, followed by volumes 55 (August 2015) and 53 (February 2015), respectively. Maybe it’s the song choices? The design – the roller coaster previously used by NOW 88 [UK edition, 2014]? Beats me.

And so, when I found out that this masterpiece of a NOW has been made available from a Chinese seller at a dirt cheap price of US$5.99 (PHP 292.85)* – that’s the price item and shipping cost combined – I took upon the chance to grab it, considering it’s already discounted when compared to the usual price of a brand new CD. Other factors included were the limited stock remaining (which was later replenished – rats!) and the continuous weakening (i.e. rising price) of the Philippine peso against the US dollar. And did I say Chinese? Don’t get me wrong on that – they said that the product was “brand new”, and guess what – it arrived brand new, alright!

Being promised of a “20-30 days” delivery date for shipments made outside the US, lo and behold, my item arrived only a week – 6 business days, to be precise – after I purchased the item with my cousin, who agreed that this is my Christmas present from her.

Factory-sealed it was, with a sealed tape on top of the case, similar to what I would see on the US NOW albums on sale in a music store in Bahrain called Euphoria, to which I would frequently visit whenever we take a vacation. Ah, the Saudi days…

One minor problem – the front of the case had some damage, but I do believe that this was due to the handling of the product while it was in transit. Minor, because this one can be easily resolved myself, as I have a lot of spare CD jewel cases at home that can be used as a replacement for the damaged one.

The CD itself… well, it’s what it was described. Brand new, unused, no surface marks. As I write this review, the CD plays perfectly well as any brand new CD should.

As the record plays

The 21-track album opens with the song “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift, a song perhaps known for its iconic misheard lyric in its chorus, i.e. “long list of ex-lovers” misinterpreted as “Starbucks lovers”. Anyway, Swift was hot on the heels of her dispute with Spotify over royalties, leading her to remove the majority of her back catalogue on the music streaming service. This move also sparked fears that her team might bar the inclusion of her songs from multi-artist compilations as well, but her “return” on the NOW compilations surprised the enthusiasts, including one forum poster on the defunct NOW Music Forums, adding that the song is “kind of old [to be placed on the album]”, given that the song was released in late 2014.

“Du du duru du du duru…” Familiar tune, I said to myself – “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega – the artist that defined the MP3 music format. But why a banging rock number, though? Ah, it’s Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries”, which used a sample of the Vega song. Afterwards, it’s Maroon 5’s “Sugar”, arguably the most successful single on their “V” album.

Somehow, the compilers snuck in the Pitbull & Ne-Yo collaboration “Time of Our Lives” in the middle of the pop-rock tracks, as “Shut Up and Dance” by the band WALK THE MOON follows after – a track pretty much enjoyed by my older sister last year. It’s noteworthy that after the massive success of “Dance”, it is included here as one of the regular 16 tracks after appearing as a What’s Next bonus track on its immediate predecessor, NOW 53.

Ariana Grande’s “One Last Time”, the final single from her 2014 album “My Everything”, follows next. In my opinion, this is one of the strongest songs on the album, and one of my faves, too. This may be because this song is the only single from her album that had no assistance, as “Problem” featured Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, “Break Free” had the help of DJ/producer Zedd, and “Love Me Harder” included the vocals of Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd.

The next few tracks were okay. Among these were “Jealous” by Nick Jonas, the Whitney Houston and LMFAO-sampling “Somebody” by Natalie La Rose and Jeremih, and “Prayer In C” by Robin Schulz et al. Speaking of Robin Schulz, I guess I am one of those that acquired a reprint of the inlay and back covers with the correct name of the German DJ and producer, as I have been seeing initial prints of the album with the last name misspelled as “Schultz”.

The song “Nobody Love” by Tori Kelly, who was a nominee for Best New Artist on the 2016 Grammy Awards, is perhaps my greatest discovery in the album, and is now my most favourite track here. In fact, when the tracklist was initially revealed, I was thinking that Kelly was so new that she could’ve been in a What’s Next slot at the end of the CD, but I believe she deserved her place in the top 16. Later in life, I also found out that one of my best friends from Bahrain is also fanboying over Kelly!

The last few tracks of the top 16, which also deserve a thumbs-up, were: “Hearbeat Song” by inaugural American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, which I believe isn’t one of her strongest among her single releases; “Night Changes” by British-Irish boyband One Direction – with Zayn Malik, who already left the group by the time the album was out; “I Lived” by OneRepublic; and the sole country song among the bunch, “Take Your Time” by Sam Hunt, who was also nominated with Kelly for Best New Artist at the 2016 Grammys. They both lost out to “All About That Bass”-hitmaker Meghan Trainor, however.

The final 5 tracks are the What’s Next bonus tracks, which are those branded from “hot up and coming artists”. A little background: the feature was introduced in 2009’s NOW 32, with just one bonus track – “Had It All” by American Idol alumna Katharine McPhee. It was then expanded to 5 bonus tracks on the subsequent NOW 33 (March 2010), reduced to 4 from NOW 34 (June 2010) until NOW 48 (November 2013), back to 5 from NOW 49 (February 2014) to NOW 55 (August 2015), and increased to 6 from NOW 56 (October 2015) onwards.

My personal highlights among the What’s Next selection are: “Beggin’ for Thread” by LA-based Banks, for its bizzarely dark tone; “Postcard” by Washington/Brooklyn-based band Jukebox the Ghost for its somewhat feel-good vibe; and “All of You” by Betty Who, an Australian-born New York singer, for featuring a dancey beat and computerized (is that even correct?) vocals reminiscent of Cher’s ‘90s hit “Believe”.

Track-by-track verdict

  1. Taylor Swift – “Blank Space” (4/5)
  2. Fall Out Boy – “Centuries” (3/5)
  3. Maroon 5 – “Sugar” (3/5)
  4. Pitbull & Ne-Yo – “Time of Our Lives” (3/5)
  5. WALK THE MOON – “Shut Up and Dance” (4/5)
  6. Ariana Grande – “One Last Time” (5/5)
  7. Nick Jonas – “Jealous” (4/5)
  8. Flo Rida feat. Sage the Gemini & LooKas – “GDFR” (2/5)
  9. Natalie La Rose feat. Jeremih – “Somebody” (3/5)
  10. Calvin Harris feat. Ellie Goulding – “Outside” (3/5)
  11. Robin Schulz w/ Lilly Wood & The Prick – “Prayer In C” (3/5)
  12. Tori Kelly – “Nobody Love” (5/5)
  13. Kelly Clarkson – “Heartbeat Song” (4/5)
  14. One Direction – “Night Changes” (4/5)
  15. OneRepublic – “I Lived” (4/5)
  16. Sam Hunt – “Take Your Time” (3/5)

NOW What’s Next! Bonus Tracks

  1. Alex B. – “Too Cool” (2/5)
  2. Banks – “Beggin’ for Thread” (4/5)
  3. Jukebox the Ghost – “Postcard” (4/5)
  4. Betty Who – “All of You” (4/5)
  5. Elijah Blake – “I Just Wanna” (1/5)

Average of ratings: 3.43/5.00

Final words

Great, great selection of songs that probably shaped the summer months of 2015. NOW 54 is definitely one of the strongest US NOW albums in recent years, and with a nice ebay deal to top it off, it was indeed a great discount from that Mainland China seller. I was even joking to myself, it must be the Duterte administration’s stronger ties with China that quickened the delivery of my album!

Ken

09/12/2016

* US$1 = PHP 48.8904 (conversion by xe.com as of 13:05, 09/12/2016)

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