Various Artists – Now #44 (review)

Various Artists – Now That’s What I Call Music 44 (Universal / EMI / Sony) review
The biggest hits…with a wink and a smile

The latest installment of the Now That’s What I Call Music series, Now #44, shows just how diverse the landscape of current hit music really is.  Sure, there’s longtime chart-stalwarts like Usher and Kelly Clarkson. But, for the first time, youtube, the popular video distribution site, is contributing a large amount of the talent.  Both the boyfriend/girlfriend couple Karmin and Canadian Carly Rae Jepsen got their start posting videos on the web.  And Korean sensation PSY defined the very word “viral” with his unstoppable throwback track “Gangnam Style.”

The first two songs on the disc show that the creators of the Now series have a sense of humor – both Pink’s “Blow Me (Once Last Kiss),” and Flo Rida’s “Whistle” make thinly-veiled references to oral sex.  Of course, these are the clean versions, so you get Pink saying “I think you’re full of IT” instead of shit.  You’d certainly look at most of the music included here as “dance-oriented” – yet, the acoustic guitar figures prominently in several of the tracks – not usually the instrument of choice to pack the dancefloor.  Yet, it’s on Flo Rida’s “Whistle,” and Chris Brown’s “Don’t Wake Me Up.”

There are also echoes of other songs here,  as “Whistle” certainly takes a page from Maroon 5’s whistle-laden “Moves Like Jagger,” while Karmin’s “Hello” somehow recalls Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with the repetitive “hello, hello, hello, HELLO” refrain.  One of the oddest tracks is “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” from Train – the almost-unholy mix of mariachi and rock ends up sounding country.  Then there’s the geeky “Good Times” featuring Jepsen teamed with Owl City.  Kudos for the lyrics “woke up on the right side of the bed / what’s up with this Prince song inside my head.”

Many of the biggest stars in music are here with their latest single.  French DJ David Guetta can do no wrong and his latest collaboration fuses Chris Brown with Lil Wayne on “I Can Only Imagine,” while Justin Bieber enlists Big Sean for “As Long as You Love Me.”  Nicki Minaj & Katy Perry are also included.  The lone country song comes from Little Big Town and their first #1 hit, “Pontoon.”

Of the Now Presents What’s Next tracks, Ryan Star’s “Stay Awhile” has an ethereal quality, while Christian artist Britt Nicole’s first mainstream single, “Gold,” is pure pop confection.

The amazing thing is how this series continues to grab songs on their way up, so it really ends up being a collection of the biggest songs NOW.  The end of 2012 is best summed up on Now That’s What I Call Music 44.  –Tony Peters