For a compilation album to become more than just a collection of songs, it needs to check a few boxes. First, the individual tracks themselves have to be actual hits. Second, the tracks you pick have to define the time its looking back on, making sure that the collection of tracks is not only current enough to sell the album when its first released, but also solid enough to warrant repeated “nostalgia” listens in the future. Third, the overall flow and nature of the tracks should at least have some logical order to it.
Unlike its predecessor, NOW 2 checks all these boxes – at least for a few tracks. Starting off with the instantly recognizable *dun dun dun* piano riff of Britney Spears’ immortal “..Baby One More Time” is as good of a start as you could ask for on any pop album. From there, NOW 2 flows quite nicely through a series of instantly recognizable hits from 1998 and early 1999, mainly because most of the first few tracks all rely heavily on the piano. The then-overplayed but downright good New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” (another song with a great piano intro) screams 1999 for anyone who was old enough to remember it. Add in alt/pop hits like Semisonics’ “Closing Time,” Fatboy Slim’s criminally good “Praise You,” and U2’s –saccharine even for soccer moms carrying a water cooler full of Pacific Cooler Capri Suns– “Sweetest Thing” and it begins to add up – wow, this mix isn’t bad for some late 90’s nostalgia. I guarantee that just off the tracks I mentioned NOW 2 stayed in the five CD rotation of a lot of high school and college students back in the day.
From there, NOW 2 alternates between gems of the era, and some songs you’d rather not have to listen to ever again. It’s a pattern that will appear on all of the NOW compilation albums in the future. In catering to such a wide audience, it was a given that some listeners would focus on certain genres more than others, utilizing the skip button on their CD players to good use. While NOW 2 certainly represents a slight step up from the true mish-mash of songs on the first edition of NOW (reminder: Radiohead’s “Karma Police” was next to Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” on that one) it still has its fair share of songs that should never appear next to each other on any playlist. Garbage’s over-driven grunge guitar riffs of “I Think I’m Paranoid” next to Cake’s stripped down “Never There” and then going straight into the smooth polished boy-band style of 98 Degrees is one that the compilers wish they could take back. Then again, how do you order an album whose only merit for including songs is that they were “hits” of some sort?
As you listen deeper into the album, you realize that this compilation is extremely front loaded. The true middle of the album features a song from the Rugrats Movie soundtrack (“Take Me There”), a paint by numbers ballad from the Spice Girls at the end of their time at the top (“Goodbye”), a mandatory Everclear song about hating your Dad (“Father of Mine”), a song that represents the continuing resurgence of ska/reggae influences during the decade (“What I Got”), and an R. Kelly song where he tells the listener that the girl who left him made “some of the best cooking he ever had” (“When A Woman’s Fed Up”) – all piled next to each other like some sort of ridiculous 90’s clown car of hits. Whereas the first few songs of the album flowed perfectly, the rest of the album seems downright rushed and thrown together.
Maybe I’m making too much of it – to my knowledge, all of these songs were at least mildly popular in 1998 and 1999, and there are a decent amount of songs on here that still hold up today as classics of the era. Perhaps this album is best summarized by its final two tracks. Jay Z’s “Hard Knock Life” still grooves as well as it ever did – conversely, Baz Luhrmann’s spoken word graduation speech “Wear Sunscreen” which reeks of self-righteousness and graduation parties of 1998 and 1999 does not, never did, and never will. However, both songs remain quintessentially 90’s. That makes NOW 2 a solid effort in the series given the sporadic nature of the music itself during this time, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.
Songs Added To The Ultimate NOW Playlist (6): …Baby One More Time, You Get What You Give, Closing Time, Sweetest Thing, Praise You, What I Got
Relive the glory days by listening to NOW 2 and my in progress “Ultimate NOW Playlist” below via Spotify.