[16 December 2002]
In this day and age, it’s very difficult to find a compilation album that actually has more than two hit songs on it. Usually the result is unknown bands filling time with shoddy knock-offs of current singles. The Now! series, a feeble attempt at the much better British This Is Music collections, is such an album. Perhaps the best of the recent lot would be a double-disc British rock anthem set titled Cigarettes and Alcohol featuring one hit after another. Now, the folks at MTV2 have decided to “handpick” 14 songs and throw in three videos for good measure. And while it’s not the ideal collection, it does have a rather nice flow to it.
Opening things up are the Vines with “Get Free”. The Australian trio’s song appears twice, once as a track and another as a video taken from the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. But here, it’s a good kickstarter to the album. Blending the sleepy eye stance of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke with the rage of Kurt Cobain, lead singer Craig Nicholls has a verve not often seen. The Hives do an admirable job on “Hate to Say I Told You So”. Led by Pelle Almqvist, the Swedish band shine over most of the album’s efforts, notably the rather quaint second half. The first so-so effort is OK GO, which seems to be this season’s Wheatus. “Get over It” is a guitar heavy and Attractions-keyboard laden song that isn’t bad, but is a bit forgettable by the middle chorus.
What is perhaps the oddest thing about the selections is how three of the four chosen aren’t from the United States, but nearly everywhere else. Coldplay’s “In My Place” takes things down to a melodic crawl with its orchestrated “In My Place”. Again, used twice here as video footage is included from a MTV performance in Chicago last August, the song has a lovable chorus and bridge that rises about most radio fodder. A nice surprise also comes via Jimmy Eat World. With “The Middle” a staple of the year’s best hits, the band go for the acoustic version which doesn’t pack the same punkish punch, but shows that the song would be as infectious if an accordion or bagpipe was used. Well, maybe not a bagpipe. Howie Day’s “Ghosts” is the first downbeat track, but shows the singer’s strength in quality songwriting. Currently on tour as the opening act for Tori Amos, the Aussie’s album is just getting some recognition despite being released in 2000. Resembling a bit of Radiohead and Neil Finn, the track has that singer songwriter trait deep within. One negative to the album is the relative absence of anything female. Norah Jones performs “Don’t Know Why” with the sultry and smooth delivery worthy of present and future accolades, but it seems like it’s an afterthought or the “token” female song. Regardless though, Brit favorites the Doves offer up “Caught by the River” a mid-tempo acoustic guitar driven track that would work well after Coldplay’s effort.
The homestretch of the compilation begins with a live version of John Mayer’s “No Such Thing”. Although reminiscent of Dave Matthews, the singer throws the crowd a curve by starting the song off in a different tempo before reverting to the song’s original format. Boston’s acoustic roots pop group Guster contributes “Ramona”, which is one of the album’s better tunes. A melodic pop offering in the style of Ron Sexsmith or the Kinks’ Ray Davies, the song reeks of 1960s California or Brian Wilson pop. Jack Johnson’s “Inaudible Melodies” is perhaps the quirkiest of the 14 songs, a jazzy folk pop tune that ambles along at a leisurely pace. The Music ends the music here, but not before a bombastic dose of Stone Roses-like rock on “Take the Long Road and Walk It” that is equally parts groove as it is guitar rock. It’s a fitting finale for this better than average Britney-less compilation.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/various-handpicked2/