Various Artists: Now That’s What I Call British


The long-running Now series has a go at crafting a selection of contemporary British pop's leading lights for an American audience. And then it sticks Radiohead's "Creep" near the front of it.

Various Artists

Now That’s What I Call British

Label: EMI
US Release Date: 2012-07-17
UK Release Date: 2012-07-17

This UK-themed installment in the long-running Now That’s What I Call Music series has what should be a simple remit to fulfill: assemble a collection of some of the biggest modern hits by British artists for the American market to coincide with the 2012 London Olympics. Britain has a proud musical tradition spanning centuries, and arguably its post-World War II pop pedigree – boasting immortal names including the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Queen, David Bowie, Depeche Mode, and countless more – is second to none. So what better opportunity than this to show Americans who wouldn’t know their trip-hop from their dubstep that Old Lady Albion has still got it?

Looking at the tracklist, it’s immediately striking that meeting the disc’s pretty straightforward purpose is apparently easier said than done for the Now compliers, as the very first song on tap is Blur’s alt-rock mosher/inadvertent sports anthem “Song 2”. Yes, it’s a tremendous track and the most obvious claimant for the opening slot amongst the assembled titles, as well as a nice nod to the Britpop group’s recent reunion. But it’s also 15 years old. Even older is the incongruous inclusion of Radiohead’s self-loathing classic “Creep” (the non-profane edit, of course), which came out in 1992. At least “Creep” penetrated the pop Top 40, unlike “Song 2”, which went no further than the Top 10 of the Billboard Modern Rock Charts. Between these (admittedly top-notch) selections from two decades past, that leaves Coldplay’s half-finished excuse for a song in “Viva La Vida” to represent proper post-millennial British rock. Even those who can’t stand Coldplay on principle could probably pick more competent cuts from the band to include with ease. Overall, Now That’s What I Call Music gives the impressions that the mainstream rock in the UK has not been in the rudest of health since the decline of Britpop. Which bears some truth, to be honest, but EMI wasn’t necessarily starved for high-profile choices from the period (how about latter-day Oasis or the Darkness’ camp masterpiece “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”, or Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out”?)

So the disc’s requisite rock segment is problematic, to say the least. How do other genres fair? Hip-hop is virtually absent, as are recent developments in electronic music like the much-maligned dubstep. In contrast, the pop, R&B, and dance offerings have no such trouble fulfilling the modernist quota, as Noughties staples from James Blunt, Amy Winehouse, and Lily Allen in addition to more recentish fare from Jessie J, Taio Cruz, and Florence and the Machine beef up the roll call. It’s a laudable roster of marquee names in British music – indeed, Adele is the only glaring omission from this lineup of contemporary hitmakers who would be familiar to the American audience. The record is not hampered by her absence, for as it stands this is the cream of mainstream British pop, represented by songs that live or die by the strength of their hooks. That can be a blessing and a shortcoming, as the CD clearly demonstrates that a mawkish yet memorable melody can allow an otherwise clumsy piece of songwriting (*cough*“You’reBeautiful”byJamesBlunt*cough*) to become a transatlantic chart-topper.

Now That’s What I Call British illustrates that recent UK musical trends aren’t too removed from what’s been going on in the States, even after taking into account this disc is tailored specifically for Americans. More than half the tracklist exhibits an electronic dance-informed affinity for uniform beats, soul power belting, and a general reluctance to try something as innocuous as inserting a middle eight somewhere between the endlessly cycling verses and choruses to spice up the rigid arrangements (a sick beat drop is the most startling compositional trick you can usually hope for). A few selections provide much-needed innovation and daring to stand out among the airbrushed uniformity, however. Sade’s 2010 comeback single “Soldier of Love” is an unlikely yet admirable hit, its sultry militaristic vibe tinged with surprisingly abrasive guitarwork. It’s not necessarily successful as a pop single, but it’s a fascinating listen nonetheless. Far more successful is the Gorillaz’s menacing “Feel Good Inc.”, the genre-bending global smash that allows Blur’s Damon Albarn to bookend the disc with two contributions from his many musical dabbling. I’m assuming he got to cash a sizable check on the back of this whole affair.

The Now compilations aren’t intended for the critics – they are squarely aimed at the mainstream casual buyer. But that doesn’t mean they have to coddle the masses, either. Aside from the conspicuously ‘90s emphasis on the rock end of things, Now That’s What I Call British is a fairly respectable overview of the current British pop climate that doesn’t try to dial down the idiosyncrasies of the post-imperial nation. It’s certainly less squeamish about touching tracks that are “too British” than other such efforts have been in the past. With familiar names from the baby boomer era (whose music has become so ingrained in the American psyche that they might as well be considered domestic artists) nowhere in sight, hearing Kate Nash rattle off casually in an undiluted accent in “Foundations” is refreshing reminder of the pancultural world we live in. Even if not everything on this compilation is destined to make the year-end critics’ polls, each track at the very least manages to impart why it deserves a spot on this diplomatic envoy. Which makes the fact that the best songs offered are in a distinctly grungy vein and weren’t even released in this century all the more glaring.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.