Going back to the prehistoric days of those old K-Tel records, all the annual pop singles compilations over the years have always been hit and miss affairs. For every soulful "Tears of a Clown", there's an "I Think I Love You" to ruin things; for every killer pop single like "Heart of Glass", a "Y.M.C.A." will always be around to remind you how tacky disposable pop can be. These days, the number of pop compilations coming out every year is staggering, as record companies try desperately to pack in as many flavors-of-the-week as they can find, hoping to sell some units before the increasingly fickle young masses move on to the next latest thing.
Universal's hilariously titled Global Pop 2003 (half the songs are from 2001) is an interesting one, as it tries to beat other compilations to the punch by placing the emphasis on some quality European and UK dance pop, hoping to introduce American kids to some tunes that they might not be very familiar with yet, but many of these songs are already very familiar to today's file-sharing teens, so as current as this CD wants to be, it's actually at times very out of date. The end result is pretty much what you'd expect from a pop compilation: some fun, guilty pleasures, lots and lots of pure, festering crap, and one pop masterpiece that blows the rest of the tracks away so badly, it's not funny.
Aside from New Zealand-by-way-of-Britain prettyboy Daniel Bedingfield's annoying 2002 single "Gotta Get Thru This", the majority of the album's 19 tracks feature female singers (not that I'm complaining; when it comes to pop songs, I'll take a nice lady over a coiffed castrato like Bedingfield any day). DJ Sammy's huge hit cover of Bryan Adams' "Heaven" manages to wallop Adams' old tepid rendition from 1984, this new version filled with cheesy, yet palpable teen longing. The easygoing house sounds of Kreo's "Burn For You" is very catchy and summery, while Puretone's "Addicted to Bass" is fun, but oddly, there's barely any bass to speak of in the song, rendering the whole thing pointless.
Of course, there always have to be some brutal cover songs on dance compilations, and there is no shortage of them here. The Eurotrashy "Ramp! (The Logical Song)", by German outfit Scooter is completely ludicrous, and criminal, as it introduces millions of kids to the sheer sonic horror that is Supertramp. Groove Coverage's trance treatment of Mike Oldfield's "Moonlight Shadow" sounds like shopping mall karaoke, while the notoriously unoriginal British group Mad'House take Madonna's "Like a Prayer", one of the few good songs Madonna recorded in her career, and turns it into an empty, vocoder-crazy, by-the-numbers dance cover. DJ Otzi's huge 2001 summer hit "Hey Baby", is just as annoying, but is redeemed a bit by serving as the inspiration for a thousand obnoxious English soccer chants.
As bad as those songs are, there are a few tracks here that are quite entertaining. Sophie Ellis-Bextor's "Murder on the Dancefloor" is fun, old-school disco, but not quite the great single that Spiller's "Groovejet" (on which Ellis-Bextor sang) was back in 2000. The gloriously goofy Ibiza anthem "It Just Won't Do", by Tim Deluxe, boasts a killer horn sample, and some enticing vocals by British singer Sam Obernik (though the song will always be overshadowed by its eye-popping, beach-volleyball-in-a-bullring video).
However, the one real winner of a song on this album is UK girl group Sugababes' sensational "Freak Like Me", one of the very best singles of 2002. Based on a bootleg remix of Adina Howard's 1995 song of the same name and Gary Numan's synth-pop tune "Are Friends Electric?", the trio of young ladies with the sultry voices sing in a detached, sexy way that American starlets like Christina Aguilera would never think of doing. When they sing, "I need a roughneck brother that can satisfy me," over that wicked, nasty synth by Numan, these girls sound deadly serious. This song, like much of the rest of their album, Angels With Dirty Faces, is contagious pop with actual substance, by far the best release of its kind in recent years. Why they aren't a huge hit Stateside remains a mystery.
Then there are The Cheeky Girls. Far and away the least talented, most annoying act to come out of the UK since Gareth Gates, these Transylvanian immigrants' callipygian Christmas UK single "The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)" wants to be a hot, rump-shakin' number, but turns out to be the musical equivalent of a colonoscopy. On this song, written by their mother, no less, twin sisters Gabriela and Monica Irimia sing in broken English, "Come and smile/Don't be shy/Touch my bum/This is life." The fact that this crap reached Number Two the singles charts in the UK is mind-boggling.
So basically, Global Hits 2003 is tailor-made for anyone in America who's interested in trashy, harmless Europop, but chances are, they've probably downloaded the MP3s and burned them on their own mix CDs right now. For anyone else interested in pop music that's not as disposable, and far, far more enjoyable, they should track down a copy of the Sugababes' latest album instead of this stuff.