Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Boyz II Men '4 Seasons Of Loneliness'

Chart Peak: 10
YouTube
After a two year absence Boyz II Men hit the charts in September with 'Four Seasons Of Loneliness'... This soulful ballad entered the charts at at No. 10.
This being 1997, it never got any higher than 10 either, though it was a US Number One single: their last and apparently Motown's last too. It wasn't enough for the Four Seasons to get back together and record a song called 'Boyz II Men Of Loneliness' though, alas.

Although not the record-breaking success they were in their homeland, they were a pretty successful act so it's a bit of an oddity that they made their only Now appearance with this track, rather than one of their better known ones; the culprit is of course Motown's reluctance to licence to Now before the Universal/Polygram merger in 1998. This is the third track of the last for to refer to loneliness in the title, which makes me wonder whether Ashley Abram was trying to tell us something and why he didn't move Conner Reeves elsewhere. It's a pretty poor excuse for a song though, relying on vocal gymnastics to cover for the lack of anything memorable. A bit of a weak ending to an album that has some good stuff on it.

Available on: Legacy - The Greatest Hits Collection

Monday, 19 January 2015

Peter Andre 'Lonely'

Chart Peak: 6
YouTube
'Lonely' looks all set to become Peter Andre's 6th huge hit in the last 18 months... It follows his previous smashes 'Mysterious Girl', 'Flava', 'I Feel You', 'Natural' and 'All About Us'
Although this was technically from his third album release, there was certainly a bit of second-album syndrome for Peter Andre at this stage. Thanks to clever marketing he was still able to notch up the hit singles, but following up a Number One album with a Number 28 only a year later is the sort of thing that happens to indie bands caught out by a change in fashion, not chart-topping pop stars with impressive abs. 'Lonely' was the second single from the ill-fated Time, and whilst the album featured some rap-oriented guest stars in such of a more "mature" sound, this is stays in typical soppy ballad for the Christmas market territory. I probably haven't heard it since it dropped out of the Top 40 and I'm already struggling to remember it just a few minutes after replaying it; it's a strangely featureless vehicle for Andre's pseudo-Michael-Jackson vocal.

It's not surprising that after a couple more hits he effectively disappeared from pop until reality TV came calling. What happened next was more of a surprise.

Also appearing on: Now 34, 35, 36, 40, 57
Available on: Unconditional Peter Andre Love Songs

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Conner Reeves 'Earthbound'

Chart Peak: 14
YouTube
Following his Top Twenty breakthough with hit single 'My Father's Son' Conner hopes to continue this success with his November single 'Earthbound'
Reeves was one of the first signings to Wildstar, a label set up as a joint venture between Telstar and Capital Radio, with the latter having a vested interest in ensuring airplay for their signings. Unfortunately for them, persuading people to pay for albums was harder than scoring hit singles and few of the acts (with the notable exception of Craig David) managed any sort of long-term success; Reeves was dropped after the first single from a planned second album only made it to Number 28. He never had a Top 10 hit either, though this was one of three Top 20 hits for him.

'Earthbound' - also the title of his album - isn't that exciting a word and the song does a good job of living down to it. It's the sort of dreary male-fronted balladry that is always with us but seldom leaves much mark on posterity, a song that you can well imagine Ronan Keating singing. Reeves has a nice but characterless voice and he doesn't give himself much of interest to do with it. Although the track wasn't actually produced by Steve Mac (it's Grant Mitchell instead) it very much has that sound about it and it's a bit of a struggle to make it through the four-minute running time. And people say Sam Smith makes bland music these days.

Available on: Earthbound

Friday, 16 January 2015

Cast 'I'm So Lonely'

Chart Peak: 14
YouTube
Cast have had another string of Top 10 hits this year - 'Free Me' - 'Guiding Star' and 'Live The Dream'... Next comes this haunting ballad 'I'm So Lonely' due for release in November '97.
There's always a certain sense of achievement when I get to the last page of the booklet on one of these albums. Like Ocean Colour Scene, Cast had a run of six Top 10 hits in 1996-7, although 'I'm So Lonely' was the track that ended it: Cast did also go on to score a seventh, unlike OCS, but then they never managed a Number One album. Like OCS they were never a remotely cool act to like, though in their early days they did have a strong reputation as a live act.

Although I'd bought their debut album - and not entirely on spec, I had borrowed it first and liked it enough to get my own copy - I never quite got around to picking up second album Mother Nature Calls. I guess the title wasn't exactly encouraging. I do now have all four singles from the album ('Live The Dream' isn't on a Now album but it is on Shine: Best Of '97) and I feel like I might have had the right idea. I do remember some reviews citing 'I'm So Lonely (Calling You Back)' (as it was sometimes called, John Power seemingly a big fan of brackets at this time) as the album's best track and indeed it is a nice bit of pop balladry, more enjoyable than 'Better Day'. But it's not quite the haunting classic it means to be and I keep finding myself willing it to be better than it is.

Also appearing on: Now 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 43
Available on: The Collection

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Ocean Colour Scene 'Better Day'

Chart Peak: 9
YouTube
'Better Day'is due for release on November 10th... Following '100 Mile High City' and 'Travellers Tune' this could be their third big hit this year.
The prediction was right to the extent that this did indeed become their sixth (and last) consecutive Top 10 single, but its chart run was not a long one and the song is little-remembered today, even compared to their other hits of this era. 1997 was an odd time when they were still at the peak of their commercial success (this comes from Marchin' Already, their only Number One album) but their brief honeymoon of positive press was already over. At this point I was still unfashionably fond of them and indeed bought the album, though I was never a collect-all-the-singles type of fan.

I certainly didn't contemplate buying this post-album single because I was never keen on the song in the first place; it never struck me as a highlight of what is in all honesty a patchy album, and personally I never like it when the first three singles from an album are the first three tracks in the sequence. Worse still, the chorus uses the phrase "Get Blown Away", which is the title of a much superior track from the same album which they should have considered releasing instead. Possibly this track was picked out at the band's own insistence as it's lyrically self-referential, a history of their friendship, long road to success, struggles with their former record company etc. Sadly this isn't made especially interesting to even a sympathetic outsider and is set to music that is skillful but not distinctive or memorable. It sounded to me the way I know all OCS songs sounded to a lot of people. I think it was one of the tracks Bob Stanley had in mind when he described the second disc of Now 38 as "pop music crawling away to die".

This is probably an example of the tension between collecting the biggest and the newest hits onto the Now albums. Although this song was technically a current hit on the day Now 38 came out, it feels like one of those singles that comes out in November or December just to remind Christmas shoppers that the album exists. It would have been better to include the stomping 'Traveller's Tune' instead.

Also appearing on: Now 34, 35, 37
Available on: Marchin' Already (Deluxe)

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Jon Bon Jovi 'Janie, Don't Take Your Love To Town'

Chart Peak: 13
YouTube
This is the third single from Jon Bon Jovi's solo album Destination Anywhere... The band Bon Jovi are still going strong and have now sold over 75 million albums around the world.
It's probably a sign of the way the charts were in 1997 that this single matched the chart position of JBJ's first ever solo hit 'Blaze Of Glory' despite being much less well-known. The two previous singles from the Destination Anywhere project - a TV movie starring Bon Jovi himself and Demi Moore was released alongside the CD - both made the UK Top 10, although reaction to them and the album was more muted in the US. In an interview, he claimed that 'Midnight In Chelsea' had "stiffed" in America because people over there didn't know where Chelsea was, although the next single was called 'Queen Of New Orleans' and they must have known where that was.

No place names in the title 'Janie, Don't Take Your Love To Town' but it's probably not coincidental that the title recalls both 'Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town' and Bruce Springsteen's 'Janie Don't You Lose Heart'; Janie is also the name of Moore's character in the film, apparently, but I daresay he wrote the song first. Despite the title references being very American, this is supposed to be a more European-sounding album, with occasional use of drum machines and synthesisers and even female backing singers (one of whom is the model Helena Christensen, though it's not clear whether she was on this particular track). Despite the intention, it's a pretty conservative-sounding track here, and not an especially memorable one either. His band are hardly immune to the generic or formulaic but at least they know how to come up with something catchy. This is just a female version of the Meredith Brooks song without the shock value. Maybe Richie Sambora was more important than we realised.

Available on: Destination Anywhere

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Meredith Brooks 'Bitch'

Chart Peak: 6
YouTube
The American smash 'Bitch' gave Meredith Brooks her first UK success when it made No. 6 in July '97... The guitarist has already sold well in excess of a million copies of her debut album Stateside.
One of the many planned features for this blog that I've never quite got around to writing was an analysis of swearing on the Now albums. There are stronger words to be heard on the albums, albeit surely sometimes included by mistake; but never has a swear word been quite so prominent in a song title, given the broad audience the albums are supposed to appeal to. Though this song is sometimes euphemistically known as 'Nothing In Between' (there are even a couple of YouTube uploads under that title, possibly for viewers in places with stricter online censorship), a wholly sanitised edit would seem rather pointless. At least the fact that she is directing the word to herself (as the Prodigy did on 'Firestarter', also typically played uncensored) takes some of the sting out of it, and of course she's using the word with some level of detachment. Attention-grabbing title aside, the song recalls the offspring of  'I'm Every Woman', and 'W.O.M.A.N.", a sort of list-song trying to be defiant but some how it doesn't seem to match up to its own intentions, never quite sounding rebellious enough.

It doesn't help that the actual sound of the record is a very dated combination of grunge riffs and programmed beats, a bit like a more self-conscious version of Alisha's Attic. It comes over as rather too corporate for its own good and rather thin. It's very hard to avoid the sense that Brooks was one of the hundreds of acts signed by record companies in search of their own Alanis Morrissette, even if she saw herself differently (reportedly she refused to be photographed without a guitar at this time). She wasn't technically a one-hit wonder ('I Need' got as high as 28) but struggled to come near this sort of success afterwards. She later became a producer, which is in fairness a job where women are seriously under-represented so I suppose she deserves some credit for that. Even though the song had enough cultural impact at the time to inspire an answer song by Sonic Youth, it's too much a product of its time for serious contemplation now. Mind you, I didn't like it then either.

Available on: 101 Power Ballads