Now That’s What I Call Music! is a cross-label series of compilation albums of the biggest songs of the year (or, at least, whatever they could get the rights to). Now, historically, I haven’t really been their biggest fan, but I found Now That’s What I Call Music! 98 to be one of the most moving listens I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

So what sets 98 apart from all the rest? Well, someone over there in the faceless marketing department that puts these together has clearly just lost the ability to care. And if watching Kurt Cobain interviews has taught me anything, it’s that not caring is totally cool, man! I mean, listen to the opening bars on the second track, Post Malone’s ‘rockstar’ (sic): “I be fuckin hoes and poppin’ pillies / man I feel just like a rockstar,” and switches straight into the weed references and making an Uzi go “ratatata”. Fantastic stuff. Can you picture a bunch of old white dudes in suits sitting around a table at a meeting, intently and blank-facedly listening to trap talking about racking up lines of cocaine at a house party? Talk about fishes out of water. Their marriages are failing and they really just don’t give a shit what’s on the album, do they? Only as long as it sells. How much more nihilistic-punk-rock can you get?

“This album promised 46 tracks of ‘music’; I listened, and there was indeed what I would call ‘music’. Hence, it’s the perfect album, Q.E.D.”

Or how about “Reggaeton Lento”, CNCO’s contribution? Mmm, that autotuned crowd-vocal chorus just makes me want to sing along like the tone-deaf husk of a consumer I am. Like, I think it’s trying to sound generic and played-out, but that just makes it more endearing, you know? Because I for one love flashbacks to middle school dances. Or how about the verse - “You make me sick / you make me sick / you’re my doctor” is brilliant - on first listen you’d think it’s just a cheesy attempt at a flamenco-inspired pop song, but then you realize they’re dropping knowledge about the dangers of hospital-borne infections! Wash your hands, kids, or you’ll give someone MRSA. They’re more woke then Kendrick, y’all.

Look, I could go for pages and pages if this thing was gonna be track-by-track. There are 46 songs on here, and each one is absolutely pure gold. And I know critics of the series will be quick to dismiss 98 as being “just like the rest,” but they’d be mistaken. I mean, music is subjective. You don’t walk into an album like this with any semblance of a shred of expectation. Each album sort of sets its own standard, decides through its overall aesthetic and genre to place itself in a particular cultural context, a lens through which we may begin to critically examine. This album promised 46 tracks of “music”; I listened, and there was indeed what I would call “music.” Hence, it’s the perfect album, Q.E.D.

5 Stars

Label: EMI. Top Tracks: All of them. For Fans Of: Music. 155 minutes