Imajinary Stories

Ultimate Compilation Mania, 1999

The way-uneven Club Mix 99(on the Cold Front imprint of the eternal K-Tel) tends, as its name suggests, toward club hits that didn't have much impact at radio, like Ultra Naté's "Found a Cure." It's also got the inevitable appearances by Backstreet Boys and Imajin (this time with an extended mix of "Shorty"), and a bonus disc of Euroclub nonentities all licensed from one label. Its counterpart, Club Mix: The 90's, leads with its sole post-'96 track, but it's all legitimate pop/club crossover hits (with the exception of a "Macarena" not by Los Del Rio, or even Los Del Mar, but— ahem— Los Chicos). Moment to moment, it's at least as juicy as the single-year comps, but sustained close listening isn't just beside the point, it's irritating: compiler Steven Boister's thesis seems to be that danceable music found its model for the decade with Black Box and Technotronic and never got off the track. Marching along with the set's parade of canned bounce, diva whoops, and catchphrases, even great singularities like "Missing" and "I'm Too Sexy" come off like minor tweaks to a monolithic formula, and returning from it to the '99 discs makes them seem that much grimmer.

Especially Ultimate Dance Party 1999. The latest in Arista's annual series (last year we got an Ultimate Hip Hop Party too) overlaps Party To Go '99 by five artists, but its focus is more on making sure that the party never stops: it's relentless and seamless, with more dramatic gestures per unit of time than any other comp, as genial and ultimately unnerving as a person who never stops smiling the same smile. Baited with a couple of huge Arista hits that are here and nowhere else, compwise (Next's "Too Close," the actual No. 1 on this year's Billboard Hot 100, and Deborah Cox's "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here"), it insists that anything that falls outside the appropriate rhythms and BPM count must be compelled to conform, by Procrustean means if necessary. Naturally, it closes with "Shorty," listed as "Feat. Keith Murray," though this time he appears only in the background. Where Jock Jams ignores the world outside its groove, Ultimate assimilates it like the Borg. Remixers Hex Hector, Love to Infinity, and Razor-N-Guido hack up perfectly nice songs by Lisa Stansfield, Aretha Franklin, and Monica, respectively, so they fit the template, and others seem to have been whittled into shape. This strategy works, up to a point: as an album, it's totally playable, totally consistent, totally efficient. Of all this year's comps, Ultimate is the one that delighted me most at first, and now it's the hardest for me to take for more than a few minutes. You'll have to forgive my loss of appetite. Too much candy.

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