Various Artists

Now That's What I Call Music! 18

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The compilers of the popular and timely Now series have done a much better job with the 18th volume when compared to the 17th, since most of the songs here had major chart presence and fairly represent the artists. The series has been guilty more than once of bypassing artists' initial-impact hits in favor of inferior, out-of-character, less-popular follow-up singles, but this volume avoids that slip in most cases. Chingy's sleepwalking "Balla Baby" and a couple other suspect choices aside, the songs show the artists in top form, whether it's U2's "Vertigo," Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot," John Legend's "Used to Love U," Ashanti's "Only U," Gwen Stefani's "What You Waiting For?," or Keith Urban's sweet "You're My Better Half" -- the last one being a great relief after the alt-metal drama dips in the latter half of the program. Frickin' A's faithful (if synth-laden) punk-pop cover of Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl," likely to be heard in at least four teen movies by the end of 2006, is a wild card here, given the nod well before it had a chance to saturate airwaves from coast to coast. Perhaps an offshoot series titled Maybe in a Month or Two should be set up.

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