Various Artists

Ultimate Smash Hits [Bonus DVD]

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Ultimate Smash Hits is a production of L.A. Reid's Arista Records, making it a platform for singles culled predominantly from the label's artist roster. The album kicks off with the light rock vibe of Santana's "Game of Love," which failed to reproduce the boffo success of 1999's "Smooth," even with the presence of earthy diva Michelle Branch. Pink and Avril Lavigne were two of Arista's biggest success stories in 2001 and 2002; the Lavigne ballad "I'm With You" appears here, followed up by Pink's unstoppably catchy "Just Like a Pill." But besides OutKast's bouncy "The Whole World," nothing else on Ultimate Smash Hits really lives up to the collection's title. Multiple tracks from both Clipse and Faith Evans slow things down, and while P. Diddy and Ginuwine's "I Need a Girl, Pt. 2" made some waves, the inclusion of its weak companion track seems indulgent. While its hits might be few, Ultimate Smash Hits does illustrate the sway the Neptunes held over the pop and urban landscapes in the early 2000s. The crack production and songwriting team helm six tracks here, and while cuts like Baby's "What Happened to That Boy" or Usher's "U Don't Have to Call" weren't the Neptunes' biggest songs, they're nevertheless prime examples of the duo's inventive production style: spare percussion, processed analog sound effects, and hooks built from the most unlikely components. Besides its obvious smashes (Pink, Lavigne) and snapshots of the future (Bone Crusher's "Never Scared"), Ultimate Smash Hits also features a few almost-hits that probably should have been. TLC's comeback single, "Damaged," opts for the same mix of melancholy, pragmatism, and guitar-driven dynamics that made FanMail's "Unpretty" so powerful; unfortunately, it failed to ignite at radio. Blu Cantrell's 2001 single "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops)!" signaled the arrival of a new voice in urban soul, but by the time Cantrell's Bittersweet dropped a year later, people seemed to have moved on. Its fabulous single "Breath" appears here in rap remix form and features some entertaining interplay between Cantrell's powerful singing and the chatting of emerging dancehall star Sean Paul. Ultimate Smash Hits doesn't quite live up to its name, but the staying power of the hits it does feature -- as well as a few hidden gems -- make it a worthwhile collection. [In addition to its 18 music tracks, Ultimate Smash Hits includes a DVD with videos for Lavigne's "I'm With You," both Pink songs, and Toni Braxton's "Hit the Freeway" as well as both tracks by Clipse.]

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