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NOW 19 (Capitol)

Elitists may dismiss discs in the Now That's What I Call Music series as K-Tel comps for the new millennium, but they're actually a clever response to the downloading age. With songs so easily available individually, rather than bundled in baker's dozens, NOW's mix-disc approach is a lot more varied and user-friendly than typical mass-market albums, whose percentage of hits to filler is no better than it was before New Kids on the Block needed to shave.

There are drawbacks, of course -- chief among them the inclusion of unfathomably hideous songs that somehow managed to sell in big numbers. On 19, Keith Urban's drip-fest "Making Memories of Us" and the Backstreet Boys' frighteningly titled "Incomplete" fulfill that function. On the plus side, the likes of Amerie's "1 Thing" prove an important pop-music truth: A tune may be little more than a ripoff (of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love," in this case), but that won't necessarily prevent it from sounding pretty damn good anyway.

Superficial? Yep. Disposable? Affirmative. Looking forward to NOW 20? Mmm-hmm.

 
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