Tried & tested: Sounds like love

With so many romantic music compilations on the market, they can't all contain 'The Lady in Red'. Can they? We took these modern seduction tools and tried to melt our panel's hardened hearts
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The Independent Culture
YOU'VE lit the candles, the champagne is taking effect, and the object of your passion is chilling out on the sofa. Time for some serious seduction, then. But what should be the soundtrack to your romantic moment? Will you smooch to Sade, disco dance to Donna Summer, or neck to Nat King Cole? There's no shortage of choice when it comes to music-for-lovers compilations. But will any of them really get you in the mood for this Valentine's Day?

THE PANEL

The panel included the soon-to-be-married PA Clare Bartley and music gourmets Fiona Sturges and Iain Millar. Incurable romantics, band manager Matt Fisher and critic Nick Taylor as well as a team of students from Southampton University - Jon Tricker, Kate Fray and Deborah Thackray - also hopped aboard the lurve train.

THE TEST

The content and price of the album was considered, as well as cover design, with panellists picking out favourites and duds. Crucially, each compilation needed to induce that loving feeling.

*** LOVING YOU

pounds 8, Marks & Spencer

The panel approved of its budget price, but remarks on the M&S offering which included tracks by Michael Ball, Gladys Knight, Elton John, Kool and the Gang and Level 42 were mixed. Clare Bartley was enthusiastic - "The Seventies soul classics are great" - unlike Iain Millar who claimed he'd only play this CD if "tied down and made to listen". Nick Taylor and Fiona Sturges were put off by Michael Ball; the collection had "all the cheesiness of a Sainsbury's delicatessen," according to Fiona, who nevertheless put it in her top three. Deborah Thackray thought the "yummy pink cover" would make a good coaster.

**** MOONLIGHT IN JAMAICA

pounds 9.99, Snapper Music

This cool "reggae-fied" album, at a bargain basement price, was a hit with most panellists. Comments ranged from "Excellent for lying on a beach in the moonlight somewhere exotic" (Deborah Thackray) to "smoochy" (Matt Fisher) to "great for hanging out at Mick's place on Mustique. I'm going to tape some of it before it goes in the jumble sale box" (Iain Millar). Fiona Sturges branded it "the absolute horn" but hated the cover, featuring a man climbing a palm tree. Clare Bartley was less enamoured: "Almost every track is a cover version of a Seventies hit - a disappointment".

*** THE NATION'S FAVOURITE LOVE POEMS

pounds 11.99, BBC

Voted an original if sleep-inducing contender, this collection of 85 poems from Shakespeare to Robbie Burns to Sylvia Plath won plenty of admirers. Iain Millar would use it if trying to seduce a librarian, while Clare Bartley called it "stylish and quirky", only bemoaning the fact that there were few contemporary poems. The main drawback, apart from the "boring" cover (Fiona Sturges) was that testers preferred to listen to the CD when they were on their own. "It has a kind of cerebral sexiness but I think I'd use it more academically than as a sex aid," confessed Fiona. Deborah Thackray thought it ideal for "driving along deserted roads in America" - just as long as there was a suitable lay-by to pull into, of course.

* ALL MY LOVE

pounds 14.99 rrp, 19 tracks, Warner

Light opera fans and Andrew Lloyd Webber-lovers might revel in this collection of love songs which includes tracks by Sarah Brightman, Luciano Pavarotti and Elaine Paige, but our panellists deemed it the cheesiest of the lot. "'Barcelona' can be forgiven, but the rest can disappear down Kiri Te Kanawa's cleavage," declared Matt Fisher. Singer Michael Ball once again sounded the death-knell for passion: "Aaargh!" was Iain Millar's only comment. "Too many space-fillers," said Nick Taylor. "It's the sort of stuff your parents might listen to," said Deborah Thackray, adding that she might use it to seduce a 40-something as a last resort. ***** DINNER JAZZ LOVE

pounds 13.99 rrp, Jazz FM/Beechwood

Sophisticated, chilled, smoochy and relaxing were just some of the superlatives attached to this album, our overall winner. "You can imagine the candlelight; you'd play it before pouncing," said Clare Bartley, who felt she "might cop as a result". Deborah Thackray liked the pace ("not all the songs are slow"), and even the hard-to-please Iain Millar enthused about Dexter Gordon and Art Tatum. Fiona Sturges found the cover and price "inoffensive", but wasn't keen on the tunes without vocals. Matt Fisher wasn't over-keen, and yawned: "It really needs some classic jazz".

** THIS YEAR'S LOVE

pounds 15.99-17.99, Sony

Definitely one for the younger listeners. "The cover is like a dodgy old copy of Jackie," remarked Matt Fisher, while Kate Fray called it "fairly charty - your average young thing wouldn't scoff too much". Both Clare Bartley and Iain Millar expressed incredulity at seeing the name of Finley Quaye among the 38 tracks. "What's a class act like him doing here?" asked Iain. Clare felt it didn't cut the mustard romance-wise: "I'd give it to my friend's 14-year-old daughter."

** ALL TIME GREATEST LOVE SONGS

pounds 15.99-17.99, Sony

This gold-boxed collection of 37 tracks, comprising classics from velvet- voiced crooners down the years, suffered from school-disco syndrome: plenty of tracks at a reasonable price, but all played once too often to be sexy. "Sentimental schlock," yelped Iain Millar. "'The Lady in Red' - puulease!" Even Clare Bartley, who would dim the lights for this CD but keep the remote control nearby, said Chris de Burgh brought her out in a rash. Deborah Thackray summed it up as "seriously embarrassing", while Fiona Sturges said it made her vomit.

** THE LOVE ALBUM IV

About pounds 15, Virgin

Testers liked the "classy", purply cover and Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" gave some credibility to this collection, although it was "too poppy" for Clare Bartley and "too bouncy" for Jon Tricker to practice his seduction skills to. "If you couldn't bring yourself to dump someone, this could be a good way to get them to dump you," he said. Iain Millar and Fiona Sturges were similarly dubious about its sensual potential: "I'd play this after 10 pints and a curry, while trying to chat up the washing machine," said Iain. Added Fiona: "Several tunes had me singing into my hairbrush."

** THE GREATEST IRISH ALBUM EVER MADE

pounds 15.99 rrp, 40 tracks, Telstar

This excellent value CD had some rip-roaring songs - even an accordion in places - but few tracks sultry enough for Valentine's night. "A lot of it smacks of Michael Flatley, who, sadly, is enough to damage any romantic moment," reported Fiona Sturges. Clare Bartley adored Dana's "All Kinds of Everything", but confessed she'd be giving her album to her maiden Irish aunt. Kate Fray recommended it "if you were really in love with a green-eyed, dark-haired Irish bloke".

** HEARTBEAT: NUMBER ONE LOVE SONGS OF THE SIXTIES

pounds 18.49 double, BMG

A treat for humming to, this collection failed to conjure up sensual thoughts, although Iain Millar commented on the cover: "If Nick Berry lying on a moor with his legs apart pushes your buttons, who am I to argue?" Listening to it was, he said, "like spending a day with Tony Blackburn". He recommended it for the mobile disco at a wedding reception, while Nick Taylor found it suitable for "driving through Dorset". Fiona Sturges felt no romantic twinges: "Everything reminded me of an advert." Meanwhile, Clare Bartley reported: "I'd play it while having a few drinks with my mum."

**MOMENTS IN LOVE II

pounds 8.99, Music Collection International

This won points for being a "pleasant" CD from Clare Bartley, who called it "definitely romantic and girlie. It would get me in the mood before I went out on a date." But the lads were less infatuated with this CD which included tracks by Rick Astley, Delfonics, Timmy Thomas and Bobby Goldsboro. Iain Millar thought the red-wrapped chocolate box design pretty much summed it up - "a sugar rush followed by nausea". Even Fiona Sturges admitted: "It had little to redeem it. Mind you, it was the last one I tested and I was sick of love by then. Rick Astley was the straw that broke the camel's back."

STOCKISTS

All CDs are available from HMV (0171 432 2000) and Tower Records (0171 439 2500); MCI from record shops nationwide; Virgin from Virgin Megastores and Our Price. Or contact distributors for stockist information: BBC, 0181 576 2236; BMG, 0171 384 7500; Jazz FM, 0171 706 4100 (Mark Doyle); Marks & Spencer, 0171 935 4422; Snapper Music, 0171 610 0330. Sony, 0171 911 8200; Telstar, 0181 878 7888; Warner, 0171 937 8844 !

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