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Welcome to the new and improved Melanie C: made-over to breach the peace; finally getting in touch with the rampant indie-lovechild inside; Spice-free to do just what she really, really, wants… at least that’s the impression you’d get if you swallowed all the outpourings of an unrelenting publicity machine.
There’s no doubt that the little Northern pixie has grown up. And growing up means making choices… but also gaining the confidence to make those choices in the first place. A gradual and very public metamorphosis has ensued: from a steady stream of rumoured Los Angeles-based collaborations with high profile artists and producers - to low-down tattoos. From putting money where her mouth is – gold capped tooth and all, to turning ahead – a spiky blonde; and turning heads… cartoon cartwheels cast aside to reveal a lean, mean, out of the Spice machine prowling the stage. The trademark jog pants - also gone: revealing a Spice unseen… highly toned legs creating stiff resistance in ahem, low places. A new experience for the pony-tailed girl next door who was a perpetual fifth in the Spice sex stakes.
So what do we get for all of this very public posturing? First of all the avowed focus on one particular, radical style is a complete misnomer – the album sports any number of directions: some of them displaying her new intentions; others simply clock-on for solo tours round the old Spice factory.
‘Goin' Down’ is all scrunchy, fuzzed-up vocal distortion combined with a quick visit to the 24-hour grunge store. It’s cod ‘heavy’ theatricals and wailing ‘Crazy Horse’-style keyboard dissolve to reveal a thumping, memorable chorus. In the bland(establ)ishment(s) of current chart life though, it’s going to stick out like an orgy at an S Club party. ‘Northern Star’ contains the line – "They build you up so they can tear you down" – hmm, profound – as the pens are already being sharpened; and is the Spiciest of the tracks: in particular the breathy intro, spangly chorus and layered harmonies. ‘I Turn to You’ starts promisingly with malevolent synth atmospherics; like the Offspring’s offspring before er, springing off into a Euro-disco, pop-lite, soundtrack to two weeks of sun, sand, sea and shagging. Contrast this to the crisply contemporary production/affectation, and relaxed slinky groove of - ‘Never Be The Same Again’ – featuring TLC’s Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes.
The voice with its endearing Northern twang - which has always added to the feeling of accessibility that radiates from her and as a result marked her out from the other Spice girls - is beautifully employed on the acoustic angst of ‘If That Were Me.’ In contrast, ‘Ga Ga’ is tightly wound sub-Blur guitar, Mel’s best indie-Garbage moves, and a dismissive nasal whine.
So where does this leave us? Fundamentally, the hype has been accepted up to now because we want her to succeed – the goodwill is palpable: we want to see the tomboy, the runt of the litter, blossom; to be proved right that - yes, she is the one who can really sing, yes we knew all along that she was the one with substance - hiding her talent through some sense of false modesty behind the upfront charms of the other Spice girls. We want something credible to arise from the most manufactured phenomenon of the decade: a sort of Cinderella in reverse – pop royalty getting down with the common-indie people.
Mousey to Melanie C: Goddess. From good Sporty - to gaining the power to hit below the belt. All in all it’s only a partial success. The voice is there, the personality is there, the budding song writing is there,: and the probably smaller, but more credible audience she purports to seek is willing to accommodate her – despite the scathing tone of V99 festival reviews. It just needs some of her new-found confidence to fuel a push toward a more unified direction, to overcome the suspect whiff of convenience and manufacture which still hangs over the proceedings. So, go on Mel C – get your (undoubted) talent out for the lads and lasses!
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