Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Melanie C - This Time (Red Girl Records)

Now in her eighth year as a solo artist, Melanie Chisholm can proudly boast that she’s recorded more albums on her own than she did with her group (a low-key side project she once had, called the Spice Girls or something. You may not have heard their stuff), yet she still has to fight tooth and nail to be viewed as such. So, does her fourth album redress the balance?

This Time is, if nothing else, a pronouncement of Melanie C as an established solo artist. Previous albums carried a certain patchwork quality in comparison to the streamlined vibe found here.

A departure from the active, distinctly non-studio feel of Beautiful Intentions, the tweakage ‘n’ twinkle levels are upped noticeably throughout This Time. First and foremost, it’s a return to pop. The levels of quality and musical aptitude haven’t dipped, but the rock overtones are demoted to unobtrusive backdrops.

Understand sees the heroine of the piece coming on like some sort of one-woman She-Keane, highly listenable and overtly musical. Elsewhere the delicate patter of What If I Stay distances Melanie from the phlegm-clearing ad libs that capped Say You’ll Be There.

Additionally, there’s a significant change of tone. She’s spat all the bile she’s going to spit, and Lord knows there was a lot of it – Beautiful Intentions, at times, felt like your harshest childhood scoldings in musical form. This Time, however, thinks outside of the box. Indubitably, there’s your usual sky-visioned declarations of courage, but there’s new territory too – Carolyna is, content-wise, somewhere along the lines of Destiny’s Child’s Story of Beauty without the grim molesty bits.

There’s no escaping the liberal peppering of affirming balladry, always a likely move after the European success of First Day Of My Life. By no measure are The Moment You Believe or Forever Again inadequate, but do fall faintly short alongside the more natural, unaffected material.

The overall mellow, defined texture of the album raises questions as to whether the lovably disposable I Want Candy was the best spokesperson for the project. Sure, everyone’s an A&R man these days, but there’s far more to This Time than the lead single is capable of demonstrating. Still, one can have confidence Joe Public will view this as a pleasant surprise rather than a nasty shock.

Most admirably, it’s not consciously attempting to be mature. Perhaps previous material was inadvertently infused with an anxiety to establish a distance from Spice, but This Time, in comparison, is merely a sincere progression. And all the while, it’s not as though Melanie C can’t pull off fun. Hey, Gwen Stefani’s allowed to yodel like a loon about a magic key and she’s, like, 80.

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