Friday, November 09, 2007

Spice Girls - Greatest Hits (EMI)

For anyone who may have missed the latter half of the Nineties, this album may go some way to illustrating exactly what you failed to see. The unstoppable promotion machine and cultural behemoth that was the Spice Girls has returned, and not before time. A sell-out world tour, a brand new single, a Greatest Hits album and more coverage than even the tabloids themselves could have fathomed… it’s as though they never went away.

But how does the music itself fare a decade on? While some tracks (Wannabe, Who Do You Think You Are) can only realistically be consumed as a fun representation of their era, others have emerged far better on this side of the time capsule. Say You’ll Be There has barely aged, while Holler was clearly years ahead of its time, a track you could easily envision the Pussycat Dolls sweatily clamouring for.

And more than anything else, Greatest Hits underscores just how good the Spice Girls were at ballads. Viva Forever, Goodbye and Too Much are draped in a timeless pop gloss, with a refinement that was so easily forgotten in the overshadowing cries of Girl Power.

And yet, as an album - even as a compilation - it all feels somewhat uninspired. A largely chronological running order, a mere two new songs, and even the arguably insipid artwork make for more of a shoulder-shrug than a milestone in pop magnificence.

Of course, nothing could match the expectations created by near-psychotic Spice fans in the run-up to this album’s release, a million message boards buzzing with the horrible awareness of every rumoured recording and shelved single. The live favourite Woman, the fabled C U Next Tuesday, the original version of Blackstreet & Janet Jackson’s Girlfriend/Boyfriend, the Elton John-penned My Strongest Suit… not a trace of one of them.

Instead, we’re lumped with the cumbersome, juvenile Voodoo, which ironically sounds more dated than its 11-year-old companions. Therefore, it’s up to new single Headlines (Friendship Never Ends) to fortify the Spice brand, and it doesn’t have an easy job. It’s a slow burner, but once fully alight, it’s truly enchanting. Whether Joe Public will stick with the song long enough to find out remains to be seen.

On the whole, however, it’s a tremendous way to commemorate the Spice Girls as both pop icons and national treasures who have yet to be matched, let alone surpassed. We’re all aware of the immense record sales, the incomprehensible levels of merchandising, the neverending column inches and the impact on a cultural level. But it’s nice to be reminded of the music that begat the whole spectacle, and this collection justly draws attention to that.

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