As we left the first part, we touched on the release of “Viva Forever” being – at the time at least – the Spice Girls’ final single as a five piece before Geri walked out of the group in May 1998. Though the Spices would go onto release one final album together – the much maligned “Forever” in 2000 – before their triumphant reunions in 2007/08, and again in 2012 for the London Olympics closing ceremony, Geri’s departure was the signalling of a new chapter that would help extend their legacy to the two decades’ worth it has now spanned.
Over the last 18 of those 20 years, the girls’ individual solo releases have sold over 12 million units worldwide, as well as amassing a further nine UK number one hits. This month has seen renowned pop culture blogger, Quentin Harrison, publish his first ever book ‘Record Redux’ which chronically documents and reviews all the group and solo releases of the girls from 1996 to now. In the second and final of our specially curated playlists to celebrate the Spices’ 20th anniversary, I bring you my five personal highlights of the girls’ individual efforts…
1. EMMA BUNTON – “Maybe”
(2003, from the album ‘Free Me’, 19 Recordings, Highest UK chart position: #6)
When the Spice Girls initially parted company the first time round in 2001, and the press began their harried talk of who was ‘going to do a Robbie’, it’s fair to say Emma’s name barely came up in passing. Baby just didn’t seem like a viable solo star, even with a chart topping debut that year in “What Took You So Long?” and a gold selling album with “A Girl Like Me”.
What a shock everyone got then, just two years later, as Emma readied the release of her second solo album, “Free Me”. The record in itself is a 60’s styled Motown and bossa nova influenced affair, all clever, lush production and aesthetics, but it’s second single “Maybe” was the real standout. Highly influenced by musicals like “Chicago” and “Sweet Charity” (even the video is an homage to the famous Bob Fosse choreographed scene in the latter) with an ultra catchy chorus, it’s the one solo Spice track that I use to convert the disbelievers.
2. MELANIE C – “Never Be the Same Again” (with Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes)
(1999, from the album ‘Northern Star’, Virgin, Highest UK chart position: #1)
It’s fair to say that the one they called Sporty has always been seen as ‘Serious Spice’ when it comes to her music – her first venturing away from the girls was as guest vocalist on Bryan Adams’ worldwide smash “When You’re Gone” in November 1998. Melanie’s debut album that followed just under a year later, showcasing a rougher, tougher punk girl look (see uber-shouty first single “Goin’ Down”) was even more of a shock (and one partially met with derision to begin with).
But for those who invested in the album, produced with the likes of Rick Rubin and William Orbit, they were in for a surprise, as the rocker in Mel wasn’t the only side of her as a singer and performer that was showcased – as demonstrated by this album’s chart topping third single. A sweetly ambient, electronic R&B styled ballad with TLC’s late lead rapper Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes, “Never Be the Same Again” was a cool and contemporary cut that was still getting consistent radio play even in the years after it’s release.
3. GERI HALLIWELL – “Look at Me”
(1999, from the album ‘Schizophonic’, EMI, Highest UK chart position: #2)
When Geri walked away from Spiceworld in the summer of ’98, an unusual but perhaps expected silence descended from the quarters of the girl who flirted with royalty and stomped down the stage in a skimpy Union Jack dress at the 1997 BRIT awards. Geri being Geri though, wasn’t silent for long – she did after all, in her parting speech, said “I’ll be back”. Everyone was looking to her as the spirit of the Spice Girls, even as the remaining four continued on with their success.
‘Look at Me’, her first solo single, was a bold statement of intent, announcing her arrival in a brassy big beat number that Dame Shirley Bassey would have been proud of. Shame then, that it succumbed to an even mightier force than girl power on release – namely, Louis Walsh scheduling Boyzone’s latest single for release the same week, which pipped it to the top – and whilst Geri would eventually score four UK chart toppers on her own, none or indeed much else of her solo venturings come close to the impact of this musically.
4. VICTORIA BECKHAM – “Not Such an Innocent Girl”
(2001, from the album ‘Victoria Beckham’, Virgin, Highest UK chart position: #6)
It’s hard to imagine, looking at her now with a successful fashion and business empire, that Victoria Beckham even attempted solo material away from the rest of the other girls, more so as she seems to dismiss that period of her life ever existing now. But in the early 00’s, that’s precisely what she did – albeit to a fair amount of overly harsh criticism, such was her ubiquity as one half of Britain’s best loved power couple.
Whilst on paper she may seem like the least successful – she was the only one of the girls who didn’t score a solo chart topper – those with an open ear would be surprised by what she put out. ‘Not Such an Innocent Girl’, complete with a visually eye grabbing, futuristic video with her playing Good and Bad alter egos of herself, was a polished and preened offering of early 00’s pop, the sort of thing early Britney Spears would have turned out on a lunch break. Not ground breaking, true, but not the unlistenable horror the press made Posh out to be.
5. MEL B – “I Want You Back” (feat. Missy Elliott)
(1998, from the album “Why Do Fools Fall in Love? – Original Soundtrack, Virgin, Highest UK chart position: #1)
Ginger may have been the first to up sticks from the Spice rack, but it was Scary who gave us the first ever solo Spice single all the way back in September 1998. Recorded in New York whilst the remaining quartet had a day off from the American leg of the Spiceworld Tour, Mel B released this very hip R&B styled cut with female rap superstar Missy Elliott for the soundtrack of a Frankie Lymon biopic, and scored a UK chart topper straight off the bat.
With hindsight though, this was about as good as she ever got solo wise. She was never going to make a convincing, bonafide R&B singer – her debut album “Hot”, released two years later, had all the right people for such a record at that time – Darkchild, Sisqo, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis amongst others – but none of the punch or pizzazz to get either that crowd or her existing Spice fans excited.