The Story of Pop: 2000 (Chapter 44)

Offering up more hits from the turn of the new millennium then you could shake a stick at, every Thursday at midday, this is The Story of Pop: 2000. This week: a ninth – and divisive – number one for the biggest girl group in the world…

Anyone who’s followed both this series of blogs and The Story of Pop: 1999 last year will note that, whilst the remaining quartet of the Spice Girls were a going concern throughout the large bulk of this time, it was more in respect of their solo careers.

Between the release of their third Christmas chart topper “Goodbye” in December 1998, and the double-A-side of “Holler / Let Love Lead The Way” in October 2000, a total of 13 different solo singles, as well as 3 solo albums were released by members both past and present, 8 of those singles reaching number one. Mel B’s own album, Hot, appeared out the traps a month before the girls’ own third album did (perhaps unwisely – it bombed at #28).

It was perhaps this lack of focus as a group that made the genesis, recording and eventual release of their third album Forever as long winded as it became. Their first album since Geri Halliwell departed before the US leg of the Spiceworld Tour in 1998, and first since the sacking of Simon Fuller as their manager 3 years previously, these weren’t the only differences at play.

It wasn’t unreasonable to expect a third Spice Girls album, even if it took substantially longer than the others to come to being. But as we’ve seen over the course of this series, anything longer than a month out the spotlight at this time was enough to make certain bands or styles of music yesterday’s news in seconds, as everything was much faster moving. The chart landscape that had been dominated by the poptastic wave they had kicked off in 1996 was now ruled by Swede produced angsty teen princesses and boybands, loud mouth rappers and clipped and concise R&B.

The latter was actually more of a calculated move to make sound wise than anybody realises or perhaps gives the girls credit for, as much of their early material – here’s looking at you “Last Time Lover” and hell, even “Say You’ll Be There” – had leanings towards the New Jack Swing movement of the last decade.

So viewed in that light, their decision to hook up with US production titans of R&B and soul like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and more crucially in the case of this entry, Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, then at the peak of his powers commercially and critically on work for Brandy & Monica, Whitney Houston, and another girl group we’ll meet in a month’s time, was a smart one.

But as we now know, it wasn’t a direction that all the girls were comfortable with taking necessarily, Melanie C in particular. Bring up any performance or interview they did around the time they commenced the – by their standards – limited promotion they did for both this album and single on YouTube, and every fibre of her being so obviously doesn’t want to be there.

This double-headed single release is an interesting one, nay a black sheep, that continues to divide opinion amongst connoisseurs of all things Spice even twenty years on. There are those who praise the risk taking, the move into a more mature direction that both “Holler” and “Let Love Lead The Way” undoubtedly represented.

Then there are others who are altogether perplexed, that miss the sense of fun, spontaneity and energy that epitomized their early releases, eschewing it for a an all-leather wardrobe, a big budget looking video and a song that, in the case of “Holler”, date stamped itself in the first ten seconds by having an Autotuned Rodney Jerkins intoning “Spice Girls. Darkchild. 2000” over the opening bars.

Personally we remain on the fence. Forever, and indeed this single, are by no stretch of the imagination our favourite Spice Girls releases. Perhaps it’s something the forthcoming vinyl reissue of the album next month will retroactively reappraise. It’s emerged in the years since that their old sparring partners Richard ‘Biff’ Stannard and Matt Rowe and Elliot Kennedy were meant to work on more of the album than what eventually resulted.

This information in mind, one can only imagine what would have happened had they just gone to Darkchild for these two singles only, which good as they are to a point, are flawed. A whole album of Darkchild and Jam & Lewis meant that, though working with the right producers for such a release, one of the most quintessentially British pop bands of the 90s were turned into, for the most part, a watered down cross between TLC and Jennifer Lopez.

“Holler / Let Love Lead The Way” did at least give them a record breaking ninth number one – the most to date for a girl group in UK chart history – but an ugly album chart battle with the act we’ll meet next week saw the Forever album peak at #2 before dropping rapidly out the top 40, and that, as far as most people were concerned, was that. But wherever your opinion lies on this era of the Spice Girls, it’s undoubtedly still an important one to discuss in their career canon.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2000. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments or Tweet us, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2000.

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