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Saturday, 4 November, 2000, 08:26 GMT
CD Review: Spice Girls
Spice Girls
Spice Girls: Forever (Virgin)
By the BBC's Nigel Packer

When it comes to defying the odds, the Spice Girls have a track record which could put Rocky to shame.

Critics have been confidently predicting their demise ever since Wannabe first back-flipped its way onto the world stage four-and-a-half years ago.

Throw in Geri Halliwell's sudden departure, the three-year gap since Spiceworld and the distraction of various solo projects, and their solidarity as a group was starting to look strained.

Spice Girls
The Spice Girls have sold 35 million albums worldwide
Yet here they are - back with a third album and a change of style, as the Feisty Five are transformed into the Thoughtful Four

Geri may struggle at times as a singer, but there's no doubt that her personality played a big part in defining the group's image - and without her end-of-the-pier sauciness the Spice Girls are a very different beast indeed.

While she carries on camping it up elsewhere, the others have ditched the kitsch in favour of a sophisticated sound more in keeping with their status as bona fide pop royalty.

Gone are the cheeky upbeat pop songs - replaced by a smoother, R&B-oriented sound first heard on current single Holler.

Melanie B
Their debut Spice went platinum in 35 countries
But for every step forward there's another step back, as the schmaltzy Disney-esque ballads which have always formed part of their sound continue to crop up with alarming regularity.

Given the different musical directions pursued on their solo records, Forever generally makes for pretty tame listening - but then again all those hopes for a groundbreaking hybrid of grunge, garage and R&B were probably a little fanciful anyway.

The funky Right Back At Ya sets out the revamped Spice manifesto with its over-optimistic promise of "a brand new design", while the girls take time out to cock a snook at all those who dismissed them as five-minute wonders.

"And you thought we wouldn't make it this far/ So we've proved you wrong again," sings Mel C, but the brash message is far from typical of an album which is more downbeat and introspective than anything they've attempted before.

Melanie C
Spiceworld went platinum in 41 countries
"Why is there joy/ Why is there pain/ Why is there sunshine and the rain?" they ask on the mawkish Let Love Lead The Way. As song lyrics go it's not exactly Leonard Cohen, but a definite improvement on "zig-a-zag-ah".

Veteran producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are among those providing a cool and spacious sound to suit the new mood.

And the four voices are cleverly woven together throughout - with Posh Victoria taking a more prominent role than usual and Sporty Mel C again tackling the bulk of the tricky notes - has she ever thought of claiming overtime?

Victoria Beckham
Victoria has a solo album due in 2001 - as has Emma
Set aside the sugary horrors of Time Goes By, Weekend Love and Oxygen, and it's clear that the former Wannabes are still far from has-beens.

Yet for all the slick production work, there's a world-weariness about Forever which suggests they're simply not having as much fun as they used to.

The reflective tone of the album and the inclusion of former chart-topper Goodbye as its closing track could even be read as hints that this time round they really are preparing to call it a day.

Whatever you do, though, don't go placing any bets.

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01 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Spicy quotes enter dictionary
29 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Spice Girls make pop history
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