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  • Muzik First

ARTIST OF THE MONTH: SPICE GIRLS | FOREVER (2000)

As the 21st Century dawned, the odds were stacked against the Spice Girls. First, their solo careers had got off to great starts — with Mel C’s "Northern Star," in particular, doing severe business from the middle of 1999. The stop-start recording schedule of their third album, Forever, led to the abandonment of early tracks. Still, the most significant challenge was that the music scene had changed dramatically since their second album, "Spiceworld." Initial plans to record again with Richard Stannard and Matt Rowe during and straight after the 1998 world tour led to the single "Goodbye," the last of Spice Girls’ three consecutive Christmas №1s in their homeland, but agreement about a future musical direction splintered soon afterwards. Further sessions the following year again appeared to stall, and only the group decided to start work on a new urban sound that gained momentum. The all-out pop tracks they’d recorded were scrapped, even if it made obvious commercial sense to include "Goodbye" in the final album, and one song from hit-maker Elliot Kennedy, which survived the cull in a reworked form.

Shipping in Darkchild, aka Rodney Jenkins, and production legends Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, famous for their work with Janet Jackson — made strategic sense, but it was hard to second-guess if Spice Girls would bring their ageing fan base with them. ‘Goodbye’ aside, the tracks that make up "Forever" offer a choppy, urban overlay to a set of rough diamonds. The ballads — "Weekend Love," "Time Goes By," and "Let Love Lead The Way" — are among the band’s best, with the latter pairing up with "Holler" as "Forever‘s" only single from the album. Emma Bunton’s distinctive vocals weave in and out of the mix, drawing the sound back to a pop heartland, but therein lies something of the challenge: it can sound as if the four voices struggle to blend in the way they once did effortlessly. It’s almost as if each member is anxious to make themselves heard or even to head off on a different path.

But the production, so distinctly of its time, has some good moments. ‘Holler’ is a choppy pop romp that sounded great on the radio and gave Spice Girls their final UK №1 to date (though the US ignored the track completely). The Darkchild influence dominates that track and five others here, but the two Jam and Lewis cuts — "If You Wanna Have Some Fun" and atmospheric slow "Oxygen" — have dated better. The lightness of touch on those two songs adds a glance back to a fresher, less mannered time. It’s a shame to issue "If You Wanna Have Some Fun" as a single never came good; it could have transformed the whole album. "Forever" struggled to live up to the enormous commercial expectations of the band’s two previous releases. It still sold millions worldwide, but it was a fraction of the number that "Spiceworld" had generated just a few years earlier. Emerging on 6 November 2000, "Forever" seemed like a record struggling to find its moment: a tentative step onto unfamiliar terrain, with creative ambition seemingly dragging each member in a different direction while trying to stay tight as a group. On the all-out pop closer, "Goodbye" — recorded 18 months earlier — things spectacularly burst back into life.

Spice Girls are a pop phenomenon, and there’s enough of the band’s soaring personality on display here to keep things surprising. Still, the effortful production often threatens to swamp that spirit. , A barrage of brilliant memories best served the group’s longevity and reputation and their ongoing (if intermittent) commitment to touring that continues to this day. "Forever" is an exciting and occasionally excellent record, but Spice Girls perhaps knew it was an impossible album title to live up to.