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Artificial flavor of the month

The Spice Girls test their shelf life
By SHARON STEEL  |  January 22, 2008

GIRL POWER! Greatest Hits is a reminder of how the Girls’ brand of lusty, post-femmy pop found its rose-gold moment back in 1996.

There is a part of me that sympathizes with Victoria Beckham. She behaves like such an Alpha Spice: her shellacked “Pob” hairstyle, her layers of self-tanner, her frozen frowny face. It would be easy to hate her for her aloof snobbishness and a fashion sense that’s incorrigible even though she has unlimited access to all things sartorial. (Oh, how she abuses this privilege!) Of course, Beckham is no different from most horribly conceited individuals — she’s drowning in an ocean of insecurity she masks with tottering heels and suffocating corset tops. Even being married to World Soccer Idol David Beckham and mother-henning Katie Holmes into adopting her exact pageboy ’do doesn’t seem to have built much confidence. It’s a shame, really, that she can’t subscribe to the mantra that she herself helped unleash. Pretty clothes and hot husband aside, it’s hard for a modern woman to go through life with a spring in her step sans that little voice inside chanting “Girl Power!” — particularly for those of us who don’t have Adonis personified waking up next to us in the morning.

Beckham might be singing it outwardly — it’s her job, after all — but her bandmates are the ones who seem to mean it. The Spice Girls kicked off their reunion World Tour in Vancouver on December 2 and were booked for more than a dozen performances in their native England, where 23,000 tickets for the London shows sold out in 38 seconds. (The US tour kicks off January 30 at the TD Banknorth Garden.) Reviewers were re-smitten with the Spice Girls’ bacchanalian pop magic. So the good news is that Beckham is pretty much the only Spice who hasn’t got her game on (did she even have it to begin with?), because as a group the Spice Girls can kill a live gig. And though their latest album, Greatest Hits (Virgin), gets no points for originality, it’s an interesting reminder of how their brand of lusty, post-femmy pop music found its rose-gold moment back in 1996.

Whether that moment can find itself again, in 2008, isn’t really the question: pop music has changed too drastically, and the Spice Girls are, for the most part, Spice Moms. So this is more of an exercise in nostalgia than a genuine attempt to “come back.” But, please — the Spice Girls aren’t trying to be Led Zeppelin. They’re watching the girl-group glitter fall, having fun, and making bank as they air out their old battle cries. These bitches are nothing if not shameless self-promoters, and given the unpredictable horror show that is the modern recording industry, can you fault them for that?

Greatest Hits opens with the song that put the expression “zigazig aah” on my personal Top 10 list of confusing lyrical profundities, right behind Hanson’s pedantic use of “mmmbop.” “Wannabe” is a romp, and an explanation. These are the rules to bagging a Spice Girl, so take note! Stick around until the bridge, where Melanie Brown narrates a helpful primer of each girl’s preferences: “We got Em in the place who likes it in your face/We got G like MC who likes it on/An’ Easy V doesn’t come for free, she’s a real lady/And as for me, ha, you’ll see.” The playful, identifying cheat sheet in “Wannabe” prompted the British magazine Top of the Pops to dole out a cutesy nickname to each girl. Brown was “Scary,” Beckham became “Posh,” Emma Bunton was “Baby,” Melanie Chisholm was “Sporty,” and Gerri Halliwell was dubbed “Sexy” before it was changed to “Ginger” at the last minute so as not to give the wrong impression to the hordes of Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers lip-gloss-toting fans. The idea got across anyway: Ginger’s grown-up admirers are the ones who keep turning up at the Spice Girls reunion shows stuffed in boobalicious Union Jack dresses — an homage to the iconic gown the redhead wore to the 1997 BRIT Awards.

“Wannabe,” “Say You’ll Be There, and “Spice Up Your Life” are among the 13 emblematic Spice tracks on Greatest Hits culled from their three previous albums, Spice, Spiceworld, and Forever. Dumped at the tail end of the disc like a bad afterthought are two brand-new recordings. Both are cringe-inducing, though it’s not difficult to see why the Spice Girls and their manager, 19 Entertainment Chief Executive and Pop Idol creator Simon Fuller, thought they ought to try to backtrack into late-’90s disco beats (“Voodoo”) and ingratiating balladry — “Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)” — that makes Mariah Carey’s Glitter seem tasteful. Had they hired a different crew of songwriters and producers instead of sticking with their stand-bys, new hits might have been a possibility instead of a pipe dream. Still, it’s no secret that the Spice Girls wouldn’t have become the Spice Girls if Fuller hadn’t signed on as their manager and morphed them into a femme fatale marketing and celebrity machine. The Spice Girls are better off rehashing the original cheese, the pep-rally cheers that made their erstwhile canon stand out amid the Britpop lad rock in the first place.

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  Topics: Music Features , Spice Girls , Melanie Chisholm , Celebrity News ,  More more >
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