Happy 15th Anniversary to Melanie C’s second studio album Reason, originally released March 10, 2003.
Some consider pain to be the prime creative charge for art—particularly music. This emotion isn't bound to any one genre. It is sexless and ageless. Its topical spectrum encompasses all things, from social concerns to romance. So what happens when an artist turns to another fire to warm her artistry? Can't happiness inspire? Can't both sentiments coexist in the same space? Melanie C was likely posing these same questions to herself as she began drafting her sophomore set.
Brainstorming for Reason began toward the end of 2001, not long after Melanie C concluded her first globe-spanning tour for her solo debut, Northern Star (1999). That record mined the singer-songwriter's internal conflicts, putting them to use in crafting an eclectic, shape-shifting raft of pop that won critical and commercial favor. With her second outing, Melanie C wanted a fresh perspective and Reason represented that. Yet, this change came with challenges. Virgin Records, Melanie's label home since her Spice Girls days, began to pressure her for another Northern Star. Melanie was resolute; while she would field their advice, the final decision on all things record-related were hers to make. Integrity was not an oblation or compromise to be given to Virgin Records.
Planning for Reason gathered more steam as 2001 progressed into 2002. Melanie pieces together a mixed collaborative collective for the album. Focusing on a select few of the songwriters and producers featured, there were those from the Northern Star project who returned to the fold—Marius De Vries, Damian LeGassick, Dave Munday, Phil Thornalley, Rick Nowels, Rhett Lawrence. New faces—Tore Johansson, Guy Chambers, Gregg Alexander, Scott Shields, Peter John-Vettese—came along for the ride too.
The recording environment for the album was delightfully amorphous at its start. Two of the six session leftovers, “Knocked Out” and “Like That,” later used as flipsides to eventual Reason singles, show this to be true. Both songs saw Melanie exploring studio technology paired with a live band; they were uninhibited and groovy. The remaining four outtakes/B-sides—“Love to You,” “Living Without You,” “Wonderland,” “I Love You Without Trying”—couched themselves in spacious alternative pop.
Akin to the wilder, and sometimes darker, sides of her first album, it's clear why all six of these tracks were excluded from Reason's finished form. The overarching feel of her second LP began embracing a brighter, tighter sound than the looser, magnetic truculence of Northern Star. Facing down her own personal demons and the presence of a then-budding relationship had a hand in shaping Reason. The songwriting, excellent throughout, is the biggest indicator of Melanie C's refreshed mindset.
Bubbly, hook-laden nods to romance abound on “Lose Myself In You” and “On the Horizon,” but there are also tributes to self-love on “Positively Somewhere” and “Water.” And while the second-mentioned thematic touchstone does veer into moodier terrain (see “Melt” or “Home”) there's a silver-lining sewn into the track's design, either lyrically or musically. The only non-Melanie C penned number here is “Soul Boy,” originally brought to life by the beloved Polish chanteuse Edyta Górniak on her eponymous 1997 LP. Melanie robes the composition in a cool, pop-soul sonic that provides a lovely contrast to her resplendent voice, which is the focal point of the cover. “Soul Boy” can be counted as just one of the many robust vocal showcases on Reason, some beautifully understated, some larger than life, all of them balanced to the music itself.
From the AOR luminescence of “Here It Comes Again,” to the glossy renovations of pub rock on “Let's Love” and “Yeh, Yeh, Yeh,” Melanie's affection for rock & roll in its numerous variations has not faded. However, in general, there is an invigorated, if uniform pop process in execution here, guided by the sweetest melodies. Said melodies steer every song on Reason, even its more “amped” segments, making all of them either gorgeous or cordial to the ear. The title song in particular, a quiet, fetching piano piece, is the best summation of this. Regrettably, cynical critics and fussy fans did not find “gorgeous” or “cordial” to be “sexy” or “edgy.” This attitude clouded audience perception, making for a storm determined to wash out Reason's fortunes.
Preceded by its first single, the U.K. Top 10 hit “Here It Comes Again,” Reason was made available on March 10, 2003. Critically misrepresented as a lackluster, myopic follow-up to Northern Star, this opinion couldn't have been further from the truth. Most of the pushback from the British music media found its origins in “Spice Fatigue,” as it was dubbed, an anti-Spice Girls movement beginning to reach its peak by 2003. Despite this, Reason was still certified gold and produced two more modest charters (“On the Horizon,” “Melt / Yeh, Yeh, Yeh”) in the United Kingdom.
The mild reception for Reason led to an amicable parting of ways between Melanie C and Virgin Records. It ended up as a blessing in disguise as Virgin, and almost every other major label system, began to immediately crumble under strain from ranging industry changes in the decade that followed. Establishing her own independent label, Red Girl Records, the imprint went on to house Melanie's next five albums from 2005 to 2016. As for Reason, unsurprisingly, the long player has held up. Although its pristine and emotive contents were misread upon release, the album's refusal to repeat what came before speaks to Melanie C's authentic principles in reflecting her personal journey at that time.
Read more about Quentin Harrison's perspective on Melanie C's 'Reason' in his book, 'Record Redux: Spice Girls,' available now physically and digitally. Also available now, 'Record Redux: Carly Simon' and 'Record Redux: Donna Summer.'