As the Spice Girls dropped out of sight from the Toronto Air Canada Centre stage on February 26, 2008, the shrieks of the crowd rocked its halls in response to the British quintet’s still undiminished power. That final date of the brief, but highly successful Return of the Spice Girls Tour left fans—casual and loyal—yearning for more; as such, further reunion rumors percolated in the decade to come.
And now, finally, a second formal reformation of the Spice Girls is in full swing. As we speak, dates have been added to the Spice World – 2019 UK Tour and the buzz is palpable—there’s also been a pinch of drama too.
The latter element centers on the Spice Girls once again standing as a quartet for the second time in the group’s lifespan; Victoria Beckham has opted out of reuniting with her fellow Spice Girls, allowing them to move forward without her. It is in this way that the Spice Girls story has stayed true to its ethos of eschewing any sort of conventional path. It’s made for one amazing journey for these five women since they entered the collective popular music consciousness in June of 1996.
And, as usual, what tends to be left out of the critical conversation about these women and their travels is the music. The Spice Girls’ conflicts with the truculent music press have improved over the years, but it continues to be a stumbling block for the British pop superpower. With the tittle tattle of a possible fourth album from Brown, Bunton, Chisholm and Horner on the wind, the quintet will again go head-to-head with a softer, if still slightly skeptical music journalistic vanguard. History tells us that the Girls (and their music) are up to the challenge.
This brief overview of the Spice Girls discography—collectively and individually—draws attention back to the heart of the group’s legend: the music.
SPICE GIRLS | Spice (1996) | Buy
Supercharged by the distinctive personalities of the five women who drafted it, Spice was an assemblage of fantastic pop songs that couldn’t help but find blockbusting success. The debut long player from the five-piece went on to become one of three seminal girl group albums from the 1990s alongside En Vogue’s Funky Divas (1992) and TLC’s CrazySexyCool (1994). Its kinship with those records isn’t surprising given that the Spice Girls anchor their exacting melodies in an accessible, American friendly urban-pop framework. This contributed to the dual appeal of Spice on not only both sides of the Atlantic, but around the world as well.
SPICE GIRLS | Spiceworld (1997) | Buy
At the apex of their popularity, the Spice Girls scored that often-rare sophomore strike of genius with Spiceworld. Fleshing out their abilities as vocalists and writers, the ten-track project holds as a triumph of its era. An infinitely broader, brighter and bolder affair than Spice, the Spice Girls sketch in a variety of classic popular music colors that include (but are not limited to) Motown (“Stop”), disco (“Never Give Up on the Good Times”) and jazz (“The Lady Is a Vamp”). The diversity of the record’s sound was also reflected in the four tracks elected to represent Spiceworld as singles; they and the album as a unit have since gone on to major renown.
GERI HALLIWELL | Schizophonic (1999) | Buy
The first to break away from the Spice fold, Horner (née Halliwell) quickly conveyed that she is a force to be reckoned with on her own. Horner’s modus operandi on Schizophonic is very much a “modern meets historical” aural perspective; she wields it fearlessly in its four hit charters, three of them were British number ones. Unsurprisingly, Horner’s dusky voice and silver-tongued lyrics are the heart of Schizophonic as evidenced in the danceable jazz vibe of the set’s lead-off single “Look at Me” and the album side, the world music rinsed “Let Me Love You.” Some cynical critics sneered at Horner when she went at it alone, but she got the last laugh when the long player secured a commercial victory for the former Spice Girl.
MELANIE C | Northern Star (1999) | Buy
On its surface, the ambition and stylistic reach of Northern Star impressed. Melanie C’s adeptness to mix hip-hop slanted R&B, alternative rock, windswept ballads, dance music, and a host of other flavors piqued the curiosity of previously caustic music journalists. She did not have to petition for their attention, but her shrewd pop articulation of several genres in one place would not be ignored. Central to all of this is Melanie C’s own commitment to the material—all of it scripted by her—that comes through in its flawless execution. Critical notices and commercial fortune carried Northern Star for close to two years after its inaugural reveal.
MELANIE B | Hot (2000) | Buy
As the first Spice Girl to offer up a formidable solo track to the public with “I Want You Back,” expectations for her own record were high. But, the succinctly designated Hot would not manifest in its final, polished form until the fall of 2000. The magnitude of black talent—from a production/songwriting standpoint—assembled for Hot was clearly lost on the white pop masses that had made up Melanie B’s buying base as a Spice Girl. Still, this didn’t keep her from fronting some of the strongest mainstream R&B of the period; yet, as an album, Hot came up short.
Due to Melanie B’s shocking lack of input in the song construction, the LP didn’t express the totality of her artistic self. Instead, audiences were treated to a sort of fragmented version of who her collaborators assumed her to be on entries like “Hell No” and “Pack Your Shit.” Thankfully, Hot saved itself with a remarkable run of chart runners that brought the better elements of Hot forward.
SPICE GIRLS | Forever (2000) | Buy
Released three years after Spiceworld, Forever had the nearly impossible task of following behind that record. Additionally, it was their first collection to be presented without Horner in tow. While it is true that Spiceworld is still the “definitive” Spice Girls statement, Forever is far and away from a miss. A combustible and heady mix of purposeful, millennial soused dance music, contemporary R&B-pop and incidentally vintage synth-funk, the Spice Girls sell Forever convincingly as the ultimate girl group party long player with a few downtempos thrown in for variation.
Further, the record is something of a vocal performance showcase for Beckham, Brown, Bunton and Chisholm. Beckham herself is particularly at home in the digitized grooves of “Get Down with Me” and “Wasting My Time” that hint at the direction her own self-titled song cycle took on in 2001. Divisive among fans upon its release, Forever has since gone on to find much favor and appreciation in the ensuing years.
EMMA BUNTON | A Girl Like Me (2001) | Buy
Remembered for its “official” first single, the breezy AOR number “What Took You So Long?,” A Girl Like Me also made room for a wealth of styles that included Northern soul, contemporaneous R&B and guitar pop. The Northern soul component ended up as one of the central factors in Bunton’s next two solo outings in the next six years. A Girl Like Me’s natural air of ease and comfort in its expression of its musical identity establishes that Bunton has an unpretentious awareness of herself as a singer and writer. Her knowledge of her strengths allows her to forgo any major missteps and has let her initiating effort age impeccably thus far.
GERI HALLIWELL | Scream If You Wanna Go Faster (2001) | Buy
Horner (née Halliwell) set the bar for her next batch of tunes extremely high and with Scream If You Wanna Go Faster, she topped herself. Lyrically erudite and sonically boundless, Horner continues to weave throwback and modern pop sensibilities into a seamless whole, only this time she doesn’t wear her influences so explicitly on her sleeve. Take “Calling,” a stirring European pop ballad that is probably Horner’s peak as a singer and writer; the entry came from a place within the woman herself and proved she could express her own artistic appetites politely parted from any of her past artistic guides. Seen as an anticlimactic chaser to Schizophonic due to its mild sales returns at the time, Scream If You Wanna Go Faster benefited from a much more confident Horner yielding stronger song pieces.
VICTORIA BECKHAM | Victoria Beckham (2001) | Buy
One year after her enterprising partnership with The True Steppers and Dane Bowers on the garage workout jam “Out of Your Mind,” Beckham’s eponymous debut album eyed its own rhythmic pulse. Though “Out of Your Mind” was erroneously omitted, there was still much to discover on Victoria Beckham. Beckham drapes herself in a smart R&B-pop aural sheath akin to Forever with a cooler gait. Settling into the center of the simmering, midtempo R&B-pop core of the LP, Beckham is gorgeous and chilled out on each track. Not granted even a fraction of the courtesy afforded to her group mates, Victoria Beckham made little to no major commercial ripples. As it happens, Beckham’s self-titled LP has amassed a cult following among Spice devotees.
MELANIE C | Reason (2003) | Buy
An abrupt about face from the stormy bricolage of Northern Star, Reason threw in its lot with an adult contemporary pop pace instead. Critics (wrongly) gave it the cold shoulder and mainstream audiences weren’t sure what to make of it themselves. Yes, Reason was not in possession of Northern Star’s immediacy, but it was a steady grower. Drawing listeners into its center is Melanie C herself, her vocals warm, romantic and inviting on nearly every side; her instrument is also aligned to some of the prettiest melodies she’s ever scripted even to this day. That Melanie C refused to repeat herself was admirable and Reason is one of the “best kept secrets” of the overall Spice Girls-related canon.
EMMA BUNTON | Free Me (2004) | Buy
The Free Me campaign began demurely in May 2003 as its title song was issued as a single. From there on, Bunton implemented a staggered release schedule for Free Me’s subsequent second and third singles throughout the remainder of the year before pulling back the curtain on her sophomore long player at the top of 2004. A seductive blend of bossa nova, Motown, jazz and other 1960s pop era markers steered by Bunton’s radio friendly voice and savvy lyricism, the album won acclaim in every quarter. It is in this way that Free Me takes the baton from Northern Star to be the Spice-related project to unequivocally recast how the Spice Girls were collectively and individually perceived in the eyes of music press pundits. Because of this, its lasting impact on the Spice Girls (critically) can never be overstated.
[NOTE: Free Me is currently not available via streaming services]
MELANIE C | Beautiful Intentions (2005) | Buy
Like Reason had divorced itself from Northern Star, Beautiful Intentions did the same thing regarding its predecessor. The first album to be sanctioned by Melanie C’s own independent imprint Red Girl Records, the singer-songwriter kicks up the guitar current and cranks out an engaging stable of tunes that have gone on to become mainstays within her own individual concert tours. Beautiful Intentions also was extremely popular in several different European territories, notably Germany. Removing its creative merits briefly from the conversation, on its business face, Beautiful Intentions showed that Melanie C could function outside of the major label system and flourish.
MELANIE B | L.A. State of Mind (2005) | Buy
In comparison to the busy and shimmering Hot, L.A. State of Mind was charmingly lo-fi. Everything about Melanie B’s second—and to date last—album was antithetical to what she had done before. Operating under the working title of The Kitchen Album at its start, Melanie B worked closely with producer/musician Kevin Malpass to make a sunny, primarily acoustic based set of songs that occasionally deviate from this formula to veer off into light soul (“If I Had My Life Again”) or new wave (“Bad, Bad Girl”) genre spaces. The uniting theme is the words of the songs, almost all of them penned by Melanie B, that have her reflecting on the first few years of her life outside of the Spice Girls bubble as a British ex-pat living in Los Angeles. It is a fascinating, emotive snapshot of a young woman at a personal and professional crossroads.
[NOTE: L.A. State of Mind is currently not available via streaming services]
GERI HALLIWELL | Passion (2005) | Buy
Out of the three albums Geri Horner (née Halliwell) wrote, recorded and released, Passion was the most accessible, commercially speaking. Its two singles, “Ride It” and “Desire,” put the early 2000s British dance-pop trend to use for her own ends and didn’t sound too bad on Horner. And yet, the song cycle was missing the verve that was emblematic of Schizophonic and Scream If You Wanna Go Faster. That stated, Passion was far from a misfire.
Bookended by the jazz-pop pastiches of “Passion” and “So I Give Up On Love,” both of those entries and the ones that came in between them, have Horner in command of her vocal faculties in a wholly new way. Recently, Horner shelved what was to be her fourth album, Man on the Mountain, in 2016; that has left Passion as an unintentional swansong for Horner unless something changes in the meantime.
EMMA BUNTON | Life in Mono (2006) | Buy
While expounding on the 1960s pop genre format of Free Me, Bunton wisely spliced in some modish AC aesthetics to give it its own identity. Just as eloquent and elegant as Free Me, Life in Mono should have had the same market value as its preceding sister record. Sadly, the so-called “Spice fatigue” that had been looming over all Spice Girls associated works since 2000 had finally caught up to Bunton. Even though Life in Mono had no commercial clout, artistically, it was nothing short of a masterpiece. Comprised of clever covers and enthusiastic original fare, Bunton ties all of it together into a satisfying whole.
[NOTE: Life in Mono is currently not available via streaming services]
MELANIE C | This Time (2007) | Buy
Melanie C manages an uncanny compromise between her harder rock instincts and her penchant for AOR pop with This Time, a thoroughly consistent and enjoyable recording. Joining the ever-evolving songwriter on her fourth outing was a jaw-dropping array of British production/songwriting talent: Stephen Hague, Peter John-Vettese, Phil Thornalley and Guy Chambers. All the guests worked feverishly alongside Melanie C and gifted her with an arresting assortment of soundscapes worthy of her sterling mezzo-soprano voice. Opening with the uptempo power ballad “Understand” and closing with a winning ska rewrite of The Strangeloves evergreen “I Want Candy,” Melanie C is in peak form.
MELANIE C | The Sea (2011) | Buy
The roiling might of the title track alone makes The Sea an album worth traversing. But, Melanie C doesn’t distill all her prowess into that one song. Rather, she evenly allocates her imagination throughout her fifth record that recalls the genre-hopping that made Northern Star a sensation. Its singles “Rock Me,” “Think About It,” “Weak,” and “Let There Be Love” were incontrovertibly her finest since her Northern Star streak. This, of course, is to say nothing of the quality of leftovers from The Sea sessions and assigned to B-side status on the cited tracks earmarked for single status.
MELANIE C | Stages (2012) | Buy
In every singer’s body of work, there is one recording that announces the “arrival” of that artist to a certain plateau that cements their legacy. In Melanie C’s case, Stages was that album. Selecting songs that had either been crafted for the theatre medium—or reworked for it—Stages was Melanie C’s most determined effort at the time. Acquainting herself to every composition consummately as a singer, she steps into a solely interpretive space that is as fetching on her as when she is working her own music. Stages is also home to the third duet between Melanie C and her former group mate, Emma Bunton, on a lush recasting of the Chess musical classic “I Know Him So Well.”
MELANIE C | Version of Me (2016) | Buy
Modern and unassumingly soulful in spots, Melanie C retrofits the pop sound of today to her own creative stride with an envious sort of ease. “Anymore,” Version of Me’s second single, is “the classic” of the batch of tracks to spin off the LP, however, there’s more to the album than what got marked for airplay. Deeper cuts like “Escalator” and “Loving You Better” suggest that there is only more solid work to come from Melanie C in the immediate future.
Quentin Harrison is the author of Record Redux: Spice Girls, the first written overview of the Spice Girls musical history spanning 1996 to 2016. For more of his perspective on their collective and individual recordings, his book is available physically or digitally now. Additional books in his Record Redux series cover the discographies of Carly Simon, Donna Summer and Madonna. Record Redux: Kylie Minogue, Harrison’s forthcoming book, will be available in November 2019.