The Spice Girls can't be serious Review: The bubble gum bursts as group tries for a depth that it doesn't possess on 'Spiceworld.'

November 04, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Had the Spice Girls paid more attention in school, they'd know about hubris.

They'd remember the stories from Greek mythology about heroes who began to believe their own hype and ended up losing everything. They'd recognize how foolhardy it is to assume that having great popularity is the same thing as having tTC great talent. They'd understand how wrong it is to go against the laws of bubble-gum stardom by trying to make "serious" music.

Instead, the five Spices no doubt think that a "Hugh bris" is what Hugh Grant would have to go through to become Jewish. And what they don't know not only will end up hurting them, but also those of us who must suffer through the mess that is "Spiceworld" (Virgin 7243 8 75111, arriving in stores today).

It didn't have to be this way. Had our spicy starlets followed the formula of their debut, "Spiceworld" would have been yet another serving of guilty-pleasure pop: frivolous, frothy and irrepressibly tuneful. Those first few Spice singles may not have invited respect -- indeed, the Girls have been the butt of jokes since they first sashayed onto the charts -- but they were undeniably tuneful and fun. Only a curmudgeon could have avoided humming along at least once.

"Spiceworld," by contrast, makes resisting the charms of Geri, Victoria, Mel B., Mel C. and Emma appallingly easy. It isn't that the album is bad, really; the producers (particularly Richard Stannard and Matt Rowe, the team responsible for "Wannabe" and "2 Become 1") are too competent for that. Instead, "Spiceworld" ends up squandering the Spice Girls' charm on songs so spectacularly unsuited to the group that the listener wonders what on earth these Girls were thinking.

Start with "Move Over." If the "Generation Next" chorus from this mildly funky rap number sounds fairly familiar, it's because Pepsi has been using it as an ad jingle for about a year now. In fact, the Spice Girls perform it in a Pepsi ad of their own. That the group would lend its talents to a soda commercial is itself no big deal, considering that Madonna, Paula Abdul and the Jacksons have all done the same thing. But did any of them stoop to adding a jingle to their repertoire?

Then there's "Lady Is a Vamp." Ridiculously self-referential and overflowing with big band-style horn flourishes, it would probably be quite amusing if staged in mock-'60s style, doing for musical variety shows what "Austin Powers" did for spy spoofs. Without the visuals, though, it's just an annoyance -- badly written, badly sung and so out-of-character that it's hard to understand how it even made the album.

Obviously, the track was meant to show the group's breadth, but all it really does is remind us of the singers' limitations. Someone should have explained to the Spices that there's a difference between being entertaining and being entertainers.

Granted, not everything is such an obvious misstep. "Spice Up Your Life" is as perfect as "Lady Is a Vamp" is inappropriate, a brash, hook-heavy romp that makes almost no sense on the lyric sheet ("Chicas to the front/Hi C Ya Hold Tight"???) but pure bliss pouring from the speakers. Mindless pop is rarely this pleasurable.

There are other, equally catchy moments on the album, from the Philly Soul-style groove of "Never Give Up on the Good Times" to the modified Motown of "Stop," but for the most part, their appeal has more to do with the production than with anything the individual Spices contribute.

That's to be expected of pop productions like the Spice Girls. After all, what made Phil Spector's hits so successful was his Wall of Sound, not the voices he put in front of it, and that principle still applies. That's why "Saturday Night Divas" is far more memorable when the Girls carry the chorus in five-part harmony than when they step out for their various solo spots, and why the attempts at deep emotional expression in "Too Much" are far less convincing than the slogan-mongering of "Move Over."

Truth is, the Spice Girls need to be true to their depth (or lack thereof), and it's the belief that they can be more than pretty and shallow that ultimately undoes "Spiceworld." Hubris, in other words. And no, Girls, it has nothing to do with Hugh Grant.

'Spiceworld'

To hear excerpts from the Spice Girls' new release, "Spiceworld," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the code 6123. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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