Their three Christmas number ones are as much to do with canny release date bagatelle as with enduring public love, but the Spice Girls still gave the impression of taking special care over their year-end singles. Or maybe they just had a knack for ballads. “Too Much” isn’t their most distinctive record – less lush than “2 Become 1”, less melodramatic than their later big weepies – but after the slapdash clatter of “Spice Up Your Life”, a bit of crafted stability might be no bad thing.
“2 Become 1” relied on Emma Bunton’s playful softness, which made its intimacy feel like a lived situation. “Too Much” is just as dependent on Mel C – in fact, the record’s main problem is that it feels like it’s marking time until she gets to sing. The song is more tenuously a pastiche than any of the singles around it, but “Too Much” still sounds to me like an attempt to Spicify a genre – the knowing, romantic, vintage pop of the swing era, which we met via Jo Stafford and Kitty Kallen.
“Too Much” isn’t the band’s only attempt to engage with this long-gone past: the Spiceworld LP ends with a wholehearted but fairly terrible big band number, and “Look At Me”, Geri Halliwell’s solo debut, picks up where that left off. But for “Too Much” to work it needs a singer who can vamp it up, and whatever Geri might have thought the Spice Girls only have one of those. Mel C was often described as having the group’s strongest voice, when really it’s just their most immediately distinctive – confident and sharp, cutting against the grain of any song it’s in. Vocally, she is the spice in the girls – often used just as an ad-libber to season what might otherwise be rather placid harmonising. Even though she stood out, it wasn’t obvious how a solo Mel C would work: she seemed to be a singer who relied on contrast.
“Too Much”, though, finds a way of using Mel C’s confidence that isn’t just seasoning – she takes the parts of the song which are pointing out that, sorry boys, even “good” isn’t good enough in the long term. In the pop this is nodding at, that might have found world-weary expression – that’s life, ladies – but the Spice Girls have always been about making demands, and the strident, rough edge in Mel C’s voice makes her sound more angry than cynical. Her lines at the song’s climax – “What part of no don’t you understand / I want a man, not a boy who thinks he can” – are the part of “Too Much”, that sticks, the best moment in any of their 1997 singles, and a reminder of what the Spice Girls did well, just in time for the British pop business to finally catch up with them.