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Apr 14

SPICE GIRLS – “Too Much”

Popular49 comments • 4,401 views

#779, 27th December 1997

toomuch 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.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Rory on 10 Apr 2014 #

    All of the 1997 number ones in 68 days: bravo, Tom!

    This sounds good to me on a first listen.

  2. 2
    weej on 10 Apr 2014 #

    Absolutely a minor SG single, despite its slightly epic pretentions. I find myself chiefly enjoying Too Much for the wobbly synth and guitar sounds that keep bubbling up – the production on Spiceworld is a bit overcooked on the whole, but here it’s pitched perfectly until the obligatory brass section makes an appearance. And to be fair Mel C puts in a good enough performance here, if just by keeping herself fairly low-key. Nothing to really get excited about, though, so a ‘6’ is exactly right.

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 10 Apr 2014 #

    this lush ballad seems a subdued choice to run over the opening credits of the Spice World movie. The song finishes with the group performing together on TOTP but, perhaps tellingly, in the video each Girl is portrayed in her own World

  4. 4
    mapman132 on 10 Apr 2014 #

    Supposedly a #9 hit in the US but it must’ve been in-and-out quickly as I have no memory of hearing it until now. To me it fits the long term trend of each SG single being less interesting than the last (“2 Becomes 1” being the exception). Not bad, but not particularly memorable. 5/10.

    Interesting fact picked up from Chris Brown’s Hit Parade blog: There were six million-sellers in the chart in the final week of 1997, but this was not one of them.

    Echoing Rory, I’m impressed we got through 1997 so quickly. Looking forward to 98!

  5. 5
    wichita lineman on 10 Apr 2014 #

    A nailed-on 6, and hard to argue with this assessment. I’d say it’s the girls’ strongest vocal showing yet.

    Just one thing – I always heard this as a 70s soft soul pastiche, a ballad in the vein of Love Unlimited, rather than swing inspired – those gentle wah-wah touches, the cute backing vocals, the string arrangement (to a degree – it’s fairly uninspired, and a strong counter-melody could have lifted it to a 7).

  6. 6
    Tom on 10 Apr 2014 #

    I should have mentioned the trumpet, as that’s what pulls it back a bit earlier as a reference point for me – but you may well be right, as I say it’s the hardest to place of any of their pastiche-era hits.

    The other touch I like is the quick “too-much-of-nothing-so-why-don’t-we-give-it-a-tryyyy” phrasing on the backing vox on the coda, giving you a little bonus hook, like an end credit scene on the movie. It’s still the six-iest six ever though.

  7. 7
    thefatgit on 10 Apr 2014 #

    The first Spice Girls single I have no immediate recollection of. And an Xmas #1 to boot! Even the line prompt at the end of Tom’s review still keeps this one tantalisingly out of reach, so I’ll report back later after the obligatory YouTube reminder.

  8. 8
    Chelovek na lune on 10 Apr 2014 #

    For me, the low point of the original (ie 1996-98) SG singles. Nice production/instrumentation, good singing from Emma and Mel B, especially (neither the first nor the last SG single that makes me wonder why on earth Mel *B* didn’t have a fabulous solo career)….but it’s just too weak and forgettable a song to make much impact, let alone (how we thought then) as an Xmas no 1. Not horrible, but a let down none the less. 5

  9. 9
    Tom on 10 Apr 2014 #

    Was there actually any expectation at this point that the Christmas #1 would be any good – it was meant to be “hotly contested” (cos it was the highest selling sales week) but I never remember much anticipation that a decent record would manage it – though obviously some did.

  10. 10
    Tommy Mack on 10 Apr 2014 #

    I too have no recollection. Did a Spice Girls trawl on Spotify a couple of days back and was blown away by how good they were. I really was an idiot to be such a music snob in the late 90s. One particular hook (bunnied I think) brought an actual tear to my eye.

    Then later that night I couldn’t sleep and ended up watching The World’s Richest Songs. The clip of Geri singing happy birthday to Prince Charles is upsetting on a visceral level that’s hard to explain. The phrase Wrong on so many levels is a terrible cliche but for once i think it applies. Possibly worse than Skyler’s rendition in Breaking Bad.

  11. 11
    Chelovek na lune on 10 Apr 2014 #

    #9 No, probably not, but in this case perhaps “2 Become 1” had set the bar unusually high for the SG’s second attempt….

  12. 12
    swanstep on 10 Apr 2014 #

    ‘Too Much’ is pleasant enough, even a little impressive in the vocal melody dept, works well as a surprise opening number in the film, and does indeed, as Tom suggests, have a sense about it of order and craft being restored after SUYL. Still, for some reason I just don’t like TM. Perhaps it’s that here the SGs edge close to something that signature US girl groups do very well, e.g., TLC’s ‘Red Light Special’ and En Vogue’s ‘Giving Him Something He Can Feel’. I didn’t ‘Say You’ll Be There’ highly when we covered it (scoring it a 5), but in retrospect it feels precision tooled for the SGs personalities so probably deserves a fair bit more than that. Oops. Anyhow, maybe I’ll come around on TM in six months too, but right now this is a:
    5

    Vid report: good to see some clips from the film but the separate worlds/looks for all the gals in the vid-only segments seem like a mis-step (and what the hell is Victoria doing/wearing?), akin to some of the problems I had with the SUYL vid.. Something’s off about the SGs vid. presentation at this point (which again, retrospectively makes all their early vids seem incredibly well-judged).

  13. 13
    Tom on 10 Apr 2014 #

    In line with my review of the song, Mel C’s kung fu flick is the only one of the sub-movies the video dreams up that I’d actually want to go and see.

  14. 14
    Cumbrian on 10 Apr 2014 #

    Lino is right, it’s got that Love Unlimited vibe to it and I could well imagine Barry White doing a spoken word intro for 2 minutes over the beginning of this track. Since I like that sort of sexy lounge-soul, I am predisposed to this.I imagine the trumpet as being a guy stood on the stage with red velour walls surrounding him playing a small solo in the spotlight, again more lounge than anything else. Think the vocal tone of it is just about right too – I can even just about stomach Geri on this one – in that they’re all going to the right laid back mood, with Mel C, as Tom notes, cross cutting that so it doesn’t get too samey.

    Good for late night, whiskey in the tumbler and just letting the day wash over you – an effective mood builder for me, which is usually what I’m really looking for from a piece of music (i.e. something that puts me in a decent frame of mind rather than a cross one – this just has relax written on it, I think, even if the lyrics might not quite be the sort of thing that might make you relax, the music and the tone does the job). Would go higher than 6 as a result.

    This is not to say that it’s brilliant. It’s not as strong as 2B1 for instance, but I still think it’s good probably 3rd for me in their run of #1s that we’ve had thus far.

  15. 15
    anto on 10 Apr 2014 #

    By coincidence I heard ‘Too Much’ this morning for the first time in years and I think it did a reasonable job of bringing this kind of supple straight-talking soul up to date without being anything radically brilliant (unlike another single which we’re very soon to come upon).
    For all it’s merits though, it was starting to feel like the Spices could release a tape of themselves belching, farting and telling knob jokes and still go to number one. The whole thing was becoming a routine rather than a phenomenon not helped by the fact that they seemed to be advertising everything (Pepsi, deodorant, naff TV channels, novelty wellies, garden furniture) by the end of ’97.

  16. 16
    Kinitawowi on 10 Apr 2014 #

    I said a while back (possibly on 2 Become 1, although I may be wrong) that while the Spices started well as a group, eventually they reached the point where single vocalists started to overwhelm the cohesiveness of the whole. And here we are – Victoria’s sound is complete anonymity to my ears and I spend much of the song waiting for Mel C’s part, making this the starting point for the seeds of the inevitable split and solo careers.

    And yet… Mel C’s part is still epic, the video is at least moderately amusing (I still haven’t seen SpiceWorld), and I’ve always got a soft spot for the ballads.

    I’ve been brought up on the Championship Manager school of grading, where a 6 is plain bog average (even though it should surely be 5); this is a song I could happily listen to a few more times yet, so I’ll go 7.

  17. 17
    Ed on 10 Apr 2014 #

    @16 A pedant writes… As there are no zero scores, the mean (and median) of an unskewed distribution would be 5.5. And as we’re marking only in integers, you have to round that up to 6. So that is indeed the “plain bog average” score.

    Now whether Tom’s mean score is in fact close to 5.5, I don’t know. But that’s what you’d expect as the number of UK number ones approaches infinity.

  18. 18
    Another Pete on 10 Apr 2014 #

    Not much else to say on this other than the title of this and the 3 singles that’ll follow (2 of which are bunnied) , coincidence or planned coded message?

  19. 19
    23 Daves on 10 Apr 2014 #

    “What part of no don’t you understand / I want a man, not a boy who thinks he can”

    Those lyrics were the only bit of this single I could actually remember! As soon as Tom mentioned them I immediately thought “Oh, it’s THAT one”. Not surprising, maybe, as they’re harsh and immediately striking, but even when I went back to the YouTube video I realised that there were whole elements of this track I’d entirely forgotten. In an era filled with over-saturation of the Spices, it’s not really managed to embed itself very well in my memory, whereas most of their other hits have.

    It’s OK, I guess. The silky arrangements (which I agree are definitely Love Unlimited inspired) are definitely a giant step up from “Spice Up Your Life”, the vocals well-handled across the board, but it will probably take only a week or so to evaporate from my mind again.

    The first few seconds of the intro do sound a bit like an unused start-up tune for a mobile phone as well – not too sure I like that. A little bit O2, a little bit Lighthouse Family. It definitely improves hugely from that unpromising beginning.

  20. 20
    Tom on 10 Apr 2014 #

    #17 The idea was for the marks to roughly fall on a normal distribution, in which case yes, you’d expect to see a 5.5 average (as well as roughly the same # of 5s and 6s, 7s and 4s, and so on down to the very rare 10s and 1s). I think actually I’ve ended up harsher than this, I stopped keeping track a few years ago.

  21. 21
    Ed on 10 Apr 2014 #

    @20 The rise and fall of that average score of course represents the most reliable guide we have to the true objective quality of pop music down the decades.

  22. 22
    thefatgit on 10 Apr 2014 #

    Having been reminded of “Too Much”, I’m more inclined to think: not enough. No wonder this slipped out of my consciousness. The strings and horns suggest much time and effort was spent to make it sound expensive. Not much consideration on whether it was any good. Geri, Emma and Victoria are wallpaper while Mel B and Mel C, the only interesting voices here bravely carry it along to its conclusion. I’m not sure of the thinking behind using TM as the theme tune to the movie, other than getting the song out of the way. I think it’s safe to say I really dislike this, and I’m quite open to Spice-slowies. It won’t be long before this one slips out of my consciousness again. Roll on 1998.

  23. 23
    iconoclast on 10 Apr 2014 #

    I can hardly remember this from when it came out, and it’s not difficult to see why: there’s very little actual song here, despite the efforts of the production. Even the trumpet solo sounds half-arsed. FIVE.

  24. 24
    weej on 10 Apr 2014 #

    #20 – This is what the average score looks like over time – the line shows the average of the previous and following 15 entries.

    http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y160/weejay/averageovernearest15.jpg

    Just a quick and dirty in Excel, but you can see the average does generally float around 5.5. It would be interesting to see a similar thing for reader scores but that information isn’t so easily grabbed.

  25. 25
    Kinitawowi on 10 Apr 2014 #

    I’ve been nosing around the list myself, just to have a look. (A couple of minor typoes in the Populist – missed “th”s off dates and such – screwed with my regex, but I worked around it).

    So, barring early hiccups when the average wasn’t really settled, the overall average peak of about 5.497 was hit around 1985. Since then it’s declined a full tenth of a point to about 5.393. It did get as low as 5.388 around the time of the Outhere Brothers.

    It’s not a bad attempt at a normal curve, but there’s a slight bump at the peak:

    1s: 17
    2s: 61
    3s: 79
    4s: 126
    5s: 116
    6s: 134
    7s: 109
    8s: 74
    9s: 48
    10s: 15

    Conclusion: needs more 5s and less 4s. And maybe more 9s. :-p

  26. 26
    James BC on 11 Apr 2014 #

    Specifically, the 1985 song where the average score peaked was “Easy Lover”.

  27. 27
    James Masterton on 11 Apr 2014 #

    The Spice Girls (or rather Simon Fuller) invented the whole concept of deliberately targeting the Xmas No.1. Oasis attempted it in 1994 with the Christmas chart week release of Whatever, but it was Team Spice who pioneered topping the charts by default with a single released in the exact week of the seasonal chart, thus ruining it for everyone forever.

    Too Much was an even greater exercise in cynicism, as others have noted it was the opening song in the Spiceworld movie which was itself released into cinemas on Boxing Day 1997, a few days after the record had made it to the top of the charts. It was also the final exclamation point on Spice mania, their next single becoming their first not to reach the top and by the time they were back at the summit in the summer Fuller had been ditched as manager, Geri had done a Robbie and flounced and the end was in sight.

  28. 28
    tm on 11 Apr 2014 #

    #27: or maybe people need to start buying more better records more! (Cubist grammar intended)

    As an ex-teacher, I note that the scores are roughly analogous to the percentages required to gain different A level grades: 4 is E: a bare pass, scarsely more use than a fail for practical purposes, 6 is C, the lowest decent grade; you did what was required of of you but you hardly shone, 7 is B, a solid, above-average effort, 8 is A, you’re good at this and you went somewhat above and beyond, 9 is A*, among the very best and 10 is obviously some sort of distinction, an example of rare and remarkable talent operating at its very best.

    Like Tom’s grading system, grade boundaries are designed to award roughly equal numbers of each grade nationwide and year on year, hence the murky machinations of the UMS system (“this was a hard/easy paper so you get marked up/down according to non-linear and undisclosed formulae”).

    The exam grade analogy breaks down at the top end since, if you’re a remarkable student, equivalent to an artist with a string of 9/10 an 10/10 songs, there’s little in A Level courses for you to demonstrate the full extent of your talents. A good teacher will identify such students and provide them with engaging challenges lest they fall into bored complacency (“I sneeze and the hits come out” – I really wanted a better example since Courtney Taylor Taylor’s plainly a C-average student who occasionally stretches himself to a B!)

  29. 29
    wichitalineman on 11 Apr 2014 #

    Re 28: Fuller might have been the first to do it with the pinpoint accuracy of releasing a single in Xmas week, but it was surely intentional with the Beatles, once they’d scored their first Xmas no.1 in ’63. They had nothing ready for the 1966 Christmas market (presumably due to the multiple takes and studio jiggery-pokery on Strawberry Fields Forever, released in Feb ’67) so Parlophone threw out A Collection of Beatles Oldies But Goldies, their first compilation.

  30. 30
    Rory on 11 Apr 2014 #

    #28: Your Courtney Taylor-Taylor reference seems to be related to a deleted draft comment, but I’ll pick it up anyway. I’d dispute he was C-grade on the first four Dandy Warhols albums, up to and including Welcome to the Monkey House – wonderful stuff on all of those, lots of 8+ songs for me. But from Odditorium onwards, yeah, they’re a struggle. I’m not sure what happened. Even the “artists’ cut” of Monkey House was a dud, demonstrating that Nick Rhodes saved the thing. A great shame, I loved them at their best.

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