A single overtaken by events, “Viva Forever” found its modest theme – the embers of holiday romance – completely sidelined when it turned out to be the Final Spice Girls Single, meaning the last single by the founding quintet. Suddenly the pressure of attention warped just another enjoyable Spice ballad into a grand valedictory statement. “Viva Forever” still just about bears that weight, though “fleeting, doomed and bittersweet” wasn’t quite the emotional note the band would have picked for a send-off. And sure enough the remaining four members decided to take a second shot at mythologising the Geri Era (and the band), which we’ll get to in time, and means I can take this track at face value.
And it’s good – very good, their best ballad since “2 Become 1”. Like that song, “Viva Forever” takes a specific but common romantic situation and treats it simply and sincerely. This is a song for a particular moment – back at dreary home, sand at the bottom of your suitcase, precious memories of summer love fading at the edges. It’s wallowing, wistful music, with its Spanish guitar phrases vanishing back into mists of regretful backing vox. “Viva Forever” is only good, though: it does nothing unexpected, and it never makes a move when there’s a cheesier one available – castanets, “hasta manana”, the sands of time, it’s all here. But its straightforward seriousness is exactly right for its subject – it’s the song you might turn to when you want to be reassured that what you felt meant something, even as it admits it might not have.
And some would say that would have been an apt end for the group after all. Their own commercial grip had begun to slacken even as the UK charts were being remade in their image: what better time for an exit, before the spotlight moved on? When the time came to name the band’s short-lived jukebox musical, they went for “Viva Forever” – the Spice Girls as the persistent memory of a wonderful but brief affair. But at the time, as we’ll see, they had rather different ideas.