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Aug 14

SPICE GIRLS – “Goodbye”

Popular22 comments • 1,576 views

#808, 26th December 1998

goodbyespice “Viva Forever” had been the Spice Girls’ unofficial break-up single – its themes (and wistful qualities) well able to shoulder the job of seeing Geri Halliwell off. What need for “Goodbye”, then? The song existed in demo form pre-split but was gussied up into a statement by band and songwriters afterwards. Could it feel like anything other than a cash-in?

Perhaps not, if it had just been about Geri. But momentum was flowing away from the band, whether they knew it or not. “Goodbye”, a non-album single meant publically to cap the Girl Power era and launch a new, four-woman one, just felt like the end, full stop. “It’s not”, the chorus smoothly protested, but events, and the vibe of the song itself, honoured its title as a not-all-that-well-hidden intention.

I’ve praised the Spice Girls, by and large: what to say now it’s time to bury them? There were three things the group did very successfully, three sets of Spice Girls overlapping in time and sometimes on the same song. First of all there was the gang – the group of friends rampaging through a suddenly staid pop scene, standing up and shouting out for girls, flinging around good advice and better hooks. The second Spice Girls were balladeers – crafters of lavish, sometimes exquisitely done slowies. And the third version, surfacing after their lightning conquest of British music, saw them as pop’s curators and rewriters, pastiching genres and adding an upbeat, export-friendly spin.

Each of these versions was less exciting than the last, but all of them released records to make you gasp or grin: for the two years of their pomp, the Spice Girls’ hitrate was marvellously high. So too, you’d have thought, their level of impact. At the point “Goodbye” came out, the charts had been full for a season of acts very clearly signed or promoted in the immediate wake of the Spice Girls. The band might be breaking up, but their pop legacy seemed already secure.

Instead, “Goodbye” marked the end of something. The British and Irish bubblegum that dominated 1998 turned flavourless, and even the marketing model the Spice Girls had done so well from – a zesty, scrappy group in which everyone stands out as an individual (stereotype or not) – proved very tough to sustain. The Spice Girls seem like an obvious starting point for 21st century pop, but look closer and there’s not much like them since: plenty of personalities, but rarely made to spark off one another in a group.

They were never the future: instead, Mark S had it right when he pointed in a comment to England’s pop tradition of chaotic but inspired amateurism, the country’s most reliable music export from the Beatles onwards. Groups of kids fitting stuff together by magpie instinct, blagging their way to fame together and then exploding (the Beatles) or imploding (the Spice Girls) or just becoming a bit duller (Duran and others). What, the Spice Girls asked and answered, would a girl version of those great British pop tales – the manias, the revolts, the MTV invasions – look like?

“Goodbye” itself is the Spice Girls in their ballad mode – it is Christmas, after all – and unlike most Spice ballads it aims to be something grand and monolithic: an upturned box of tinselly strings all over the track, and a stately descending chorus. But there’s more to it: a tenderness in the verses, and the track’s best idea, that urgent backing vocal counterpoint (“I know you’re gone you said you’re gone but I can still feel you here”) which sells me on the feeling the song might have some need to communicate, some last thing to get across before the curtain falls.

And it does – “you got to keep it strong before the pain turns into fear” is one last bit of good, earnest Spice advice for girls handling a knockback. Beyond that, the spectre of the fifth Spice overwhelms the song’s emotional impact, and though she’s hardly missed as a vocalist her lack is still felt. Some of the lyrics (“I never thought you’d go your own sweet way”) feel borderline passive-aggressive, though you can certainly hear Geri singing – or writing – a line as awful as “look for the rainbow in every star”.

It’s a clue to why the Spice-model wasn’t more widely taken up: the whole was always the exact sum of the parts – lose any of them and you lose too much. And in the end, we’re left with Mel C, the vocal engine of the group, ad-libbing her way defiantly to the finish – “I will be with you every day” – as the others take their turns to sing and slip out the door. They just about make their disappearance matter, but for all its pomp, “Goodbye” is a subdued farewell for the true last gang in town.

6

Comments

  1. 1
    iconoclast on 12 Aug 2014 #

    Worthy and personal but dull and awkward, and expires long before the seemingly obligatory uninspired fade. FIVE.

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 12 Aug 2014 #

    I can remember liking this at the time and still do. I’m not always a fan of self referential songs – I don’t care too much for ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ but I quite like ‘Solsbury Hill’. Everything about this seems hushed to me, as if under a blanket of snow, which suits the wintry video and Christmas release date. Instead of anger and retribution in the lyrics there is sympathy and good will – although with a slight passive-aggressive flavour. There’s almost a Narnian quality to the video which might suggest Geri as the (absent) White Queen. Following on from the faerie imagery of ‘Viva Forever’ there’s almost a Magickal quality to these late songs. 7 or 8 for me

  3. 3
    chelovek na lune on 12 Aug 2014 #

    Their second best Xmas single, after “2 Become 1″. Also their second worst Xmas single, after “Too Much”.

    Essentially an extension, thematically at least, of their previous single, this seems like they’ve walked back on stage, one woman down, to give a final encore. (And if only they’d had the good sense to really call it a day then…) Emma still has the loveliest, sweetest, voice of the four – and the old “friendship never ends” theme from the first single is revived, as a coda. Not their finest moment, but creditable, even lovable. 7 or 8

  4. 4
    AMZ1981 on 12 Aug 2014 #

    Bunnying but this wasn’t quite the end – there is still one more Spice Girls chart topper to come. At the time the remaining four were pretty much trumpeting business as usual even though the solo singles had already started (it’s worth noting that there was never a formal split).

    Goodbye was the eighth Spice Girls number one and its solitary week at the summit was the group’s 21st week in all – putting them in a dead heat with Take That as the top chart act of the 90s.

  5. 5
    JLucas on 13 Aug 2014 #

    First off, it’s ‘Look for the rainbow in every storm’ which – while not exactly an inspired piece of advice – is a perfectly fine pop lyric.

  6. 6
    mapman132 on 13 Aug 2014 #

    And now the UK number one during my second and briefer stay in London that month – basically one night on the floor of a friend in Stepney Green in between a return train trip from Belgium and getting on a plane back to the US the next morning. But the soundtrack for the ride to the airport was not “Goodbye”, it was “Believe” as I related two entries ago. “Goodbye” I never heard at all in 98/99 even though it was a mercurial US hit: Billboard shows it entering at #11, spending two more weeks there, and then making a spectacular nosedive exiting the top 40 two weeks later. Clearly Spice was over in America. Meanwhile a new name had just appeared in the US top 10 while I was out of the country. Apparently the opening act for N Sync. Hmm….

    Hearing “Goodbye” for the first time now, it’s okay but not memorable. 5/10. Somehow the group just seems incomplete without Geri. It seems strangely appropriate for Tom to be talking about SG in past tense even with the remaining bunny.

  7. 7
    JLucas on 13 Aug 2014 #

    For me this completes the holy trinity of Spice Girls ballads – the others being 2 Become 1 and Viva Forever. It’s true that Viva Forever was an eloquent send-off for the Geri era, which leaves this looking like something of a postscript. But that doesn’t take away from its loveliness – there was some seriously classy songwriting going on at Spice HQ which set them apart from pretty much every other major pop group of the era.

    As with 2 Become 1 and Viva Forever, it’s absolutely the Emma and Mel B show. Emma’s warm, heartfelt opening verse sets the tone – it’s deceptively tough to sell very sentimental lyrics without coming off treacly or insincere, but she identifies the song’s emotional centre effortlessly.

    One of the reasons I love these songs so fiercely is the eloquence with which they manage to capture a very specific yet universal emotional state. Yes, superficially it’s the obligatory Goodbye Geri song – and the chorus is perhaps a little bit too on the nose, but listen to Mel B’s pre-chorus, which is almost maternal in its spirit of wisdom and tenderness. “Look for the rainbow in every storm / find out for certain / love’s gonna be there for you / you’ll always be someone’s baby.” Times are about to get tough, but ties that bind aren’t easily broken, and you can go home again.

    10

  8. 8
    Andrew Farrell on 13 Aug 2014 #

    #4 Also putting them a dead heat with the Beatles for consecutive Christmas #1s

  9. 9
    tm on 13 Aug 2014 #

    It must have been around this time that Posh & Becks moved to Alderly Edge, Wilmslow’s neighbouring town (and setting for Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen). The local paper would shoehorn a P&B angle into any story and seemed to collapse to about four pages when they moved away. Consensus of local opinion was that they were a ‘good’ celebrity couple who kept a low-key and down to earth profile, patronised local shops and restaurants (at least until their fame became too super-mega for that) and were patient and generous with autograph hunters and the like.

  10. 10
    James BC on 13 Aug 2014 #

    Weird sleeve. Why aren’t they wearing anything? And WHY have they capitalised “Spice” but not “girls” or “goodbye”?

  11. 11
    Rory on 13 Aug 2014 #

    “Goodbye” has grown on me, and crept up to a 6. “Viva Forever” was a better send-off, but this doesn’t tarnish their run.

    James BC, surely they’re wearing strapless dresses just out of shot. In olden days a glimpse of shoulder was looked on as something bolder…

    “Spice girls. goodbye” has the effect of a typographical fade, from capitalized to uncapitalized, punctuated to unpunctuated.

  12. 12
    thefatgit on 13 Aug 2014 #

    So this is Canada’s “Everything I Do…”. Revenge is a dish best served cold, eh?

    The Spice Girl ballad I like the least, but having said that, it’s just adequate. Some nice lyrical flourishes and some heartfelt vocal performances, but I can’t nail down that tune. Ask me to whistle it after 1 hour’s exposure and I’m lost. 4 must be about right (or wrong).

  13. 13
    PurpleKylie on 13 Aug 2014 #

    Even at the time I felt it was a bit like… well, I wouldn’t say cynical, I wasn’t old enough to understand the concept of cynicism, but my thoughts were along the line of “oh, one of them left, so their next song obviously had to be about that”, if you get my drift. I do agree that Viva Forever would’ve made a better “final single”, like Never Forget would’ve made a better “final Take That single” than How Deep is Your Love. In both cases, the actual final singles (well, not so true in the case of the Spice Girls, but it marked the end of an era nonetheless) was more like ending on a damp squib.

    If I remember correctly seeing as I had a copy of the single at the time, I think the B-side to this was an awful cover of Christmas Wrapping (sadly I wasn’t aware there was an original version of that until years later), with hilarious cultural changes to the lyrics referencing Tesco. Other supermarkets are available.

  14. 14
    wichitalineman on 13 Aug 2014 #

    Everything is so unresolved. The verse is very pretty (and could be a chorus in another world) but once it ends the song floats away, anxiously: the bridge hangs onto its one note while attempting to offer hope, unconvincingly but touchingly (“look for the rainbow in every storm”); and the harmonies on the chorus sound (help me, musicologists) ancient, slightly Eastern – at least, they’re some considerable distance from the Beach Boys. Everything is silvery blue/grey. This is such an odd and lovely song. 10.

  15. 15
    punctum on 14 Aug 2014 #

    “Keep it strong before the pain turns into fear”

    What an extraordinary dream of a year 1998 was. I began it with the feeling that I was dragging myself to the end of something and ended it fortunate to have missed the end. But on the basis of the number ones alone it does appear to be one of the most remarkable of Popular years, if likely to remain the least heralded. As the overwhelming majority of these thirty-two singles were recorded by women it is unlikely that we will get weighty tomes written about the cumulative impact of Girl Power, nor special twentieth anniversary commemorative issues of Q – unlike the sturdily male beast of Britpop. I do not foresee any imminent or distant commissions for a Thirty-Three-And-A-Third study of the British number one singles of 1998, if only because the male contingent’s few contributions, from Oasis to Spacedust, were almost uniformly so mirthless and pitiful. And yet, from Celine to All Saints, from 15-year-old Billie to 52-year-old Cher – and how fitting that 1998’s biggest seller was performed by the oldest woman ever to have a number one, 33⅓ years after her first – Girl Power covered all bases, struck out into new territories, brought light to multiple notions of darkness.

    Likewise, it is only fitting that the year’s Christmas number one should have been, for the third consecutive year (a feat only previously achieved by the Beatles), provided by the girls who started all of this off in the first place, reopened the floodgates to make it all possible. Yet “Goodbye” is scarcely celebratory and is sung in a manner which suggests that they might not be keen on existing in time for a fourth consecutive Christmas. Released as a stand-alone single, it would eventually be tagged onto the end of their third album – and that would not arrive for two more years (and neither would it make number one, hence my comments here).

    The video depicts the four remaining Spices entering an ice palace full of frozen couples and ends with their departure, having thawed all the palace’s inhabitants back to warm humanity – yet they themselves are as icy as they have ever been seen. The lyrics are fairly unambiguously about Geri (“Just a little girl, big imagination”) and I suspect express more fondness than they perhaps felt at the time of her walkout. The lit caverns of “2 Become 1” have become solidified, stalagmites replacing blood vessels; the mood is reflective, reluctant, and when Mel C dips for her “so glad we made it” the record very nearly turns into a wake, an atmosphere encouraged by the brief but recognisable intrusion of Wil Malone’s solemn strings. Despite all of the sombre encouragement (“Find out for certain, love’s gonna be there for you/You’ll always be someone’s baby”) it again feels as though the Spices are waving goodbye to us, though with more impatience than poignancy. By the time that third album comes out, all five will have ventured well (or not so well) into their solo careers, and while the feminine touch will still be very much in evidence over the next few years of Popular, and indeed thereafter will enjoy something of a deserved resurgence, the 1998 moment has been encapsulated and bookended as a magic recipe of what can sometimes come to pass in pop. 4 for the Spices sticking it out, eyes on the office clock, waiting to escape the building and get on with what they really, really wanted

  16. 16
    James BC on 14 Aug 2014 #

    @ Purplekylie: I love the Christmas Wrapping cover, certainly a lot more than the A side. Pure festive fun and an early pick for my Christmas playlist every year.

    Also recommended is the Sleigh Ride cover from 2 Become 1.

  17. 17
    Pink champale on 14 Aug 2014 #

    I quite like the Xmas Wrapping cover too and think the Tesco lyric change is fine. But why on earth do they change ‘you forgot cranberrys too’ to ‘you forgot the papers too’? What papers? The telegraph? Rizlas???? I’d genuinely love to know the thinking behind this.

  18. 18
    ciaran on 18 Aug 2014 #

    We’re all wise to the farewell vibe of this now but more than anything Goodbye presented a more grown up image of the girls. Out go the platform shoes, dresses, hen night videos, in comes the sombre, adult, glamourous,serious types looking ahead to the future.In popular speak it worked for at least 2 of them albeit briefly!

    Unlike most of the Spice Girls singles of the time which I wasnt fond of I did like this one.It’s not the best thing they did but certainly not the worst. 7.

  19. 19
    Kinitawowi on 18 Aug 2014 #

    I never really got why this song needed to exist. As requiems go, Viva Forever was serendipitous and perfect; Goodbye is utterly perfunctory – nominally a breakup song, but Emma’s first verse is the tell. This isn’t talking about a group going their separate ways, it’s plot dumping for the inevitable comeback (“Never mind the pain or the aggravation / You know there’s a better way for you and me to be”).

    The best narratives are always the emergent ones, those that come naturally from the story. But this (not quite closing) chapter of the Spice Girls story is the worst, the one that feels totally written rather than organic.

    3.

  20. 20
    Shiny Dave on 23 Aug 2014 #

    As said, slightly superfluous; one last fantastic hook from them in the form of the chorus counterpoint is enough to pull it at least to mediocre. 5.

  21. 21
    DV on 14 Sep 2014 #

    That photograph of them is strange – are we meant to assume they are all naked? Or is this something only people like me think?

  22. 22
    Andrew Farrell on 14 Sep 2014 #

    If only there was some way to collect all the comments on this record, in order to see if anyone else has thought that.

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