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Feb 15

MELANIE C ft LISA “LEFT-EYE” LOPES – “Never Be The Same Again”

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#853, 1st April 2000

neverbe Left-Eye first: again, a major figure in 90s American pop shows up here as a cameo on a solo Spice single. This time, at least, you’re left with some idea of what she can do. Left-Eye’s elegant doodle of a verse is dropped into “Never Be The Same Again” before the final chorus, and makes for a pleasant but slightly flummoxing cameo. It’s the most skilful rapping on a Number One for five years, it’s delightful hearing that quizzical voice hopping around her rhymes like a kid over stepping-stones, and it maintains a polite distance from the entire rest of the song.

The 90s saw a few of these bolt-on guest spots, and the 00s will see several more – American rappers enjoying a minor payday by lending credibility to a foreign pop single. This is one of the better instances, though I’d guess all Lopes knew about the track was a broad outline of theme and the fact she was lining up with a Spice Girl: “The US, the UK…”. A closer collaboration might have sparked, or might have shown Mel C up – TLC’s playful but uncompromising “No Scrubs” had been one of the touchstone records of 1999. Its no-nonsense negotiations of money and responsibility made the Spice Girls sound callow, along the way jangling men’s nerves in a way Mel’s old band never really had.

As it is, Left-Eye stays discreetly out of the way, but “Never Be The Same”’s backing track owes a big debt to 90s R&B. It’s as much the other end of 90s R&B, though – producer and co-writer Rhett Lawrence made his name and enjoyed his greatest success working with Mariah Carey at the start of the 90s, and his forte was big ballad-paced tracks, with none of the springy inventiveness or intriguing sonics you hear on TLC or their contemporaries. Lawrence looked to be firmly in his late career when Melanie C crossed his path, doing bits and bobs of soundtrack work – the success of “Never” at least got him in the other Spices’ rolodex, and he produced tracks for Victoria and Emma.

So it’s no surprise that Lawrence’s work on “Never Be The Same Again” sounds a little rote: a chug for multi-tracked Mel Cs to hang the melody on, with a twisting acoustic guitar line that sounds like a slothful take on the strums that drove “No Scrubs”. In fact the whole production is awkwardly sluggish, its trimmings of scratches, high P-Funk keyboard whines and chiming percussion all somehow ponderous, like it’s faltered a few BPM short of its intended pace. But the curious thing is that the song, and its sounds, work unexpectedly well. The deadened rhythm accentuates a tension, an off-ness in the record, fans it until what Mel C is feeling is more dread than anticipation. “Never Be The Same Again” sounds as much a ghost story as a love story. “It’s not a secret any more / Now we’ve opened up the door”.

There’s precedent for this – both in the list of number ones (the haunted moorlands of “Johnny Remember Me” and “Wuthering Heights”, the crepuscular dancefloor of “Ghost Town”) and outside it. The single that best captures “Never Be The Same Again”’s mix of thrill and fear at an unexpected choice is ABBA’s magnificent “The Day Before You Came”, where sudden, keening backing vocals add the necessary touch of the gothic. (There’s no decision or sound so startling on “Never Be The Same Again” – in fact Left-Eye’s offhand intervention gentles the song’s rising, baleful pressure.)

All these songs I’ve been mentioning are masterpieces. “Never Be The Same Again” is not quite that, but it’s atmospheric enough to be compelling, and an easy standout among solo Spice tracks. It really has something, and a big part of that something is Mel C herself, who steps out of her role as the Spice Girl belter to deliver a much softer, more controlled take on a song. It’s not the kind of record I might have expected the strongest voice in the group would make – though as we’ll see, there’s really no such beast as a typical Mel C single – but it is proof she was the most versatile too. By using her other voices – a falsetto register, and the more rasping, knowing tone she sometimes used on Spice singles – to act as tempting counterpoints to the lead vocal’s hesitancy, she gives “Never” a seductive sense of depth. It’s a sensation that’s precious in pop, however slight it is – the sense that below this single’s placid surface, uncanny feelings lurk.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Shiny Dave on 21 Feb 2015 #

    #25 That chart run… wow. That is astounding. Four separate spells in the top ten, two distantly separated weeks in the top five… I know albums have a different chart life to singles, but my word.

    A lot of those copies ended up in charity shops by the end of the decade. I either got mine from one of those or from the crate that showed up weekly at the student union weekly market.

    By then, Mel C had inexorably soundtracked my 2006 (along with the title track of a 2006 album from a singing game show winner we somehow don’t meet here for nine years) with “First Day Of My Life” – which if memory serves was massive in Germany but was basically ignored here. The one exception – and the reason I’d heard it at all – was it being on heavy rotation on DAB station Life, which otherwise generally played a generic local radio style playlist but with very few annoying DJs or ads, and unsurprisingly didn’t last that long. “First Day Of My Life,” however, quickly locked itself in as the soundtrack to a year spent waiting to go to university, two years late, with every sense that my family still didn’t trust me to live independently, and at Southampton purely because it was the closest good university to my Dorset home. Had I felt the need to carry out my plan to transfer to somewhere well out of unannounced-family-visit territory, “Northern Star” would have been stuck on repeat the whole journey. As it was, I turned on Life as soon as I’d unpacked my DAB radio from my gathered possessions upon moving into my halls, and if memory serves it was just a few minutes before “First Day Of My Life” played and I cried buckets.

    This? This is oddly likable whilst at the same time not going anywhere; it’s almost like it’s purposefully unsure of itself. Left-Eye produces an excellent rap that I’m pretty sure I impersonated regularly for some time afterwards; it bears no resemblance to the rest of the song, but in its own right it’s a highlight.

    A good 6.

  2. 27
    Andrew Farrell on 21 Feb 2015 #

    #8 – I gather that, on very broad lines of course, Sporty Spice had always had a grasp on that facet of the fans – the fact that both her and Left Eye mention ‘forbidden’ probably plays into that – though to be honest the “oh god if this doesn’t work we’ll have fucked up our friendship” is a solid (and largely unrepresented in pop?) reading as well.

    #24 – “Biggest setting solo spice single” was discussed earlier in the week – not as it happens in the last entry, but the one before that! Though there may be a technicality as the Spicer was on the wrong side of the ‘ft.’

  3. 28
    Mark M on 21 Feb 2015 #

    Re18: That rather depends on whether you regard criticism as primarily literature or consumer guide, I think. That NME review of NBTSA is neither, of course, and would be bad enough if it had been written by a 15-year-old, but a man in his forties… But many of the reviews I’ve most enjoyed reading have been of films I’ll never see, books I’ll never read, albums I’ll never endure… (and some of the best ones I’ve written were about movies I was fairly sure the readers would never watch).

    I’ve really enjoyed reading reviews of the Fifty Shades movie by heavyweight film critics, from the ones striving heroically to be generous (AO Scott in the NYT) to those shredding it entertainingly (Anthony Lane in The New Yorker). But the crucial thing here (to me) is that these are good writers. I don’t think it’s strictly necessary that they engage with the film on its own terms – sometimes you can have an understanding that your readership is unlikely to want to experience this product, but is aware that it is a major cultural phenomenon that they are curious about. (And that as a critic, you will have no impact on the success or failure of a film/book/record of that type). On those terms, I would rather read Lane on FSOG than on the latest Iranian festival-circuit fodder.

    Sometimes cheap shots can be fun, but they have to be smart cheap shots.

  4. 29
    JLucas on 21 Feb 2015 #

    #28 – I should probably clarify that I’m certainly not averse to a well-aimed piece of critical mauling if, as you say, it’s done properly.

    One of my very favourite books of film criticism is ‘I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie’ by the late, great Roger Ebert. He shreds some truly terrible films quite mercilessly, but always from a position of respect for whatever the film is aspiring to be. It’s intelligent, hilarious and totally equal opportunities. The subtext is almost never ‘this is intrinsically awful’ but ‘this could have been so much better’.

  5. 30
    Shiny Dave on 22 Feb 2015 #

    Some things are indeed critic-proof – 50 Shades undoubtedly one of them, as its inherent weakness has essentially been coded in since its days as Twilight fanfic. (A friend of mine well-connected in various fandom circles actually read it before it was published, and her immediate reaction was that it had to have been from a teenager who’d never actually had sex before. She was stunned to discover it wasn’t!)

    Agreed that intelligent criticism of it is good to see – if only because the group of readers who won’t watch the film undoubtedly include some of the people responsible, in their own small way, for perpetuating the abusive gender norms that allow for a story about an abusive relationship to become a huge (and women-led!) cultural phenomenon. (Though I especially enjoy some of the feminist activism around the film – and have even more time for the BDSM practitioners who have patiently pointed out that 50 Shades is a complete misrepresentation of their activities – a great deal of that is preaching to the converted.)

  6. 31
    Billy Hicks on 22 Feb 2015 #

    Me and my brother watched patiently as wires were connected, usernames and passwords were entered and eventually a bizarre, yet rather fun-sounding series of telephone/computer noises signalled the start of a new beginning in our household. The purchase of a 56k modem at the end of March 2000 had us connected to the internet for the first time, and we spent the rest of the evening looking at nothing but Pokemon websites. By the summer I was posting on internet forums, and just a couple of years later I was a MSN Messenger-obsessed teenager that looking back ended up taking up far too much of my life at the time that I could have spent doing other things. Not until 2007 did I actually start to enjoy ‘real life’ as much as the online world, but there’s a bunny that year that soundtracks that moment very nicely.

    I remember this but, like Pure Shores, I would have just dismissed it as Grown-Up Music – too slow and plus I still had a dislike for the Spice Girls and wish they’d all naff off at the time. But listening now it’s *really* good, definitely up there with the best solo Spice tracks if nowhere near the league as When You’re Gone. Third best-seller out of all of them, a 2001 bunny at #2 and WYG at #1.

  7. 32
    Tommy Mack on 22 Feb 2015 #

    #30: Surely 50 Shades has to be about misuse of BDSM to give it dramatic jeopardy? If it were just healthy fantasy play between well-balanced emotionally stable people, there wouldn’t be much story?

    What’s more worrying is the blurring with romantic fiction which demands a happy ending: the book/film would be making an awkward and brave point if it were saying ‘this guy’s an abuser and a psychopath but let’s be honest, not all abusers are knuckle dragging monsters, they can be charming, sexually alluring people who use their charisma to perpetuate abuse and the cunning ones will make aspects of the abusive relationship enjoyable in order to make their victims complicit ‘. However, from what I’ve heard, it seems to be saying that you can change someone like that for the better if you love him enough, which is a pretty poisonous message.

    I’ve only read a brief excerpt out of prurient curiosity so I’m mainly going on second hand information. The prose was, as many have noted, gruelling.

  8. 33
    Tommy Mack on 22 Feb 2015 #

    Has anyone pointed out the obvious: that this was Mel C knocking Geri off #1. Bet Geri was well chuffed about that…

    Is this the first time in the charts that a singer has replaced one of their former bandmates at #1?

  9. 34
    JoeWiz on 22 Feb 2015 #

    I saw Mel at V99, and loved her, but mainly because everyone else around me hated it, and maybe my teenage self reacted to that, rather than any real enjoyment of the movie. This was just after the almost unforgivable Goin Down had come out, and before Northern Star (the single) and I seem to remember her desperately trying to please the crowd with almost moshing type dance moves. ‘You know what she’s not?’ a man said to me during her set, ‘Chrissie Hynde’. Yup.
    I love this, I love the disconcerting tension that flows through it and very, very slightly increases as the song wears on, and Left Eye’s verse is tight and economical, doesn’t overstay its welcome or over egg the pudding.
    Looking forward to discussing where Mel went wrong (or did she?) with album two at the next bunny…

  10. 35
    flahr on 22 Feb 2015 #

    #33: Jet Harris & Tony Meehan replaced The Shadows at #1 in early ’63 – I think they had left the band by then. That’s sort of close.

  11. 36
    Tommy Mack on 22 Feb 2015 #

    When I said ‘singer’, I did wonder whether I should change it to include Diamonds!

  12. 37
    chelovek na lune on 24 Feb 2015 #

    I love the fragility of this – the insecurity and tension reach beyond the lyrics. Likeable and listenable v rather than outstanding (and not a patch on “Northern Star”, the single, which I’d rate an 8), but certainly a good thing, if, perhaps, in places, just a little bit too understated. A good 6, still.

  13. 38
    punctum on 5 Mar 2015 #

    Revenge that tasted simultaneously Spicy and sweet, as Melanie C unceremoniously dislodged Geri from the top slot after just one week. Such a tentative, shy song, this “Never Be The Same Again”; they were friends but now they find they’re something more, and Melanie sings in a kind of awed hush, still trying to snatch back her breath of slow shock. The music is delicately hopeful – its harpsichord melancholy harks sideways to the Cocteau Twins, while its ecstatic scratching and crucial Left-Eyed involvement point forward to, amongst other things, “Umbrella.”

    The late and much missed Ms Lopes ignites the long-burning fuse with her audacious and loquacious entry two-thirds of the way through, merrily tossing around the “improbable” and the “picturesque” at machine gun speed (and we can see the immediate influence on homegrown acts like Mis-Teeq). In addition this is the only number one single with TLC involvement, and they must be duly acknowledged here; the key girl group of their time, their “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” anticipated “Wannabe” by fully four years, “Waterfalls” showed every pretender how to handle ballads and not appear naff, and “No Scrubs,” their biggest UK hit (#3 in May 1999, behind Westlife’s “Swear It Again” and the improbable “Why Don’t You Get A Job?” by the Offspring), disses without demeaning. It would be hard to imagine the Spice Girls or their particular offspring without the precedent set by TLC, and Melanie C acknowledges this here, and in the process bags up a fair portion of the real Spice talent.

  14. 39
    ciaran on 23 Mar 2015 #

    It took 18 months or so but it was the first solo Spice Girl single to get it right and gives TLC something of a just reward with number 1 also.It was a surprise because Mel C never looked like a contender during the groups heyday.

    For a group that was so reliant on its image and (ahem) in yer face attitude it’s the less brash and understated songs that were much better from the girls as individuals.

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