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Jun 15

SPICE GIRLS – “Holler”/”Let Love Lead The Way”

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#879, 4th November 2000

spiceholler The original concept for the third Spice Girls album – according to Stannard and Rowe, the writers and producers the group jilted for Forever – was that it would concern the girls becoming women, the group maturing along with their audience. Even ignoring the fact that these “girls” were already the five most successful women in British music and sticking purely to the branding, It wasn’t the most promising of ideas. Sure, a lot of the charm and quality of Spice was how unapologetic it was in drawing inspiration from teen magazine problem pages – balancing friends and boys; safe sex; being nice to your Mum. It might have aimed itself squarely at a particular market, but it didn’t talk down to them – and in not doing so, it won a far huger audience. But Spiceworld had already moved away from that, and besides, there were plenty of grown-up alternatives out there. The Spice Girls never making anything like “Black Coffee” was no shame: forcing themselves to try might have been.

In the event, Geri went, and the sessions were scrapped – she was the group’s most enthusiastic conceptualist anyway. The corny idea – and faint desperation – of the girls-become-women notion does underline, though, what a difficult position the rest of the group were in. They were still a success – their 1998 World Tour had been a sell-out – but the pop transformation they’d helped set in motion was moving with startling speed. When Spiceworld was released, the wave of Spice successors was only beginning to break: “Spice Up Your Life!” predated B*Witched, Billie, and All Saints’ number ones. In the three year gap between it and “Holler”, those bands had not only flourished, but largely vanished. British pop was a boys’ game again, and in America, the girls were the solo ex-Disney stars, with their rather un-Spicely angst. Or they were R&B groups – more futuristic and more polished than the Spicers’ brash cheek had ever allowed for. The Spice model of the group – a cartoon gang of pals, with one broad personality trait apiece – had been holed by Geri’s departure: now it was sinking.

Ultimately, it would have taken an astonishing tactician and brilliant songs to have led the Spice Girls through the changed pop landscape and have them emerge anywhere near its top. The group had neither. They had four tired women whose minds were half on their solo careers, and they had Darkchild, aka Rodney Jerkins, aka the producer of “Say My Name”, aka the first male vocalist on a Spice Girls track. Saying his name, as it happened, and the group’s name, and the track’s – and date-stamping it for good measure. Like “Holler” needed to sound any more 2000.

By now we knew a bit about the Girls’ individual tastes and instincts. Emma and Victoria had made dance music – rather more startling than “Holler”, in the latter case. Mel B had made plenty of R&B attempts. Mel C had at least dabbled in it, but she’d dabbled in everything, and her voice sounds most subdued and least at ease on this single. Still, a move into modernist R&B shouldn’t have come as a shock, or felt like a disappointment. And Jerkins as a producer had more than enough pedigree for the job – as well as the swiss-watch engineering of “Say My Name”, he’d helmed Brandy and Monica’s delightfully dramatic “The Boy Is Mine” and Whitney Houston’s icy comeback, “It’s Not Right But It’s OK”. He had a flair for songs, and vocals, built around emotional pressure, and strong women holding up under it. There should have been room for a great collaboration.

But Jerkins is also an inconsistent producer – scan his list of hits and there’s a fair bit of drizzle among the flashes of lighting. “Holler” shifts and shuffles in a competent, modish way but he’s not trying to change any games. Nor, to be fair, are the singers. The first question for any Spice Girl co-writer or producer should be how you accomodate four (or five) very different voices, and give the sense that this is a group, not just women passing a mic around. The early singles managed it impeccably – even “Spice Up Your Life!” brazened it through. On, “Holler”, a few background coos aside, there’s none of that feeling. “Holler” is no disaster, it’s just an okay R&B single with sub-par vocalists. The track bumps politely to its end: there’s the feeling of a duty having been done, but no remaining chemistry or spark.

The audible “will this do?” of “Holler” at least gets the answer “yeah”, which is more than I could say for “Let Love Lead The Way”, the group’s return to the soft psychological slowie mode of “Mama” or “Goodbye”. It’s feeble – there was a grain of the specific in “Viva Forever”, “2 Become 1” or any of the earlier Spice ballads that gave the songs life. “Let Love” is pillowy and puffed-up, the group – their vocal weakness as obvious as it’s ever been – dealing with big, airy questions in winsome fashion: “Why is there joy? Why is there pain? Why is there sunshine and the rain?”. You can safely bet that whatever the answers to these profound questions, they won’t be found on the forgotten half of a footnote hit by a knackered band that sounds like it can’t even work out why it exists. The song offers its own, depressing response: “No matter what, we must go on.” The Spice Girls made two fine number ones that could have ended their era. Here, finally, it’s ended for them.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    JoeWiz on 3 Jun 2015 #

    A small question about the Sinclair book. There are two versions listed on Amazon, am original one and one with a picture of the 2007 reunion on the front. Is this just an updated version of the original text?

  2. 27
    Andrew on 3 Jun 2015 #

    Yes, they’re the same. Go with whichever is cheaper!

    It’s ripe for an update; the book stops in 2004.

  3. 28
    Auntie Beryl on 3 Jun 2015 #

    It was very rare for an incentive-led Virgin sales guy to talk anything down.

    Yet, as I stood behind my counter that November, he cautioned. He warned not to over-order the single, he warned to take care with the album.

    I mean, we knew. We all knew. The game was up. The moment had passed, the excitement was gone. But you’d think that the label guy would nonetheless try and shill.

    No. There would be no second single. There would be no second chance. This album was dead on arrival. The band, or the management, had become toxic, poisonous. It was over.

  4. 29
    Mark G on 3 Jun 2015 #

    Then again, a short story..

    I was in Asda about 6 months after, and there was a big dispenser with copies of “Spice Girls Forever” by the tonload, all on sale for £1.

    The next day I was there again for some things I’d missed, and all of the CDs were gone.

  5. 30
    AMZ1981 on 3 Jun 2015 #

    Apologies if anybody has mentioned this but Mel B’s solo debut album had been released about a month before Forever and tanked at 28. Holler itself would be the last number one single by three out of the four Spices (the fourth had their solo ace to play but we’ll come to that in due course). Interestingly of the other three it was Victoria who came closest with a number 3 in 2003 while Melanie C did worst with a number seven (although if you want to be a clever clogs you could argue she eventually crops up on a charity conglomerate).

    One can only speculate on how a second single might have done. If Holler did 103,000 and with the parent album already available you’re probably looking at a first week sale of approx 65,000-70,000. It may have been enough for a number one in the very quiet weeks in late January early February but it would have been a very close thing.

  6. 31
    Andrew on 4 Jun 2015 #

    I’m glad they didn’t. Their hearts were far from in it, and following an almost unblemished chart record the relative indignity of a new entry at number 8 (or whatever) wouldn’t have looked good for fans, or felt good for the group.

    Perhaps if the album had done any better the label or management could have persuaded them to release another single. They needn’t necessarily have required the Girls’ cooperation, of course – the If You Wanna Have Some Fun video was obviously put together for a reason. There were also rather brilliant Thunderpuss and Jonathan Peters remixes of Tell Me Why: http://www.discogs.com/Spice-Girls-Tell-Me-Why/release/3018847

    Perhaps Virgin decided none of it was worth the bother after Forever peaked at no.2 behind Westlife’s album.

    Westlife’s first ten singles, incidentally, follow the pattern of the Spice Girls’ first ten exactly: six number ones in a row, a number two (Stop / What Makes a Man) and then three more number ones.

  7. 32
    sbahnhof on 4 Jun 2015 #

    12… True, Geri shoehorned in some Americanisms too… Targeting the US audience with lyrics like
    “Gimme some, gimme some gasoline”
    and
    “Have a nice day as Americans say”.

    (Quite confused by the line “gimme some sweet FA”.)

  8. 33
    sbahnhof on 4 Jun 2015 #

    Also, is this the first song to rhyme the words “holler” and “follow”? Genuine question.

  9. 34
    Andrew on 4 Jun 2015 #

    #32 I would love to believe it is a reference to Sweet Female Attitude

  10. 35
    Andrew on 5 Jun 2015 #

    Oops, I made an error at comment #31; Westlife had a run of seven number ones before their first no.2 (I’d left out the Mariah duet).

  11. 36
    Tommy Mack on 5 Jun 2015 #

    A sad, ignominious end for the last gang in town. The Great R&B Swindle. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

    What pop groups have genuinely gone out on a high? Not many I guess since people tend not to walk away from fun/profit. The Police, The Jam and The Specials in Popular terms, though More Specials is far from universally loved. The Beatles at a pinch if we ignore putting out Let It Be cos they needed the cash. I can’t bring to mind anyone Pop with a capital P but then it’s not my forte.

  12. 37
    Andrew on 5 Jun 2015 #

    #36 Wham! (?)

  13. 38
    swanstep on 5 Jun 2015 #

    @36, Tommy Mack. Japan went out with Tin Drum and the Oil on Canvas live album (both great). But maybe they count more as pop one-hit-wonders than as pop successes going out in style. VU with Loaded would count if it had sold more!

    And then there are the death-interrupted: The Doors, Joy Division, Nirvana, Jeff Buckley, Winehouse, and maybe a few others were close to creative highs.

  14. 39
    Phil on 5 Jun 2015 #

    In-group dynamics are probably key when successful bands do split. Paul Weller split the Jam, rather to the surprise of the other two if the sleeve notes of Snap! are anything to go by; relationships between Jerry Dammers and the rest of the Specials were always a bit delicate AIUI; and the Police never could stand one another. If Madness had split when Mike Barson left in 1984 that would have been going out on a high.

  15. 40
    DietMondrian on 5 Jun 2015 #

    Roxy Music went out with a number 1 album, Avalon.

    (Though the third and final single from it, Take a Chance with Me, peaked at 26.)

  16. 41
    Chelovek na lune on 5 Jun 2015 #

    The Go-Betweens went out on a high twice, when they split shortly after “16 Lovers Lane”, and then again, much later, when the premature death of Grant McLennan ensured that what was quite possibly their most accomplished album overall, “Oceans Apart” would not be followed up.

    (Not that the general mass public bought any of them, but still…)

  17. 42
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Jun 2015 #

    The KLF (qua the KLF) surely walk this.

  18. 43
    Izzy on 5 Jun 2015 #

    Take That, the Libertines, My Bloody Valentine, though all three have since reunited. I’d even throw in an unpopular shout for Led Zeppelin.

    Bernard Butler managed to quit Suede before their peak with him, which might be unique.

  19. 44
    Tommy Mack on 5 Jun 2015 #

    Wham I thought of as soon as I’d posted my comment… VU did Squeeze after Lou Reed quit and The Doors did three long deleted albums after Jim Morrison died. Reportedly not very good. Take That’s last days are forever writ in my mind as Gary Barlow singing Teen Spirit in PVC pants. Led Zep seems a bit of a stretch too, kudos to them for not carrying on without Bonzo but I doubt many Zep fans would claim their last two albums as favourites.

    Not trying to pour cold piss on people’s suggestions I promise!

    I could say At The Drive In or Test-Icicles but we’re stretching the definition of pop to breaking point there!

  20. 45
    Andrew on 6 Jun 2015 #

    #43 Siobhan left the Sugababes; they re-emerged and went on to have six number ones (we’re about 18 Popular months away from discussing the first).

  21. 46
    Inanimate Carbon God on 8 Jun 2015 #

    Sorry to go off on a tangent but as this is the last time we get to discuss the Spice Girls as a whole, can I ask: When Geri left, weren’t there plans to replace her with a new member in a desperate attempt to salvage some pride? I’m sure there was talk about someone more “indie” coming in (by that I mean in the same way Kylie was “indie” on Impossible Princess) or someone more R&B street tuff to compete with the TLC/D******’s C**** types..

  22. 47
    Mark G on 8 Jun 2015 #

    I don’t know but I do remember a ‘behind the scenes’ doc where a sound/stage check was done with five different girls whose job was to ‘understudy’ the spicers, so I did wonder if ‘Oriental spice’ or one of the others would get promoted. I guess if the group were more a managerial construct it might have happened, and they might still be going ad infinitum..

  23. 48
    Andrew on 8 Jun 2015 #

    There were tabloid rumours about Dannii Minogue or Louise Nurding coming in, but I imagine this was a load of rubbish.

    Simon Fuller later said that if he’d still been managing the group he would have liked to have set up an audition to replace Geri (of course, he went on to create Pop Idol). I can imagine the other four sacking him at the suggestion, had they not already done so.

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