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Sep 15

EMMA BUNTON – “What Took You So Long?”

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#894, 14th April 2001

bunton It was obvious from “2 Become 1” on how crucial Emma Bunton was to the Spice Girls. She managed to be their steadiest and most seductive singer at once, the anchor of their ballads and the Spice who could turn a line like “Be a little bit wiser…” from a wagged finger to a beckoning one. All their nicknames found different ways to miss the point – for Baby, the pigtails-and-smiles branding masked the group’s most mature vocalist.

That didn’t quite translate into avid anticipation for a solo career, though. Geri had the star power, Mel C the lungs, Mel B the contacts and poor Victoria the schadenfreude. Emma? The sad truth was, I expected nothing but adequacy, and I got it. “What Took You So Long?” is well-performed, pleasant AOR with a sensible heart, Sheryl Crow drawn by Posey Simmons. There are enjoyable touches in it, some via Bunton – the heavy emphasis on the chorus’ line-ends risks turning it into a plod, but she repeats her “2 Become 1” trick and sounds not irked, but gently amused by her lover’s shilly-shallying. And some via the arrangement – handclaps to give a track pep may be a cheap trick, but this one needs it.

Set against those is a humdrum song – the chorus is the only point that Emma can play her quiet strength card: most of her time is spent cooing. And a soggy production – the grim combination of a string section dress on guitar mutton so familiar from early-00s Britrock. Even the bad Spice Girls singles had spark: this is quite inert. It positions her as the anti-Geri – while her band-leader drove blind and trusted to chutzpah to navigate a competence gap, Emma Bunton sticks to her lane and gets to her destination without notable incident, her audience dozing in the back.

5

Comments

  1. 1
    AMZ1981 on 27 Sep 2015 #

    This is where it almost ends, being the last time any of the Spice Girls got to number one with an original song. Hindsight is a wonderful thing as WTYSL is wedged between the reality TV machine on one side and the rising superstars of 21st century pop on the other. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this song but at the same time there’s nothing that great about it either.

    That said it was a two week runner and the first Spice Girl connected chart topper to manage a second week since Viva Forever. It also marked the end of the Spring of relative stability chart watchers had enjoyed; for WTYSL’s two weeks Shaggy completed his four week lock down of the number two position. When WTYSL shot its bolt it dropped to number nine which was the worst collapse since Blame It On The Weatherman did the same and the first two weeker to suffer such a drop since Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter ten years before.

    It should perhaps be noted that although Emma Bunton never topped the charts again (and with the exception of Geri no Spice Girl ever would) she was the last Spice Girl to score a top ten hit when her cover of Downtown made number three in 2006.

  2. 2
    Ricardo on 27 Sep 2015 #

    And yet, it’s actually curious how, for a short while, Emma seemed to be the only one out of the Spice Girls who was actually on an upswing career-wise. As I already implied, that particular state of grace didn’t last very long. But I remember how, circa Free Me, people briefly hinted at how The Robbie Effect had transferred itself into the Spices and Emma in particular. Once again, that was not to be. But I must confess it was mildly amusing while it lasted.

  3. 3
    Mark G on 27 Sep 2015 #

    Well, I feel safe to sort of suggest then, now that the Bunny has only one more in mind, that the girls basically found more interesting things to do. Some still in musical worlds, some in fashion and general media presence, but all have the control back in their own hands.

    Ok, some of us would like to have made top-ten hits but once that ambition is won, and the bank balance affords some security, some people can do what they like.

  4. 4
    thefatgit on 27 Sep 2015 #

    It’s a competent piece of pop, but nothing more than that. I can’t think of any post-spice Stannard songs that stand out above this.

    Image, so often important in the Spice DNA, is a secondary concern for Emma here. I get the sense she’s relieved that she doesn’t have to be defined by the “Baby” tag anymore. However, she doesn’t surrender who she is, as a response to this freedom. I think that, in itself is worth celebrating. (5)

  5. 5
    Chelovek na lune on 27 Sep 2015 #

    “Free Me” and, even more, “Maybe”, from the second solo album, were among the finest records any of the Spice Girls were ever involved with. Oh, sure, they were treading a path of obvious retro pastiche that other, more soulful singers (Shara Nelson’s “One Goodbye In Ten”, Gabrielle’s “Give Me Just A Little More Time”) had also trod – but done so fluently, and lovingly – and in a way that just suited Ms Bunton’s voice perfectly.

    This: I rather like. Not at all time classic. “inert” is harsh, but…not completely wide of the mark. Unsubstantial, anyway, but gentle and apparently heartfelt too. Kind of superior Heart FM music and no more.

    I can definitely stretch to a (6) though.

  6. 6
    wichitalineman on 27 Sep 2015 #

    This was a big Radio 2 hit unsurprisingly; that’s how I remember it, anyway, as I’d taken my eye of the charts.

    Like others upthread I always liked WTYSL but it really doesn’t sound like a no.1 single and, yes, it felt like a disappointingly safe bit of MOR Spice positioning. Free Me was Tina Charles out of John Barry (though “How I long to seduce you now” was rather unconvincing from EB). Maybe was a lot more interesting than mere pastiche, great chord change on the chorus hook – it reminded me of 80s/60s things like the Colour Field rather than the Maisonettes, while it clearly wore a Pet Clark lapel badge. Crickets Sing For Anamaria was barking, as if the Cardigans had taken a Latino road instead of recording Gran Turismo.

    It was just disappointing that Emma played this card a little too late, and not on her first album. What took her so long, eh?

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 27 Sep 2015 #

    the opening guitar riff sounds like a variation on ‘Losing my Religion’, before darting off in another direction. I like the chorus (although that reminds me of something else) but the verses are bland, partly because EB’s vocals are so low-key. It runs out of ideas v quickly and would benefit from being shorter

  8. 8
    will on 28 Sep 2015 #

    I rather like this. After what seemed like an endless succession of Spice singles trying to be r n’ b/indie/UK garage/you name it, it was blessed relief to hear a record that doesn’t aspire to be anything more than the pleasant undemonstrative pop song. Hearing her sing ‘I believe in honesty’ felt like the sun cracking through the clouds on a late winter’s day. 7

  9. 9
    JLucas on 28 Sep 2015 #

    Predictably, I love this.

    Two weeks at #1 was probably as much about a weak new release schedule as anything – her biggest week two competition was Janet Jackson’s ‘All For You’, which I believe narrowly held the lead in midweek flashes but ultimately fell back to #3. And yet, I do think it’s the Solo Spice hit that had enough crossover appeal that it could have been a hit – if not necessarily a #1 – for anyone, whereas many of the other solo chart toppers were very much fanbase driven.

    It is a laid back song, but I don’t think that’s to its detriment. Emma just isn’t a vocalist or personality who suits the kind of hell-for-leather shouting that typified a Geri solo hit, nor would an Ibiza-style dance anthem a’la I Turn To You have been in her ballpark. Perhaps the verses do lack a little energy, but I think the calm, reasoned delivery is a good fit for the lyric. Rather than play the woman scorned, Emma sounds like she’s quietly laying down the situation to an essentially good-hearted but frustrating partner. In that way, it’s a very grown up pop record, particularly for a Spice Girl. Mel C may have reached a sweet spot with Northern Star, but it took a couple of misfires and a rather all-over-the-place genre mix on her album. Emma hits the ground running, knowing exactly who she was and elegantly moving beyond the limitations of the ‘Baby Spice’ tag.

    Alas, the rest of her debut album did play things a little too safe, and subsequent singles performed only modestly. She rallied in 2004-2005 with an unexpected but convincing run of 60s inspired hits that positioned her as a sort of modern day Sandie Shaw a good couple of years before Duffy et al ushered in a wider 60s revival in pop music. She actually has the distinction of being the only Spice Girl whose second solo album outsold the first. ‘Maybe’ should have gotten a lot closer to #1 than it did, but it was a fine record anyway and drew the most admiring notices of her career. Her cover of Astrud Gilberto’s ‘Crickets Sing For AnaMaria’ was an audacious risk that didn’t quite pay off in commercial terms (it got to #15) but remains one of the most interesting post-Spice releases by any of the girls.

    The third album could have really solidified her position as an excellent 60s revitalist, it contained some lovely moments including the single All I Need To Know, the Austin Powers-tastic Take Me To Another Town and a faithful cover of Life In Mono by Mono. Sadly, they tried to flog it off the back of Strictly Come Dancing and a middling rendition of ‘Downtown’, which gave her a top 3 single but killed any interest in the album. She seemed to lose interest in the pop game after that, ducking out for a few years to raise a family and segueing into broadcasting. She’s now a warm and engaging host on Heart FM alongside Jamie Theakston. Commercial Radio’s gain is pop’s loss as far as I’m concerned.

    8

  10. 10
    swanstep on 28 Sep 2015 #

    Forget ‘sounding like a #1’, WTYSL doesn’t even sound like a single to me… Song’s simply not good enough beyond the relatively pleasant verses: not enough movement in the pre-chorus bit for my ear then the chorus itself plods both musically and lyrically (semi-gloating about being right isn’t a good look for anyone and doesn’t obviously fit with Emma B’s personality in particular), and the middle eight’s a joke.

    Emma B’s sunny sweetness reminds me of Olivia Newton-John; maybe she should have covered some of ONJ’s better songs and really pushed her vocals out a bit more to cope. WTYSL feels to me very written *for* an assumed limited range when something with a little more vocal strain and urgency is what’s needed:
    4

  11. 11
    Vanja on 28 Sep 2015 #

    I love this song! My dad and I were in a Volvo 145, somewhere in Belgium, in the middle of the night in September 2001. We’d driven from Stockholm, our final destination being Canterbury, me leaving home for university in another country. We’d been fighting all the way through Denmark and Germany but somehow managed to bond over this song, there on the dark, deserted roads, listening to Belgian night radio.

    We have an annual, week long radio show called roughly “The Music Help” in Sweden where you donate money to a charity by requesting songs. Ever since its start, I’ve requested “What Took You So Long” for my dad, who’s a lorry driver. I always add that I hope he’s safe on the winter roads. They’ve not yet played it (hundreds of thousands of requests come in), but seeing these car metaphors in your review totally made my day. And while I objectively see that this is a rather mediocre pop song, it’s a 10 for me.

  12. 12
    JoeWiz on 28 Sep 2015 #

    Love this, a real shimmering, sparkly treat. The bridge into the chorus is especially lovely, and Emma never over stretches herself, her restraint fits the song permanently.
    Her second album is my favourite Spice solo by far, although I am a 60s nut-so it has an unfair advantage. Tis a shame it never took off QUITE enough to be called a success. Although of her album and singles could be called flops.
    Is she, as if we write now almost 20 years after it all began, the general publics’ most liked Spice Girl?

  13. 13
    mapman132 on 29 Sep 2015 #

    Never heard this before last week and my first reaction was that it seemed a little dull – not bad, just dull. But after a second listen last night, I found it stuck in my head for much of the past 24 hours – enough that I’m going to bump my initial 4-5 up to 6/10. I agree with others that it doesn’t sound like a typical UK #1 – more like something that would hang out on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart for months on end.

  14. 14
    Phil on 30 Sep 2015 #

    There’s a middle eight? I didn’t notice.

    The mention of Olivia Newton-John prompted me to re-listen to “What is life?”, which I thought was wonderful at the time & which holds up rather well. This song is a bit like what you’d get if you tried to rewrite WIL? without any chord changes.

    And that’s a remarkably literal-minded video (“what took you all night?”) with some distinctly porn-y visuals, which back up the mood of the chorus but also overload it.

    ZOKKO SCORE FOUR

  15. 15
    Edward Still on 30 Sep 2015 #

    I knew that all the spice girls bar Ms Beckham had solo number 1, but I’d always mis-remembered that What I Am was Emma’s. That’s an interesting, quirky and hook-filled soig that would have maybe got an 8 – Maybe would have scored even higher. This, however, is just nothing. I cant remember hearing it in the last decade and a half, and don’t anticipate hearing it again.

    2

  16. 16
    AMZ1981 on 30 Sep 2015 #

    Firstly I’ve just picked up on an error in my post #1. WTYSL dropped 1-8, not 1-9. It was still a big drop for a two weeker but not quite the statistic I thought.

    I think the problem with WTYSL is that, at the time, it felt like a strong breezy pop song but time has not been kind to it. We also know with hindsight that the solo Spices were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t; RnB was the way forward but the one Spice attempting to go RnB was badly outclassed by a new wave of talent.

  17. 17
    Tommy Mack on 30 Sep 2015 #

    Watched a terrible gameshow about reality TV because my brother in law’s mates were in the audience and quite excited about it.

    Host: “Emma, would you ever do Strictly?”

    Emma B: “I did do Strictly! I was in the first series, I came third!”

  18. 18
    Ed on 1 Oct 2015 #

    We may have discussed this before, but for my money Out Of Your Mind was the best of all the Solo Spice singles. I loved it at the time – I even bought the album – and it still sounds great today.

    Beckham is no Aaliyah, and whoever directed this is no Hype Williams, but the slightly rough edges make it all the cooler, I think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qf87MJcWZQI

    Virtuoso Autotune work, too.

  19. 19
    Chelovek na lune on 1 Oct 2015 #

    “What I Am” is a fine song (as good as its 1989 follow up, “Circle”? Not quite) , but Emma/Tin Tin Out’s interpretation of it really didn’t do it credit at all, to my mind. Severely disappointing and underwhelming, even, draining even the hints of emotion in the original. (Yes, I realise that those of us who knew and loved the Edie Brickell version were not really its intended audience, but still)

  20. 20
    James BC on 2 Oct 2015 #

    I wouldn’t seek this out but it’s a delight when heard incidentally. Emma certainly found her solo niche a lot more convincingly than the other Spices – perhaps she had better advice? Or perhaps she was the only one who listened? Or maybe it came from her she was simply more savvy than the others?

  21. 21
    Tommy Mack on 2 Oct 2015 #

    You know what, I think this might have been #1 when Tommy Mack became a man (thanks, Student Radio Conference) which, given I was a few weeks shy of my 20th birthday seems quite appropriate!

    #20: Or perhaps that with less weight of expectation upon her, she was free to pursue the music she chose to make, rather than what she/her label/management thought would fit with her public persona?

  22. 22
    Cumbrian on 15 Oct 2015 #

    Mentally picturing Tom steeling himself to write the next entry – it must require the “Eye of the Tiger”.

  23. 23
    Tommy Mack on 16 Oct 2015 #

    #22 You might ask what took him so long… Arf arf

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