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.