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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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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…

  5. 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.

  6. 36
    Tommy Mack on 22 Feb 2015 #

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    7

  10. 40
    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    Perfectly reasonable from Mel C/Left Eye in my opinion. 5/10.

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