Feb 15

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

Popular40 comments • 6,097 views

#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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  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 20 Feb 2015 #

    there’s a definite air of alienation to this for me – from the processed instrumentation, sluggish beats and disconnected vocals. The video makes both Mel and Lisa look like holograms – some sort of welcome protocols on an abandoned planet.
    That’s a great selection of haunted songs Tom. I would add ‘Stay with Me’ by Shakespears Sister to the list

  2. 2
    Tommy Mack on 20 Feb 2015 #

    I remember the NME giving Mel C’s album -10 (that’s minus 10!) and dismissing her range of voices as Stars In Their Eyes overreaching. Perhaps influenced by that I scorned this but you’re right, it’s a minor classic.

    It is haunted sounding too. I don’t think it occurred to me before, they’re not breaking up but hooking up! Mel certainly doesn’t sound like she holds much hope it’ll be an easy ride for them.

  3. 3
    Tom on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Minus ten?? Blimey.

  4. 4
    Tommy Mack on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Yeah, they lambasted it as a cynical attempt to pastiche the pop (and more importantly in the writer’s view, indie) highlights of the last ten years iirc. It was actually really nasty in retrospect – the idea that you could have an 80s indie-kid’s sense of partisan territoriality for 90s corporate indie in 2000 particularly silly – though I lapped it up at the time. Can’t remember who wrote the review.

  5. 5

    Was it for Northern Star? There is a review online if you google (no quotemarks) NME Mel C review: it’s as poisonous as you describe, but w/o evident byline or mark. Also ropey HTML.

  6. 6
    lonepilgrim on 20 Feb 2015 #

    that really is a dreadful review – the writer comes across as some retired Colonel who “didn’t fight in the indie wars so that some upstart ‘girl’ could dress up in our uniform”

  7. 7
    Tom on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Steve Sutherland, according to David Sinclair’s Spice Girls book (or the extract of it on Google Books)

  8. 8
    thefatgit on 20 Feb 2015 #

    I always felt this was a sapphic sexual awakening song, and Mel C’s boyish hairstyle in the video seemed to confirm it, by appealing to an imagined LGBT demographic. Assumptions like these don’t necessarily do anyone any favours by reinforcing stereotypes. Awakenings can come, simply by shedding the fear of rejection, allowing yourself to take that chance on someone without holding yourself back. A leap of faith, if you will.

    Mel C has the solo voice, that the rest of the Spicies wish they could match. Even when the chorus is multi-tracked it kind of echoes back to Spiceballad territory, so as not to disregard her origins, but celebrate them. NBTSA works so well as a slow jam, Left-Eye’s contribution seems on the face of it, unnecessary, but like the bendy light on an un-backlit Game Boy Advance, it’s a welcome and useful addition, as Tom points out, a tension-reliever. These awakenings, whatever their nature, are not going to be ignored, but answered in kind. (7)

  9. 9
    mapman132 on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Another Hot 100 no-show. I feel like I want to like this more than I do, but as it is I’ll go 6/10.

  10. 10

    The fish rots from the head >:(

    oops: x-post, that’s a response to Tom

  11. 11
    weej on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Yeah, this is ok, sounds like the shrillness has largely gone from Mel’s voice (down to maturity or production? Not sure), the backing is good, though it’s dated by those dj scratch effects, and Left Eye’s rap puts it up a couple of points while managing not to embarass Mel too much. A 7 seems fair

    Re #5 – This looks like NME in their late 90s post-Swells “being unreasonably furious about *everything* in order to prove our critical passion credentials” phase, the “Everything’s cool, especially Pete, oh god we love Pete” reflex action was just round the corner, not sure where they are now on this continuum now, especially as their website is packed with heaps of badly formatted articles ported in unchecked each time they change their format and no decent search facility, so it’s too much bother to even go there any more.

  12. 12
    Tom on 20 Feb 2015 #

    It must be right at the end of his reign – he moved upstairs to become ‘Brand Director’ at around this point. The NME was basically a confused, wounded animal in this period – the Britpop tide had firmly gone out and nobody seemed to want “our music” any more: which is where the generous interpretation of their Mel C review as a howl of pain comes in. They took a pop-friendly turn in 2001 – Missy and Destiny’s Child on the cover, etc. – but that apparently went down poorly with readers and they retrenched around the Strokes.

  13. 13
    wichitalineman on 20 Feb 2015 #

    This sounds much, much better than I remember. 2000 me heard Left Eye’s part as glued on, but it’s playful and friendly, an earthing for Mel’s electric dreamworld. It also felt like a weak rewrite of Genie In A Bottle at the time, with a lazy repetitive chorus; GIAB may be the chordal template, but now NBTSA sounds atmospheric and quite lovely.

    Re 8: “It’s not a secret anymore” seems a deliberate echo of Doris Day’s early Popular entry, so I think the sapphic reading is a good one.

    Re NME: That review puts SS’s apparently prescient “Record Industry – Game Over” NME cover story from 2000 in some perspective; it could also be seen as “this is The End Of History so I’m outta here!” rather than a warning to the major labels. The review is spiteful, but at least -10 is a statement, something to ruffle feathers, unlike the 2-star reviews Mojo would later give Britney or Girls Aloud (alone in a sea of 4 stars, too scared to award anything one or five stars).

  14. 14
    Tommy Mack on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Northern Star, that’s the one. And yes, that’s the review. Ugly stuff although I do remember much cringing over the ‘I couldn’t live without my phone but you don’t even have a home’ line.

  15. 15
    Tom on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Hardly unfair to single that one out, but on the bad lyrics scale it’s only a few MilliDolores*. Plenty of NME favourites have done worse.

    *as in: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/cranberries/ijustshotjohnlennon.html

  16. 16
    Tom on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Roughly contemporary to this, for instance, is the Stereophonics singing: “He stood where Oswald took his shot / In my opinion there’s a bigger plot”

  17. 17
    Tommy Mack on 20 Feb 2015 #

    MiliDolores: love it. Funnily enough I heard Mel and Bryan Adams singing ‘even food don’t taste that good’ as I stood in the queue in Greggs today…

  18. 18
    JLucas on 20 Feb 2015 #

    I remember that NME review very well from the time. It instilled in me an enormous hatred of ‘fish in a barrel’ reviewing. Fair enough, Mel C was never going to be an NME darling, nor should she have been. But reviews like that don’t even attempt to engage with a record critically, they just compete for who can tear it to shreds the most inventively.

    We’re seeing this all over again right now with the 50 Shades of Grey movie. Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to read the books or see the film, but as a major pop cultural event I’d be interested to read how it fails on its own terms – as a piece of popcorn erotica – as opposed to who can find the funniest way of framing how intrinsically awful it is just for existing.

    I can never understand who these reviews are for. Anyone who has even a passing interest in the music of the artist will get nothing from a review such a profoundly mean-spirited review, and anyone else would surely rather the review space was given over to something they’re actually interested in. When targeted at a female pop star (as it almost always is) there’s also the reek of misogyny running through the whole thing. Ugly, ugly writing.

    The last time I read NME there were reviews the then-latest efforts by The Feeling and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. The latter review consisted of a description of the various genres Ellis-Bextor (who I think to be one of the most whole-hearted and least cynical producers of mainstream British pop music to emerge this side of 2000) had turned her hand to, and the sole critical line “Needless to say, it’s totally fucking rubbish.” The review of The Feeling record was even worse, actually outright homophobia masquerading as an album review. I’m always happy to read interesting music journalism even if it’s not in line with my own tastes, but they lost a reader in me after that. Haven’t picked it up since.

  19. 19
    Ricardo on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Songs “Never Be The Same Again” beat to #1: Moloko’s “The Time Is Now” (#2) and a Santana feat. Rob Thomas reissue of “Smooth” (#3). The first one is still a pop gem to this day, absolutely; John Paul Young’s “Love Is In The Air” reimagined as lounge lizard disco for the early 00’s. The second one, well, it is what it is, I suppose. An enduring tune it might be – featuring the severely underrated (and underused, too) talents of Ital Shur as co-writer with Rob Thomas. But it doesn’t save it from MOR mediocrity.
    Further down the chart? Among other things, Precious (rememeber them?) at #11, with “Rewind”; Savage Garden and J.Lo at 14 & 15, respectively, with two songs I actually rate (“Crash and Burn” and “Feeling So Good” feat. Fat Joe & Big Pun), but in no way classics. What else? Primal Scream’s “Kill All Hippies” at #24, from the still-divisive XTRMNTR (I quite like it, BTW); the Doves’ “The Cedar Room” at #33, their first brush with Top 40 success and just a launching pad for bigger, better things to come; and, well, Semisonic at #39, charting a by-then two year-old song with “Singing in My Sleep”.
    Outside the Top 40, we see Timo Maas appearing at #50 with “Der Schieber”, still a few months away from his classic remix (and Top 10 hit) for Azzido Da Bass’s “Dooms Night”; Sunship and an unheralded garage classic in “Cheque One Two” at #75; the long-forgotten indie darlings Hefner right next, with “Christian Girls”; and Megamind at #91, with a, well, hard dance staple in “Storm Und Drang”.
    Odd sighting of the week, though, is at #70, with the Manics’ “The Masses Against The Classes” being considered by the OCC as being, wait for it… a new entry!!! Were these import copies that somehow found their way onto shops? Or just a way to finally get rid of the existing stock for a supposedly delete-at-date-of-release single?

  20. 20
    flahr on 20 Feb 2015 #

    Inoffensive 5-scented pleasantry, but at least it prompted me to finally get around to listening to the bewitchingly bizarre “No Scrubs”. ‘Sgood innit.

  21. 21
    swanstep on 20 Feb 2015 #

    When you just sit on the same boring four-chord pattern for the whole friggin’ song like this, the voice or the production had better be phenomenal. And if the music’s going to be all about stasis your song had better not be about change and awakening and be called ‘Never be the same’. Some of Mel C.’s backing vox touches are nice and fourth or fifth time straight through the sheer monotony of the thing is starting to wear me down, but, really, this needs re-writing. A poor, confused record:

  22. 22
    pink champale on 21 Feb 2015 #

    God, Steve Sutherland was a real tool, wasn’t he?

    Mind you, I’m not all that keen on this.

  23. 23
    Mark G on 21 Feb 2015 #

    That reminded me of when Big Brother contestant Emily gave her “There’s a new kind of music coming up, and its called .. Indie!” Which, yes was laughable but the amount and vehemence of the NME reaction put me off the paper completely.

  24. 24
    AMZ1981 on 21 Feb 2015 #

    NME may have had the knives out (and then some) for Melanie C but Q gave her a relatively smooth ride, proclaiming her `Talented Spice` on the cover and gifting Northern Star a generally positive review. From the word go she was the Spice Girl keenest to ingratiate herself with the Britpop fraternity and, when the solo careers started, the one who seemed most likely to win credibility.

    It didn’t start well. It’s probably best to assume Going Down was a joke even though it almost certainly wasn’t. Northern Star the song was more than passable but got buried over Christmas. Therefore it was a surprise that this song took off so strongly when it was released – the midweeks suggested it was going to make two weeks and cause a sensation in doing so; however it wasn’t to be. The sensation is to do with the bunny involved and we’ll get to that in due course.

    When discussing Bag It Up I noted that Geri became the first female singer to feature on ten number one singles. With Never Be The Same Again Mel C joined Mel B, Agnetha and Frida and Madonna on nine. I’m highlighting this because the title holder will chop and change a few times over the next three years. I think that NBTSA might also hold the distinction of being the biggest selling solo Spice single, just edging out a bunnied cover version from 2001.

  25. 25
    JLucas on 21 Feb 2015 #

    Goin’ Down was a real mis-step, and almost killed her solo career on arrival. It was obviously a calculated move to distance herself from the music of her former group as much as possible, but she pulled too far in the other direction. Covering the Sex Pistols apparently without irony at Isle of Wight was more embarrassing than any stunt Geri ever pulled. The French & Saunders spoof at the time is mercilessly brilliant. (“Do you think you look TOUGH? Well you don’t look tough, you just look SILLY”)

    Northern Star (the song) may not have gotten especially close to number one, but its contribution to putting her back on the right track shouldn’t be ignored. It was a huge radio hit at the tail end of 1999, sold over twice as much as Goin’ Down and reversed the swift decline of the album*. It also opened the doors in Europe, a lucrative market for her years after her record sales hit the skids in the UK.

    It (NS) is undeniably a bit Ray of Light-lite, but it’s a sound that works well for her. She’s much more likeable as a sort of bruised-but-dignified underdog than she is as a snarling rock goddess. (Although Goin’ Down’s B-side and NS album track Ga Ga does the whole Garbage-inspired thing much more successfully).

    After Northern Star allowed her to find her feet as a solo artist, Never Be The Same Again felt like a coronation of sorts. Listening now what strikes me is how relaxed it is – especially compared to Geri. It’s the kind of grown-up pop that feels closer to All Saints than the Spice Girls. The Left Eye factor definitely gave it a feeling of prestige. The whole package was convincing as a high-end pop package, and the Spice Girl it was now OK to like (as long as you didn’t read NME) was duly rewarded with her first chart topper.

    The strange thing is, having hit on a sound that worked so well for her, she never revisited it again. There are no NBTSA soundalikes on subsequent Mel C albums. No Europop floorfillers either, but that’s for later…

    *The Northern Star chart-run is a real slow burn success story. It took almost a year to peak!

    10-18-34-41-40-38-28-30-34-35-37-43-55-77-89-112-91-59-34-21-13-12- 10-12- 5-7-11-15-16-20-29-37-49-54-58-51-48-41-28-24-20-20-16-17- *4*-6-6-6-11-18-22-25-36-43-56-57-61-52-49-39-33-32-0-40-48-57-66-84-74-80-116-136-115-116-102-139-161-144-153-184-0-0-171-192

  26. 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.

  27. 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.’

  28. 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.

  29. 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’.

  30. 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.)

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