Spice Girls: They Know What They Really, Really Want and They Know How To Get It

Not that I'm averse to getting more notches on my belt, but I don't particularly wannabe any of Spice Girls' lover, not yet anyway. Which I guess means I'm also not required to (orgywise or otherwise) "get with" their friends; two of the first four songs on Spice are basically "We Are Family" rewrites (and two of the first four are also basically "What's Love Got To Do With It" rewrites), how sisterly of them. See, my problem is, two of these sisters outright bug me: babydollish, blond-pigtailed "Em in the place who likes it in your face" and cold, unsmiling George-Michael-video-Eurobitch-sophisticate "Easy V [who] doesn't come for free she's a real lie-dee" (rapped in Cockney a la Eliza Doolittle -- so does that mean the others are all fake lie-dees because they're not prostitutes?).Then there's the redheaded one -- my jury's still undecided on her. On Saturday Night Live, clad in what looked like a white bed sheet with slogans and her name (Geri) smudged all over it, she sang way off-key but at least her mike was turned on. And so was she: She kept mugging for the camera, making hypothetically alluring kissy faces and sticking her Kiss Alive tongue out. Like the blond one, she seems slightly chunky and unwaiflike, almost like an actual adult female, so I feel a little guilty that she jarred me by coming off so repulsive; the music world hasn't witnessed sluttiness this slimy since who, Samantha Fox? I assume she was joking -- she didn't remind me of Baywatch so much as the sort of call girl-booby bimbo you'd wince at on some bad BBC comedy.The two Spices I like for sure are both buff and named Melanie; they also have the best voices. The athletic one who wears sweat suits and does backflips belted soulful and loud on SNL, but it's token dark-skinned Melanie, the right-on-rapping live wire who wears the coolest clothes (battle-fatigue trousers and a bra on SNL) and shows the most cleavage, that everybody in my peer group, from my 7-year-old daughter on up, picks as their favorite. Still, the whole point of assigning individual "personalities," obviously, just like with the Monkees or Village People, is to cover all social-class fantasy-taste bases.People don't even seem to agree on the undeniable: that the first and biggest worldwide Spice hit, "Wannabe," just plain rocks, with humor, from its chortling laugh at point one on. It's got a hard '60s garage-guitar riff, but unlike, say, "Devil's Haircut" by Beck, where the garage riff just stands alone in the corner with no comparable rhythm or voice pushing it forward, this riff actually helps communicate punk-rock emotion -- "If you really bug me then I'll say good-bye." The smartest of the several slogans inside Spice's sleeve proclaims, "Silence Is Golden but Shouting Is Fun," and between party chatter and unison yells and "you've got it, you've got it" chants, you can tell the girls believe it. The only other piece of 1997 music that you could compare to "Wannabe"'s pummeling oi-like "huh! huh! huh! huh!" hoodlum-gang grunts is, of all things, "Firestarter" by Prodigy.The song is actually quite complex, mixing pretty singing and fast rhyming with an eccentric energy comparable to Neneh Cherry doing "Buffalo Stance"; something about black women with British accents (see also Cookie Crew, Wee Papa Girls) always makes rapping sting like a bee. Gets as cryptic as Beck, too: If the zigazig-hah part really does mean they want a cigar, this stogy song out-smokes Pink Floyd's. The "Pass the Dutchie"-stylee early-'80s-reggae-toast part -- "slam your body down and wind eet all around" -- really does slam, so maybe Spice Girls lie down by the Rivers of Babylon, too. Another CD cover slogan, "Can You Handle a Spice Girl?," is the 1997 equivalent of the New York Dolls' "Do you think that you could make it with Frankenstein?"; "If you want my future, forget my past," the Spices demand, because, as David Johansen could tell you, a Babylon girl ain't got no past.Problem is, nobody will let the Spice Girls forget theirs. Their partially Spanish album closer, "If U Can't Dance," rightly places people with unlocked hips higher in the prospective-mate hierarchy than people with two left feet, but like most music preferred by suburban kids who know how to dance, the Spice Girls are continually dissed as "phony" or "manufactured" by stodgy Son Volt fans. So what if their first four singles all went to No. 1 in England, the argument goes, when they had to pass an audition (from a manager they later fired!) just to join together in the first place? But big whoop -- in Japan, this year's hottest new cutie-pie-pop starlet, Date Kyoko, is a tube-topped 5-foot-4 17-year-old created via computer animation. The Spice Girls, by contrast, have real-life baggage to live down: praising Thatcher, posing nude, having libidos, maybe even dating Tricky. So inevitably, now there are Web sites where you can slap their faces.Kinda unfair when nobody ever slaps En Vogue or TLC, neither of whose faces manage half the Spice Girls' bounce. "Do you think I'm really cool and sexy?" one Spice queries in "Last Time Lover," blatantly honoring TLC. But if anything, it's this album's slightly streetwise urban-constipatory bent that keeps it from quite becoming the mythical "mountain of spices in the arms of the desired" that multicolored dancegal trio Seduction poeticized about in 1989. In other words, it ain't quite disco enough: Whichever Spice keeps borrowing the hushed-sickliness-as-sultriness fallacy from the neighing hoarsemouth chick with short red hair in TLC should go invest in a few Latin freestyle records instead.Mostly though, funky bass lines from Kool and the Gang, Chic, Marvin Gaye (in their get-it-on ballads, of course) and the Gap Band keep the Spice Girls' lacy harmonies and old-school microphone- Š handoffs from dragging. "Mama" is a warmly sappy Supremes-inspired thank-you note, veering into a ridiculous gospel-choir climax worthy of the talent show in Fame; "Something Kinda Funny" gliiiiiides like "Let's Groove" by Earth, Wind & Fire (a major influence, too, by the way, on current dancegal trio Wild Orchid, whose most-EWF song invents "tambourine" as a new euphemism for "vagina"). And though the lyric sheet swears otherwise, I always hear "Who Do You Think You Are" as discussing how "the rush is on to get out of the bathroom" to attend a "traditional wedding"!When they try to get a bit arty in "Naked" by rapping in snoozy subdued sweet-taboo lounge-dub whispers over an apparent phone line, though, the Spicers actually forfeit some vitality, and there's a lesson in that. Same thing happens to Australian twirl-girl rookie Gina G in the "Motiv8 Vintage Honey Mix" of her hit "Ooh Aah . . . Just a Little Bit" at the end of her debut disc, Fresh: may well be trip-hoppier therefore trendier than the original mix, but it's not nearly as catchy.Then again, hardly anything lately is -- "Ooh Aah" in its pop-radio form is an expert confection of interlocking speed-stuttered repetitious-trance electro-breakdance beats, above which Gina G breathily metronomes too-childlike-to-be-suggestive "ooh ahh"s as if she were a Kit-Cat clock ticking and tocking its way to the bank, its Cheshire smile bursting with catnip. To boot, the rest of Fresh creates a veritable sunshiny environment of big, happy hooks and clear-enough-to-see-yourself production. Madonna hasn't made an album this fun, or this disco, since 1983.Being from Melbourne, Gina G probably includes Olivia Newton-John and Kylie Minogue in her evolutionary lineage, and being a Eurovision Song Contest winner, probably Abba. On her CD cover, her full frontal nudity is coated in chocolate and topped by wiry orange hair somewhere between Wilma Flintstone, Albert Einstein and a Brillo pad. Inside, she's sprawled on her back in an off-white snow-leopard-print bikini plus red high heels and matching nail polish, and her skin is albino-pale. On the back she's more jaunty, with a blue Annie Hall-ish hat tilted to its side, a flowing scarf, spider eye shadow like Alice Cooper in 1971, and a pinstripe suit opened at the bosom, revealing plastic mannequin skin beneath.She coos three heart-wrenching miss-you ballads, but they're not mere schlock; the melodies reveal hidden red-clay roots -- "It Doesn't Mean Goodbye" is old-country country worthy of Abba at their bluest, with raindrop doo-wop backup, tailing off into jazziness after five minutes of husbands packing bags and running for trains and playing with fire. More often, though, Gina's music is unashamed high-bpm Eurodisco, symphonically rising and raising hands to the sky, even more rooted in Giorgio Moroder than techno is, with plenty of PG-rated innuendo about getting fresh and feeling love deep down inside. The flamencofied guitars and castanets creating a storm-cloud-tinged Mediterranean-island-at-midnight undercurrent in "Ti Amo" don't recall the Laura Branigan tune of the same name so much as Madonna's "La Isla Bonita." And "Rhythm of My Life" is simply over the top, jabbering giddy sugar-rush spunk that'd make Stacey Q proud: "bay-bee bay-bee bay-buh-buh-buh-bay-bee," into a brazen verse tackling cultural fragmentation at its very core: "Cut your hair, rip your jeans/I'm a victim of your fashion scene/My brother doesn't like you/My sister thinks you're cool." Sounds like a fan letter to the Spice Girls. Spice Girls, Gina G: If they could do it all over again, they'd do it all over you

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