Monday 1 August 2022

Northern Star/ Melanie C (1999): Albums of my Life: an A-Z

 being part of the wave of excitement over the Spice Girls. I was the age for it, about twelve, I guess. The fun, the cameraderie, the outfits and colour-- I loved it. I think I went to see Spiceworld at the cinema twice! Watching that film as an adult was a real disappointment; the acting and cheesiness is cringe-worthy, but the album Spiceworld is still as wonderful as ever. Never Give Up on the Good Times, for example, is such a feel-good, innocent pop record. When I listen to it I still visualise their accompanying dance move and it brings a smile to my face.

I had the platform trainers, the Ginger Spice-inspired red hair with a yellow-blonde 'money-piece' (self- dyed of course) and some questionable bright and flamboyant clothing items, and I loved it!

Then I got a bit older and too cool for all that pizazz! And the Spice Girls went their separate ways with solo projects, and I was curious. I remember either owning or borrowing from the library (and recording) Emma, Geri, Mel B and Mel C's albums. I enjoyed parts of all of them at the time, but it is Melanie Chisholm's Northern Star that stood out the most, both then and now.

'Northern Star' is the debut album from Melanie Chisholm of the Spice Girls. It is a fusion of indie, rock, electronica and pop. At the age I was in 1999, this had some appeal despite my R n B biased taste. It was interesting to see what image the individual Spice Girls took on after going solo. Geri was pure gimmicky-pop, Emma more melodic pop, Mel B found her R n B groove and Victoria did her thing with Dane Bowers of Another Level fame! 

Mel C, on the other hand, brought some rawness and indie influences to her debut which felt the most authentic to me over the decades following its release. 

It seems that reception of the album was somewhat mixed initially due to the variation of genres it covers, though it was recognised with a number 4 chart position back in 2000 (and two number one singles).

For me, the stand out feature of this album is its experimentation with genres. I'm here for Mel's distorted vocals on 'Goin' Down' as much as her poppy sound on 'Suddenly Monday' and her sweetness on 'Closer'. I'm on board for the more-played chart-toppers 'Never Be the Same Again (featuring Lisa 'Left-Eye' Lopez) and of course, the beautiful 'Northern Star'. Why is it that some criticise artists for experimenting and showing off their repetoire of musical loves and styles? This album showcases what Mel was unable to in the Spice Girls, vocally, and in terms of her songwriting. The production is also very pleasing and this feels like a timeless album to me.
The opening track, 'Go!' with its drum beat and percussion intro and then the staccato guitar riff exclaims: this is not Sporty Spice, but Melanie C: indie-pop queen. The overlay of her backing vocal is a flowing contrast to the guitar and drums. The song shimmers.

'Northern Star' is timeless and a beautiful pop record. Its title speaks to her Merseyside upbringing and the sentiment of the lyrics is made all the more emotive by the sweeping strings on this track. It really is a gorgeous song.

One of the most well-known and popular tracks from this album is 'I Turn to You' which is a club classic of the time. It has a techno production to it and a music video shot in Ibiza which showcases its vibe perfectly. It's not a favourite of mine now, but I can appreciate the song and why it is so well-liked; it certainly encapsulates a feeling of the time and would make the cut for my gym playlist, for sure.

'If That Were Me' appealed to my sensibilities as a teen with its theme of holding out a hand to the downtrodden, specifically the homeless. This is still a cause close to my heart, but the songwriting on the track feels a little trite now being older and more cynical. I think it's the rhyming on lines like 'I couldn't live without my phone/ but you don't even have a home' that does it. Still, it brings some variety and gravity to the album after the rambunctiousness of the previous tracks.

'Suddenly Monday' is a fun, sing-along with an indie-pop feel, complete with a big band later on the track. I loved it then, and love it now. 'Ga Ga' follows with its rockier vibe and sassier vocal. This feels similar to the opening track, 'Go!' in its genre and it really suits Mel's voice. You almost forget that she was 'Sporty' in this track and it makes you wonder if she had got into the charts as a solo artist back in the earlier 90s, whether she would have pursued a career as a lead singer of an indie band. 

The versatility of Chisholm's voice can be appreciated on the dream-like 'Closer', which, in my opinion, is another standout track. The penultimate song on the album, this soft and emotive beauty extends to nearly six minutes and has an extended instrumental which fades out to reveal the final track, 'Feel the Sun'. The tone of tranquility and resolve in this song is a perfect conclusion to an album with so much sonic diversity. It calms the spirit and takes you into a place of satisfaction. The emotional crescendo that comes just after the 3 minute mark is just perfect and consolidates the point that Melanie C's voice was the best of all of the Spice Girls'. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is an iconic voice in the pop canon.

What's really telling here is that I thought it would be easy to choose, but I could select five or six songs from the album that are my favourites, and I think it changes a lot depending on my mood.

1. Feel the Sun- Just listening to it as I wrote about it above has made me fall in love again.

2. Northern Star-- It has to be up there. Just a great song.

3. Go!-- It's that drum intro and the reverb and staccato, love it!

... I need a hit of indie pop music, a flash from the past that never disappoints and fully holds up. Mel's voice is so unique and honest; the variety of styles on this album is fresh and varied, plus some great tracks for singing along to.

' Live your life without regret
Don't be someone who they forget
When you're lost reach out for me
And you'll see she's not far
Northern Star                                 (Northern Star)

... Ocre. It's organic and sun-tinged and feels of the earth, just a good dependable, solid album to listen to again and again.

'Never Say Never'/ Brandy (1998)
'Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya'/ Boyz II Men (2000)

What is your favourite album beginning with N?

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