Northern Star

Melanie C

Virgin, 1999

http://melaniec.net

REVIEW BY: Peter Piatkowski

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/15/2021

Melanie C (née Melanie Chisholm) was known as Sporty Spice, the athletic, tomboyish Spice Girl, who also distinguished herself from the other members of the girl band with a pretty distinct and powerful voice. When the Spice Girls went on hiatus to allow for the members to indulge in their solo ambitions, it was predictable that Melanie C’s effort would be the strongest. Northern Star is a very good pop record that is a great vehicle for the former Spice Girl’s more ambitious musical tastes.

Incorrectly labelled an “indie” record by the press because the songs feature fuzzy guitars, skittery club beats, somewhat more esoteric William Orbit-style electronica-lite production, Northern Star is at heart, a standard, mainstream pop album with some great moments standing out amongst the collection of solid tunes. There are dance numbers, lush ballads, and songs in which Mel C does an admirable impersonation of Shirley Manson.

The album’s lead single is “Goin’ Down,” a pop ditty masquerading as industrial. There are some loud, buzzy guitars and Melanie’s vocals are processed through a blurry filter. It was a poor choice for a first single because it was very unconvincing. The album’s opener “Go!” (an Orbit joint) is another song that works strenuously to make Mel seem tough, and songs like it and “Ga Ga” are unnecessary stabs at legitimacy and authenticity. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

When Northern Star embraces its pop blueprint, it shines. Melanie C is far more comfortable crooning and belting over the smoother, glossier beats than trying to snarl. “I Turn to You” is a brilliant disco song that rushes at a breakneck speed (its remix, the Hex Hector Radio mix is even better). It’s a great tribute to Ray Of Light-era Madonna with trancey beats and swirling synths. The song’s success in gay clubs made Mel C a gay icon.

As with most modern pop albums of the late 1990s, there are some urban-soul influences, as well. Mel C teams with the late/great Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC to duet on the sweet midtempo ballad “Never Be the Same Again” (though, Lopes steals the show). The other smooth soul pop number “If That Were Me” has the singer warble about homelessness over an acoustic guitar, sawing strings, and skipping beats. The lyrics are unfortunate in their naïveté, but she does earn a few Brownie points for having her heart in the right place (the critical drubbing the song received, while somewhat deserved, was still quite mean)

When with the Spice Girls, Mel C was praised as the one who could actually sing. While that bit of shade was mean to Geri, Posh, Scary, and Baby, it’s clear that she has the strongest voice in the group. For Northern Star, she has ample opportunity to show off her powerful vocals, especially in the ballads, which also show the singer’s tender side (thankfully, she abandons the Sporty Spice thing). The album’s title track is a catchy, pretty pop ballad (a touch bland, maybe, but still very nice). And the closer, “Feel The Sun” is a spacy, electro-dusted tune that encourages Mel to exert control and manoeuvre her sometimes-unwieldly voice to set the moody and melancholic tone of the song.

Northern Star is a nice snapshot of mainstream pop music of the late 1990s. It’s a wide-reaching, ambitious take on breaking out from a pop group crowded with oversized, overwhelming personalities. Free from the mugging, rowdy Spice Girls, Mel C gets to create a persona on her own terms, relatively unrestricted from the aggressively packaged girl group. Though her attempt to recast herself as an indie Riot Grrrl was a bit unpersuasive, she did show that she is a bright and talented performer who can make some smart, fun pop music.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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