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By Michael Henningsen

FEBRUARY 23, 1999: 

Spice Girls "Goodbye" (Virgin)

The great thing about the Spice Girls is that whenever cynics and detractors claim that they're at 14 minutes and counting, they not only don't go away, they get better. For their first official post-Geri Halliwell release (the former Ginger, now a U.N. goodwill ambassador with a previously unnoticed resemblance to Gwyneth Paltrow, had sung on last summer's "Viva Forever" before bolting), the remaining Spices not only went with a deliberately de-glammed image--flat hair, bare shoulders and makeup that actually approaches something normal people would wear--they casually came out with the best single of their careers.

"Goodbye" is classic commercial pop, the best Top 40 ballad since Donna Lewis' "I Love You Always Forever" back in 1996 and ample proof of why the Spice Girls are so great: Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton and Victoria Adams (oh, all right, Scary, Baby and Posh) have plain, basically untrained and somewhat weak voices that nonetheless have a fundamental allure that obnoxiously over-singing harpies like Celine, Mariah and Whitney will never possess. As such, they're merely the latest in the long line of female pop singers who make something special out of limited skills, a hallowed lineage that runs from the Ronettes and Shangri-Las through Cher, Francoise Hardy and ABBA to Bananarama.

The CD single's three other tracks explicitly pay homage to some of the Girls' forebears. The live run-throughs of Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin's "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" and Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" are somewhat predictable choices that neither eclipse the originals nor embarrass themselves in the least. However, the choice of The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" is both inspired and brilliantly executed.

The late Patty Donahue was the epitome of a singer who could not, in fact, sing, doing more on sheer attitude than most accomplished vocalists could ever dream of. Melanie Chisolm (a.k.a. Sporty, or to the grudging, "the one who actually has a pretty great voice"), giggling through Waitresses mastermind Chris Butler's conversational lyrics like she's on the phone to her best mate while painting her toenails, captures Patty's style perfectly and then makes it her own to the point that the subtle Britishizing of the slangy verses (new references to Tesco supermarkets and "all-night garages," or convenience stores) doesn't stick out in the least. It's a brilliant version of a song I would have thought was uncoverable, and if the combination of it and "Goodbye" doesn't convince you that the Spice Girls are woefully underrated, then there's no hope for you.

In 20 years, it's suddenly going to be extremely cool to express a fondness for the Spice Girls. (Don't believe me? Remember how everyone who used to hate the Carpenters starting going on about how wonderful they were about five years ago?) Beat the trend and just start enjoying them now. ¡¡¡¡¡



Kalyanji and Anandji Shah Bombay the Hard Way: Guns, Cars and Sitars (Motel)

After their rediscovery of the excellent soundtrack to prolific Italian director Jesus Franco's 1970 softcore horror film Vampyros Lesbos a few years back, Motel Records has now gathered 15 bits of incidental music from Indian crime thrillers of the early 1970s, all composed by brothers Kalyanji and Anandji Shah. The pieces, given cutesy and misleading titles like "Punjabis, Pimps and Players" or "Fists of Curry" and interspersed with uncredited film dialogue fragments, combine Indian instrumentation and Western soundtrack styles in a way that twists both slightly off-kilter. The results are fascinating and delightful, from the atmospheric sonic landscapes of "Bombay 405 Miles" to the sweeping grandeur of "Uptown Bollywood Nights."

Unfortunately, some misguided soul at Motel Records, undoubtedly thinking they would make the record appeal to a wider audience, decided to doctor the tapes. As a result, intrusive, annoying and extraneous drum tracks mar most of the collection. Yuck. But for this, Bombay the Hard Way would easily be a five-doggie release; unfortunately, this pointless thumping comes close to ruining it in several places. Maybe next time, some other label will know better than to mess with what worked in the first place. Until then, maybe this'll teach the smirking pseudo-hipsters that there's more to Indian music than their brand-new Cornershop and Talvin Singh CDs. ¡¡¡¡


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