I have a confession to make before I get to the review.
Before admitting my crime, I wish to offer a defense. I blame it all on the Information Age giving us too much information and too many access points to information. Our brains can only hold so much in our short-term memory, so we grab what we can from the torrent and move on. In the process, we miss things—lots of things.
Here’s the confession: I’m pretty sure I never heard the Spice Girls before I bought this album specifically for this review.
Allow me to clarify: I knew of the Spice Girls because the name must have been floating around in the ether, but somehow I formed the impression that they were cartoon characters. No shit. My theory is that my mistaken perception came from hearing something about their stage names sometime or another. Scary Spice. Sporty Spice. Baby Spice. Ginger Spice. Posh Spice. I figured, “No way on earth could those names be attached to anything but cartoon characters.” I held that impression for a few years until Posh Spice married David Beckham. I knew he was real because my family stayed up all hours of the day to watch the 1998 World Cup matches. That was the year France served as the host country and Les Bleus miraculously won the Cup.
England fans probably remember it differently. In the second round, Beckham allowed those plucky Argentinians to sucker him into kicking one of their players, earning himself a red card and reducing England’s chances of moving forward to nil. Enraged fans hung Beckham in effigy outside a London pub and the Daily Mirror printed a dartboard with his picture smack dab in the middle. Lucky for him, Posh Spice stuck with him through the troubles and the couple were married the following year.
Aww. How sweet.
Where was I?
Oh yeah—cartoon characters. I think what happened is I stopped watching MTV and VH1 shortly after the incident described in my review of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, so I missed out on a lot of the pop music videos they used to show in between the not-too-silly stuff. I’d also shifted gears to punk, and I certainly never ran into anyone in the mosh pit who slammed into me and asked, “Have you heard the latest from the Spice Girls?”
Strangely enough, my partner never heard them either until the Spice Girls made their first appearance on the living room sound system last week. She has an even better excuse than I do—she was seriously into metal during her teenage years in Madrid. You can’t get any further from metal than the Spice Girls.
The good news is that my ignorance allows me to review Spice with fresh ears as if the album hit the record store shelves yesterday. And, as an extra-special service to faithful readers who have suffered through my interminable introductions long enough, I’m going to give you the gist of the review in one brief sentence so you don’t even have to read the whole damn thing! Wow! Here goes!
This is the most depressing record I have ever heard.
The music is bad enough, lacking even the tiniest bit of originality. Combine three parts K. C. and the Sunshine Band with three parts Europop, three parts dance routine and three parts shameless self-promotion and you have the Spice Girls.
The lyrics qualify as both inane and offensive. I’ll get to the offensive part later, so let’s just focus on the inanity for now. The lyrics consist of trite phrases you’ve heard in thousands of other pop songs, teenage-level sexual innuendo, unintelligible advice based on the nudge-nudge-wink-wink model and a couple of advertising spots plugging the group and its members as the epitome of cool. The lyrics serve to give morons seduced by flashy marketing gimmicks a set of slogans they can use to “spice” their conversations when they can’t think of anything original to say. Some examples:
- “‘Cause tonight is the night when two become one”
- “Now don’t go wasting my precious time”
- “Love will bring us back together”
- “Take it or leave it, take it or leave it”
- Teenage-Level Sexual Innuendo
- “Give me what I’m needing/You know what I’m dreaming of”
- “Ooh, take from me what you feel that you need”
- “Listen up I gotta tell ya/About the ins and outs and goings-on”
- Unintelligible Advice
- “There’s no room for lovin’/Stop that push and shovin’ yeah”
- “Trust it, use it, prove it, groove it”
- “Better late than dead on time”
- Shameless Plugs
- “So, here’s a story from A to Z/You wanna get with me, you gotta listen carefully/We got Em in the place who likes it in your face/You got G like MC who likes it on an ____ /Easy V doesn’t come for free, she’s a real lady/And as for me, ha you’ll see.”
- “On and on with the girls named Spice/You wanna get with us then you’d better think twice”
- “Rules are for fools”
- “Happiness is just a state of your mind”
- “Giving is good as long as you’re getting”
- “‘Cause I’m choosy not a floozy”
- “Set your spirit free, it’s the only way to be”
The offensiveness comes in the form of what the Spice Girls characterized as “Girl Power.” The phrase originated with Bikini Kill, who published a zine under that name five years before anyone had ever heard of the Spice Girls. The original intent of the phrase was to promote female independence, confidence and self-empowerment by encouraging women to form bands.
The Spice Girls transformed an inspiring slogan into a marketing gimmick. Their idea of Girl Power had nothing to do with empowering women; what they present in their music is the old cat-and-mouse seduction game of “playing hard to get.” Madonna had taught women that adopting a tough girl attitude was sexy, salable and profitable; as the Spice Girls seem to have been incapable of original thought, they went with the pop queen’s tried-and-true methodology. Bikini Kill’s goal was to kickstart social change; the Spice Girls were in it for the money. They used Girl Power to empower and enrich themselves, trivializing the deeply-felt anger regarding centuries of abuse directed at women by turning Girl Power into an ersatz product feature.
The Spice Girls showed their true colors when Ginger Spice told The Spectator that Margaret Thatcher was a major inspiration for the group: “We are true Thatcherites. Thatcher was the first Spice Girl, the pioneer of our ideology.” Oh, for fuck’s sake. Margaret Thatcher was not a feminist; she was a mean-spirited jerk who wanted to prove that she could be a bigger asshole than the men who preceded her. She stole from the poor and gave it to the rich. The Spice Girls’ embrace of the Iron Lady confirms that their version of Girl Power wasn’t about equality for women; it was about embracing the notion that if women want to get ahead in this world, they have to be cynical, ruthless and willing to exploit the stupidity of the consumer, just like the big guys do.
Somewhere in the ’90s Rolling Stone must have implemented some kind of affirmative action program because after years of male-dominated opinion, they hired Christina Kelly to profile some of those new-fangled girl singers and review their work. The two paragraphs she devoted to the Spice Girls pretty much says it all:
Following in the footsteps of Take That and New Kids on the Block — two other bubblegum-pop groups that were also huge in England — Spice Girls offer a watered-down mix of hip-hop and cheesy pop balladry. And like New Kids on the Block, Spice Girls are five attractive young things, each with a distinct personality, a la the Village People, brought together by a manager with a marketing concept.
One part of that concept has the Girls preaching, “Girl power!” — a co-optation more heinous than any riot grrrl’s worst nightmare. Spice Girls’ idea of power seems to be flaunting that they are all that, but the lyrics make Alanis Morissette’s sound like Patti Smith’s. A few nuggets: “If you want to get with me, better make it fast” (“Wannabe”); “I know you want to get with me” (“Last Time Lover”); “Show me how good you are” (Who Do You Think Your Are?). Despite their pro-woman posing, the Girls don’t get bogged down by anything deeper than mugging for promo shots and giving out tips on getting boys in bed.
The Spice Girls entered human consciousness in the second half of the 1990s, a half-decade that will be remembered as one of the silliest, most frivolous periods in human history. Major leaps forward in technology and digital communications ignited economies over much of the Western world, leading to record-high employment and stock market booms. Maslow’s hierarchy tells us that once people have their basic needs satisfied, they seek to address higher needs: building relationships, strengthening self-esteem through achievement and reaching the height of human potential. The second half of the ’90s proved Maslow wrong. Once their basic needs were satisfied, people got greedy for more, built relationships on the principle of mutual exploitation, sought to project the appearance of accomplishment without accomplishing a damned thing and re-defined self-actualization as reaching billionaire status.
I remember that period as very noisy. Restaurants were not only full of very loud people, but restaurant designers started fiddling with the architecture to make dining an even noisier experience so that the patrons could feel they were at the center of the action. The politics were noisy, too; in the United States, Rush Limbaugh ruled the radio waves, Fox News began its systematic effort to transform America into a stupid, racist society and Bill Clinton squandered the enormous influence he could have wielded in the post-Cold-War era because he wanted a blowjob and the chance to suck on a funny-tasting cigar. Everything was “cool,” from infused vodka to craft beer to retro fashion to the thirteen colors of the iMac. “Cool” wasn’t just the operative word in the States; the UK absconded the concept with “Cool Brittania,” a “period of increased pride in the culture of the United Kingdom throughout most of the ’90s.” (Wikipedia) Britpop was a major contributor to that scene, as were the Spice Girls. Tony Blair was the fresh political face of Cool Brittania. As things turned out, the former PM surely earned that distinction: all show, no substance, just like the dot.com boom.
Beyond pointing out the obvious—that the Spice Girls were the perfect poster girls for the new dumbed-down reality—I really have little else to say. In a break from altrockchick tradition, I’m not going to post any of their vacuous videos, because I refuse to be complicit in the crime of promoting the lowest possible common denominator. It’s depressing enough that “Spice peaked at number one in more than 17 countries across the world, and was certified Multi-Platinum in 27 countries, Platinum in 14 countries and Gold in three countries, including 10-times Platinum in the United Kingdom and Canada, eight-times Platinum in Europe, and seven-times Platinum in the United States. It became the world’s top-selling album of 1997, selling 19 million copies in over a year. The album has sold a total of 23 million copies worldwide, becoming the best-selling album in music history by a girl group and one of the best-selling albums of all time.” (Wikipedia) What’s more depressing is that five women had the opportunity to advance the cause of women everywhere and instead chose to trivialize the challenges women face and make themselves rich. Yes, yes, yes, I know that some of the Spice Girls have donated millions to several worthy causes, but that’s what rich assholes do to get tax breaks or attempt to mitigate the rot eating away at their souls.
The Spice Girls can go fuck themselves.
Go to the next review in the series: Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out