Just a year into their career, Spice Girls had become a phenomenon. Every market in the world – even the hitherto pop-resistant US – had taken “Wannabe” to the top of the charts, and the frenzied momentum was gathering yet greater pace. With the band’s debut album, Spice, already on its way to becoming one of the best-selling records of all time, the group found themselves with a movie to make, endless promotion and marketing commitments, and, of course, the recording of what would become their follow-up album, Spiceworld.
A laser-like focus
Despite the potential distractions, Spiceworld, recorded on the run between takes on the movie and other promotional duties, has a laser-like focus on the reasons behind Spice Girls’ continued appeal: outstanding pop songs. There was a noticeable scaling up of the tracks you could dance to, but still space for two of their strongest ballads.
“Spice Up Your Life” was an early standard-bearer for the Latin pop explosion that was then just a year away from breaking into the mainstream with acts like Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias. Issued as Spiceworld’s first single, in October 1997, a few weeks ahead of the album launch, it became Spice Girls’ fifth consecutive No.1 in their homeland. That same month, the carnival jam was one of a handful of new songs to be showcased at the band’s first super-league concert, held in Turkey and broadcast around the world.
The 10-track Spiceworld hit the shops on November 3, 1997 and started to sell by the bucket-load. Cannily timed to hit the critical Christmas shopping period and the forthcoming Spice World movie (which arrived in UK cinemas on December 26), Spiceworld proved unstoppable. It’s second single, “Too Much” – the band’s last US Top 10 hit to date, but yet another No. 1 in the UK – slowed the tempo, and the slinky multi-vocal ballad became the second of the group’s three consecutive Christmas No. 1s in the UK – then as now, the most prestigious chart position of the year.
With the album’s third single, “Stop,” also among the first three cuts at the very start of the record, the sequencing provided a powerful kick-off to a 90s pop masterpiece. “Stop”’s Motown-flavored melody may have, surprisingly, broken the consecutive run of No. 1s in the group’s homeland, but it went silver and remains one of the band’s best remembered songs, with regular radio play to this day.
Five young women having a laugh
If there’s a song that perhaps sums up Spiceworld’s overall appeal, it’s the retro-disco jam “Never Give Up On The Good Times.” This – and the whole album – is really the sound of five young women having a laugh. Though the inevitable pressure of staying atop the Spice Girls juggernaut was soon to become obvious, fans weren’t easily distracted. (This party anthem was almost paired in glory with the ballad “Viva Forever” for single release in some markets.) “Move Over” is drenched in the girls’ larger-than-life personalities, and its funkier groove, along with the lightly urban “Do It” and “Denying,” suggested there was potential for the band’s sound to evolve as their young audience matured with them.
If, at times, Spiceworld feels like a pop pick’n’mix, that’s fair. The obvious inclusion of several tracks from the movie suggested there may have been something of a formula to the choice of material, but it’s testament to the strength of the writing – by the band and longtime writing/production collaborators Absolute, Richard Stannard and Matt Rowe – that it all hangs together so well. Even the novelty cabaret tease of an album closer “The Lady Is A Vamp” sounds authentically like the last spontaneous song of the night rather than some writing-by-numbers exercise.
The end of the beginning
By the summer of 1998, with Spice Girls on their first stadium tour, the cracks finally started to show. With Latin-pop ballad “Viva Forever” scheduled for single release, Geri Halliwell suddenly quit the group, creating an international news sensation. The decision curtailed the song’s release in the States, but it was business as usual back home, with another No. 1 added to the already-large haul.
Defying expectations, Spice Girls rallied and pressed on with the tour as a four-piece. Despite the undeniable draw of the money-making machine Spice Girls had become, the friendship between the women would drive them forward. There was another Christmas No. 1 and more music to create… but Spiceworld would represent the end of the beginning: a glorious chapter of pop supremacy and music that forever transports you back to more innocent times. You may have had to have been there to really get it today, but plenty of us were…