Following in the footsteps of Geri Halliwell, Mel C (formerly Sporty Spice) has released her debut solo album Northern Star. Like the rest of the Spice Girls, Mel is a self-proclaimed Madonna disciple and has shamelessly enlisted the talents of no less than six former collaborators of the pop icon, including William Orbit and Marius DeVries. The sleek club anthem “I Turn To You,” the best of the album’s tracks, was co-written by none other than Billy Steinberg, of “Like A Virgin” fame.
Unlike Halliwell’s lackluster effort, Mel meets the challenge of distinguishing herself from the Spice Girls. On the frenetic “Goin’ Down,” she declares: “From this little hitch I have become a superbitch…I am not a whore/I have gone hardcore.” She carves a strong identity that separates her from her counterparts and it’s hardcore indeed. Evoking the trip-hop stylings of Massive Attack, “Why” is at first quietly simple but eventually moves into a moving, guitar-driven climax. The gospel-flavored tale of despair almost lets you forget the singer’s cheese-pop past. “Ga Ga,” produced by superstar producer Rick Rubin, is a genuine modern rock track about masochistic love: “You hurt me and I’m grateful…And it hurts/Let it hurt!” But that’s where the pleasant suffering ends.
While many of the slower songs are quite beautiful, complete with acoustic guitars and soaring string arrangements, they sound like outtakes from Madonna’s Ray of Light. “If That Were Me” is preposterous in its attempt at being socially conscious; Mel’s idea of reflecting on homelessness includes realizations such as: “I couldn’t live without my phone/But you don’t even have a home.” She’s served better by more up-tempo material, like the Orbit-produced “Go!” With these tracks, Mel smoothly makes the transition to the solo world by shedding the campy pop of the Spice Girls and taking a cue from the newly-electronic Madonna.