Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Victoria Beckham": Looking Back

In October of 2001, Victoria Beckham was released. It was the last of three solo Spice Girl records to come forth that year, a collection of pop dusted in sophisticated, urban-lite diamante. It proved that Victoria Beckham was more than a pouting glamour puss and beneath her cool gaze was musical potential.

While it never reached the successes of her former band mates solo endeavors, Victoria Beckham has held up seven years later as a proper pop album. It also is a portrait of an avenue that wasn't truly taken, it showed Beckham doing what brought her to fame initially: being a fantastic pop star.

The History
Beckham first embarked on her solo journey with Dane Bowers and The Truesteppers on "Out of Your Mind" (U.K. #2) the year prior. The hectic two-step cut was released a few months before the third (and final) Spice Girls LP, Forever (2000). Forever demonstrated that Beckham's range as a pop singer had expanded. Her congenial champagne vocals were more potent, strengthened by the two previous years of live touring with the Spice Girls. After the diminutive triumph of Forever and a quiet dismantling of the group, Beckham began writing for her soon to be self-titled record.

The Record
Beckham often stated that she was more influenced by the soul sounds of Toni Braxton and Janet Jackson. The producers and writers collected to work with Beckham sought to bring her sensible, English pop perspective to a level urban mode.

Steve Kipner and Andrew Frampton (collectively Sonic Graffiti), Harvey Mason Jr. (from the Darkchild fold), Soulshock & Karlin, and Dane Bowers were the individuals who worked over the Victoria Beckham project. Beckham herself wrote, or co-wrote,11 of the 12 tracks found on the LP. Lyrically, the songs painted Beckham as a stylish maven from "round the way." Whether or not this was believable was a matter of musical taste, but she pulled it off without any hitches mostly.

The album, with the exception of the drab "Unconditional Love" and "Watcha Talkin' Bout," was a superb vision of musical clarity in bringing across the sound and feel Beckham and said collaborators wished for. Stately attitude was exacted keenly on the lead single "Not Such An Innocent Girl." Vocally, it came off as a strong, not overwrought, nimble slice of pop.

The coruscating swiftness of "Midnight Fantasy" revealed further phonic layers upon each subsequent listen. Metropolitan pop jabs in the form of the spry "Like That" and fresh flashiness in "I Wish" held the listeners attention. The smooth-spoken love token of "A Mind of Its Own" flowed into the grandeur of "I.O.U." beautifully, Beckham's balladeer abilities proved capable. As a whole, the album had many more hits than misses.

The Impact
Released through Virgin Records, Beckham's home as a Spice Girl, the album was met with mixed to positive reviews in the U.K. music press. If anything, it seemed that critics didn't care for Beckham as a celebrity and took that bias to the record. Spice Girls fans were generally pleased with the outcome of the final product, the record placed at #10 on the U.K. Album Chart. It went on to move 52,016 copies in Britain overall, a commercial roadblock to be sure. More would be made over the supposed "chart battle" between Beckham and fellow Blend favorite, Kylie Minogue. Minogue herself was enjoying a commercial resurgence with her Light Years (2000) album and gained additional ground with the release of the modern pop classic, "Can't Get You Out of My Head." Both "Head" and "Girl" would go toe to toe as Minogue and Beckham blazed through huge promotional shows and appearances. Despite Beckham's best efforts, Minogue's "Head" took the pole position (#1) while "Girl" slinked into the tasteful Top 10 realm (#6) on the U.K. Singles Chart.

The second, and final, single came with the soft "A Mind of Its Own" in early 2002. Even with the critically lauded acoustic performances Beckham did for promotion, it placed at the exact same position her previous single did. While the album secured two successful Top 10 hits, Virgin felt Victoria Beckham hadn't moved enough copies. Retained as a Spice Girl, Victoria was released as a solo artist from her contract.

 Her impending, second pregnancy also hastened her exit. Signing to the Universal Records subsidiary Telstar Records, her comeback single, the double A-Side "Let Your Head Go" and "This Groove" dropped in at #3 on the U.K. Singles Chart. "This Groove" had a chorus sampled from the System classic, "Don't Disturb This Groove." One song continued in the same sound direction of her solo record, while "Let Your Head Go" mined a general  dance formula. The single gave Beckham the distinction of being the only Spice Girl solo without a number one single, but the only one with all her singles placing within the Top 10 in the U.K.

Likely crestfallen with the lack of sales success with her debut, her second album was shelved indefinitely. Some of the songs have leaked, making their way onto other Victoria Beckham related projects (The Real Beckhams DVD), or have been covered by another artist. BeyoncĂ© landed the song "Resentment," an outtake from Beckham's aborted second player, for her album B-Day (2006).

"Not Such An Innocent Girl"
Directed By: Jake Nava

Known for being a singer first than a fashionista or model, Beckham donned her poppy stilettos for The Return of the Spice Girls Tour and greatest hits record, which I saw February 6th, 2008 in New York City. Beckham displayed her vocal and dance skills, but when her solo turn came during the show, she choose to work the runway instead of the mic. As a longtime U.S. Spice Girls enthusiast, I experienced Victoria Beckham, pre-Youtube, through digital and imported means. I've seen her offer her best musically, and while doubtful now, I hope she may show others this side of herself more in the not too distant future. Three and a half stars out of five.-QH

[Editor's Note: This is an import record which is still in print. It retails between $16-22. It is also available now through the American iTunes website.-QH]


Travis Michael said...

thank you for this long overdue review...I am a HUGE fan of Victoria Beckham as a singer. I really don't know why there is so much talk about her being a weak singer when I feel this is such a strong album. The songs flow well with one another and it is a perfect blend of pop and ballads. I listen to this album all the time and I'm so sad that her second album was not released (although I have heard many of the songs from her Telstar work as well as her Damon Dash work). I'm really hoping that something will change Victoria's mind and she'll go back in the studio and sing. I was saddened when I went to the concert in Vegas and Victoria chose to strut around to songs that were not even hers instead of doing a fabulous version of Let your Head go. I also wanted to mention that I really enjoyed the Forever album because Victoria's silky and smooth (and sophisticated) voice was prominently displayed. She is a fantastic rnb singer and although she's probably not up for many live performances I feel she should really consider getting back in the studio.

RhythmicSoul said...

I first really started getting wind of her as a solo artist during the whole damon dash era, i heard "dont disturb this groove" and i loved it..i would have loved to hear some other songs and see how that would have manifested...she was so fierce, appearing in the rocawear ads with naomi and what not, loved it.

adeosun78 said...

Great review. I've never really followed the Spice Girls, but I absolutely adore Victoria. Her debut album was very solid. While not an outstanding vocalist, there is still something very appealing and charismatic about her voice. Her unreleased stuff was straight fire and probably could have done very well.

Tha Connoisseur said...

Ok, QH - you have officially been blog rolled on my blog. I did not know you had your own page! I also had no idea that Mrs. Becks solo album was actually on the market. I remembered hearing about it's impending release, but never heard anything in terms of a song. Then again, as I always say, the music kind of looses it's way once it hits the border of Canada. ;) Interesting video, she is doing her thing. She's not a bad singer either.

S. Flemming said...

Very nice. I didn't know she had recorded a whole second LP. Interesting ... I'm sure it will see the light of day eventually. I still have the copy of this you sent me; I should revisit it. Again, nice job.