Saturday, October 24, 2009

Melanie C: "Northern Star," 10 Years Later

Departing a group is never an easy practice with the rule that the whole is greater than its parts proving true usually. Melanie "Sporty Spice" Chisholm, or Melanie C, has spent 10 years defying this truth. While undoubtedly great in the Spice Girls, Ms. Chisholm stepped to the solo plate, striking a home run with her eclectic debut Northern Star (1999).

Melanie C first tried her wings on a duet with rocker Bryan Adams called "When You're Gone," released toward the end of 1998. Also along with her group mates, their first four-piece single "Goodbye" was smashing into the global charts at the same time. Work on what became Northern Star began tentatively during this hectic period. By the advent of 1999, a collective hold was placed on the group as each member branched into her own solo projects. Melanie C was signed as a solo Spice Girl through Virgin Records, like her fellow group members.

The Record
At her core, Melanie C was a pop singer so genre dabbling came naturally to her. With Northern Star, Melanie explored uninhibited and channeled her swath of influences that included everyone from Blur to Madonna. To achieve her aim, Melanie enlisted a variegated batch of songwriters and producers: William Orbit, Rick Rubin, Rick Nowels, Craig Armstrong, Mauries De Vries, Rhett Lawrence, and Richard Stannard. Collectively, everyone labored to bring a smart, schizophrenic  air to Northern Star. The title of the record honored her Liverpool heritage, the area in England in which she was raised.

Melanie herself was the lead writer on all 12 songs that made the final cut. Her writing, majority of it cathartic and autobiographical, brought emotional authenticity to Northern Star. Melanie's lyrics addressed everything from keeping faith ("Northern Star"), love and intimacy ("Closer"), and fear ("Feel the Sun"). Musically, these songs were just as intense as the lyrics, lush, oceanic constructs that relied on symphonic pulls and pushes. Melanie's diversification appeared on "Be the One," a porch acoustic gem and "Goin' Down," a menacing, Benatar flavored stone that let her cut loose.

"I Turn to You," a dark, stormy piece of electronica pulled the meaning out of every word Melanie sang. Sadly, the soul of "I Turn to You" was drained in the remix translation when touched by Hex Hector for its single edit. Thankfully, the album version kept the poetry of the song intact.

Regardless of the rock throb of "Go!" or the  urban slide of "Never Be the Same Again" (featuring the late, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes), Melanie C took the pop hallmark of genre hopping to a place all her own.

The Impact
Upon its United Kingdom release on October 18th, 1999, Northern Star was buoyed by a steady bed of critical acclaim. All Music Guide hard nosed critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine said of the record:
"Melanie C has a fairly strong voice, a good sense of melody, and carries a tune with some personality, which is one of the reasons why the genre-hopping of Northern Star works. She can convincingly deliver everything from the pop balladry of the title track to the snarling, neo-industrial punk statement of purpose "Goin' Down." "
Barry Walters of Rolling Stone echoed a similar sentiment:
"...the distorto-punk first single, "Goin' Down," more than compensates with a butt-kickin' Low-era Bowie homage. Give it up for Gifted Spice."

Commercially, the record measured up to the critical adoration pound for pound. No less than five singles were released from the album starting in 1999 through 2000 in the U.K.: "Goin' Down" (9/29/99, #4 U.K.), "Northern Star" (11/29/99, #4 U.K.), "Never Be the Same Again" (3/20/00, #1 U.K.), "I Turn to You" (8/7/00, #1 U.K.), and "If That Were Me" (11/27/00, #18 U.K.). In Britain the record shifted over 900,000 units, certifying platinum three times there. Globally, the record sold gold (Australia, Austria, and Canada) and platinum (Germany, Sweden) in many markets. The album fared poorly in the United States, peaking outside the U.S. Billboard 200 (#208), though "I Turn to You" became a dance hit (U.S. Dance #1). Northern Star is also one of three solo Spice Girl albums that received an American release.

"Never Be the Same Again" w/ Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes
Directed By: Francis Lawrence

Overall, Northern Star sold over three million copies worldwide at the time of this writing, making it the most commercially successful solo Spice Girls related recording to date. Melanie C's star continued to streak the sky with subsequent releases like Reason (2003), Beautiful Intentions (2005), and This Time (2007). The last two albums were released independently through her own label Red Girl Records. Northern Star holds a specific space in the Spice Girls discography and the overall "turn of the millennium" pop records released 10 years ago. A high standard of quality and passion assisted in it becoming a classic in the making. Another 10 years will be kind to Northern Star and the growing legacy of Melanie C. Five out of five stars.-QH

[Editor's Note: In print, Northern Star can be purchased Stateside in specialty stores or online, Northern Star is quite common in British, European, Japanese, etc. music retailers to this day. For more current information on Melanie C, visit:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Kylie Minogue Does Chicago, 10/7/09!

It's hard being a Kylie Minogue fan in America. My enduring relationship with Ms. Minogue began when I was 17 and she broke Stateside with the already international blockbuster Fever (2001). My musical romance only increased through the years, as evidenced by my massive collection of her work. Her 22 year span rivals that of Madonna in terms of reinvention, placing her as the original "pop princess," sorry Britney. That said, she hasn't been able to crack the U.S. scene, our loss really.

Imagine my glee when I received an e-mail notification announcing her first North American/Canadian tour. Immediately, I snatched up my ticket for her October 7th, 2009 Chicago  gig, the closest to yours truly in Dayton, Ohio. Only a clutch of major U.S. cities, and one major Canadian city, were to be visited by the pop pixie. Minogue discussed that the For You, For Me Tour was to include the best segments of her globe spanning tour spectacles from 2000 through 2008. Of course these segments would be subject to some changes so they'd be slightly recognizable to the faithful, but fresh to the uninitiated.

Last Wednesday evening at the University of Illinois Pavilion Center, amid a sea of gay men (varied in age and color), women, curious students, and a few international supporters, Minogue graced the stage atop her gigantic glittering skull to the Euro-thump of  "Light Years."

Minogue established right off that she was an approachable pop performer who combines arena theatrics with live craft. Her intense live version of her creative milestone "Confide in Me," was beautifully delivered. Additional highlights that showed off Minogue's skills included her acapella rendition of "Your Disco Needs You" from Light Years (2000), it received a rapturous applause from the crowd. "Better Than Today" had Minogue belting out with attitude to the '70's kissed groove of the track. The song is from the sessions for her currently unnamed 11th studio project, in the works now.

The whole of the setlist had a mixture of songs from her S.A.W. days ("What Do I Have to Do," "Shocked") as well as her recent material: "2 Hearts," "Can't Get You Out of My Head," "In Your Eyes," "Slow," etc. Noticeably absent, outside of the mentioned "Confide in Me," was fare from her mid-period albums Kylie Minogue (1994) and Impossible Princess (1997), arguably her finest era and my favorite. To be fair, she has covered this period well on her last two shows. It just would have been nice to have seen those songs featured Stateside, but Minogue satisfied the mass of of her audiences with her setlist selection.

The songs shined with a full band, featuring a three-piece brass section and two backing vocalists. Complimented by a diminutive crop dancers of all colors and genders, Minogue had plenty of support, but led all of the elements with poise and control. Minogue's own stage presence allowed her to break into a few dance steps, but she relied on her singing, immaculate costuming, and charm to sell herself. All of this was hosted on a modern stage set with one of the best laser shows ever witnessed.

Kylie Minogue Departing Chicago, 10/7/09

At two hours, the show rolled smoothly with the crowd wildly attentive, a success! Kylie Minogue is the type of pop music icon that America simply doesn't make and to see her (finally!) in the flesh was truly an experience. The rest of America "should be so lucky."-QH

[Editor's Note: For more information on Kylie Minogue, and her remaining live dates, visit]