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:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now I might have to look at that album from a totally different perspective. I was never a fan of her voice at all, but I can try again of course. :)