Sunday, September 23, 2012

The "Stages" of Melanie C's New LP

Lady Chisholm Has Arrived
Melanie C does standards? Correction, Melanie C peers into the classics of the stage for her sixth solo recording and situates herself exquisitely.

In a year that has seen the Spice Girls reappear in the popular music and culture landscapes, the timing of Melanie C's newest album Stages couldn't be better. Then again, Melanie C has been at it as her own woman for over a decade now.

Stages follows behind The Sea
(2011), Melanie's fifth record that gave a knowing kiss to the genre hopping that put her debut Northern Star on the map in 1999. Prior to The Sea, Melanie embarked on a journey to the West End, one that took her back to her pre-Spice Girls roots in studying theatre. Appearing in the Willy Russell produced musical Blood Brothers as Mrs. Johnstone, the six month gig in 2009 gained Melanie a "Best Actress in a Musical" Laurence Olivier Award nomination. Currently starring as Mary Magdalene in the U.K. arena tour version of Jesus Christ Superstar, Melanie has got her authentic threads adorned to pull this record off.

Paired with producer Peter John-Vettese who has worked with Melanie on her past endeavors, as well as her former group mate Geri Halliwell, Vettese took the task of bringing life to known classics with reverence and vitality. The cast of Stages: "Maybe This Time" (from Cabaret), "Another Hundred People" (from Company), "I Know Him So Well" (from Chess), "Aren't You Kind of Glad We Did?" (from The Shocking Miss Pilgrim), "I Don't Know How to Love Him" (from Jesus Christ Superstar), "Both Sides Now" (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), "Ain't Got No/I Got Life" (from Hair), "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" (from Shout! The Mod Musical), "I Only Have Eyes For You" (from Dames), "Tell Me It's Not True" (from Blood Brothers), "My Funny Valentine" (from Babes in Arms), Something Wonderful (from The King & I), and "Anything Goes" (from Anything Goes).

Andrew Lloyd Webber & Chisholm in 2012
The selection is strong and varied, some already pop classics before they transitioned to theatre or found life outside that medium. Specifically "I Only Have Eyes for You," with a stamped take by The Flamingos, and "Both Sides Now." "Sides," made a hit by Judy Collins in 1968, was written by Joni Mitchell who created her own great turns on Blue (1971) and Both Sides Now (2000).

Restraining her powerhouse inclinations, Melanie paints in a subtle and soft tone never encompassed over an entire long player before. It is that knowledge of song reading that makes Stages capture and captivate, because Melanie applies her voice correctly to each song. From the slow dance sway of "Maybe This Time," complete with golden horns and brushed drums, Melanie's never been so seductive. The pace elevates on the dynamic rush of "Another Hundred People" before segueing into the duet calm of "I Know Him So Well."

Partnered with her former group mate Emma Bunton (Baby Spice), it actually is not their first collaboration. In the past they teamed on a colorful cover of The Waitresses chestnut "Christmas Wrapping," the flipside to the Spice Girls single "Goodbye." Melanie also appeared on backing vocals for Bunton's solo tune "(Hey You) Free Up Your Mind" in '99, a lost soundtrack gem that found life as the b-side to her '01 hit "What Took You So Long?" The arrangement is a bit too washed out (if pretty), something that plagues only a few cuts on Stages ("I Only Have Eyes For You" notably). Still, Emma and Melanie's interplay is so relaxed and intoxicating, it will delight longtime Spice fans.

Stages EPK Circa 2012

Promotional Shot for Stages
Elsewhere, Vettese and Melanie collide and spark madly as heard on the initial single "I Don't Know How To Love Him." Melanie C matches the changing moods of the score with conviction, infusing it with passion and power.

The song that bears a true seal of emotion is her take of "Both Sides Now." The words hold meaning for the woman singing them, who has openly struggled with self-love, and recently the separation of her longtime partner Thomas Starr. The eloquence, elegance, and heartache come across clear and realized.

Whether taking a vivacious bite out of "Ain't Got No/ I Got Life" or burnishing the perennial "My Funny Valentine" with an unexpected introduction, Melanie is in versatile form throughout.  Cover records are never easy, but Stages is rare in that it includes comfort and surprise tucked away if one listens closely. Four and a half stars out of five.-QH

[Editor's Note: Stages is available in all digital outlets, "Anything Goes" is an iTunes bonus track only, the version reviewed here is the physical edition. To obtain a physical version, visit your local indie record store or where current updates are available.-QH]

No comments: