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Spice Girls "Spiceworld" and Various Artists' "Lounge-A-Palooza."

By Michael Henningsen, Devin D. O'Leary

NOVEMBER 24, 1997: 

Spice Girls
Spiceworld (Virgin)

My young friend Robin is doing a report on the Spice Girls for school. Until she called and asked if I would help her obtain press materials to aid in her research, I'd never given much thought to the female Brit sensations beyond their appearance on various magazine covers, appearances on talk shows and their distinction as being the butt of many a joke on late-night TV. So it was with some reluctance that I embarked on this mission to convey once and for all my take on the Spice Girls and groups like them. But, given the fact that they are about to become a household name as fleeting as New Kids on the Block and Milli Vanilli, it is work that begs to be done.

To begin with, if you can't see the appeal of the Spice Girls, you're blind or, worse yet, stupid. C'mon, five hyper-sexy women dressed in all the latest fashions, singing candy pop songs--the likes of which have been utterly absent from popular music since Toni Basil took her leave of MTV and the schmaltzy airwaves of new-wave radio. The major difference here is that brilliant marketing, marginal talent and a respectable amount of first-class programming and live instrumental performance have never before come together with such unabashed grandeur and calculated measure. Is it possible--acceptable even--to simply write Spiceworld off as yet another record company ploy intended solely to exploit the figureheads in the group for financial gain? Sure, I guess. But a deeper look into the world of spice reveals at once everything that is right and wrong with modern music. And in that sense, one could gather that Spiceworld represents the perfect balance between prepackaged cool and a perfectly credible "new sensation." To employ for a moment the Elvis Presley method of artist validation, "Can 50,000 Elvis fans be wrong?" Well, were they? I mean really, were they? Currently, there are quite a few more Spice Girls fans.

But record sales and concert attendance records mean little in this world of bit-fast mass marketing. To simply ignore or write off an artist as having no merit, though, based on mass approval and acceptance is as much a crime as pretending to like an artist because one's friends and contemporaries do ... or pretend not to for the same reasons. To make a long story short, there are a few fine songs on Spiceworld and a whole lot of fluff. But I've heard a whole lot worse. So have you. "Spice Up Your Life?" Why the hell not? !!1/2 (MH)

Various Artists
Lounge-A-Palooza (Hollywood Records)

The same folks who gifted us with the staggering Ultra-Lounge collection (20 volumes and counting) have set aside the old-school compilations for a second to concentrate on this volume of freshly cut material. Old-time talents and modern-day favorites have been tossed in a blender with bygone standards and current hits. The resulting mixture is an intoxicating cocktail of time travel strangeness. Current-day leaders of the Cocktail Nation, Combustible Edison, start things off with a bang by bridging the gap between old and new and teaming up with Juan Garcia Esquivel for a za-za-zu-zu-zippy version of Esquivel's "Miniskirt." Barroom favorites Ben Folds Five fashion The Flaming Lips' campy "She Don't Use Jelly" into a horn-and-string saturated version that would have felt at home on any 1950s hi-fi. Old-timers Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme (and a 12-piece orchestra) twist Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" into a Vegas showstopper; one listen to the twinkling piano and the lush vocals, and you'll swear this is exactly what Chris Cornell had in mind when he wrote the song. Thanks to Eric Drew Feldman's churning, sonicly layered arrangement, Brit songstress Polly Jean Harvey's "Zaz Turned Blue" (originally cast in wax by Mel Torme) stretches into an epic, haunting tune with more than a passing resemblance to Portishead. Other contributors handing in their takes on lounge favorites are Glenn Campbell (with Michelle Shocked), Poe, Fun Lovin' Criminals and Cassandra Wilson. With the exception of "Miniskirt" and Pizzicato Five's peppy "Girl From Ipanema," most of the tunes on Lounge-A-Palooza opt for a late-night catatonic lounge jazz feel. It's all very reverent, but I could have tolerated a little more Exotica/Bachelor Pad flavor. !!!! (DO'L)

Alibi Rating Scale:
!!!!!= Angels We Have Heard on High
!!!!= O Come All Ye Faithful
!!!= God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
!!= God Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen
!= God Detest Ye Merry Gentlemen

--reviews by Michael Henningsen and Devin D. O'Leary

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