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Bland Spice

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Like musical herpes, the Spice Girls just keep on coming. With their third full-length release, Forever, the pesky pop trash queens have spawned another forgettable outbreak. Gone are the cutesy nicknames, the slutty ringleader and character-costume coordination. Now, the Britpop divas have opted for a more mature look, shedding their names and their wardrobes in a last-ditch effort to redeem the unredeemable.

But what of their distinctive, pre-Britney pop blend? The tracks on Forever are quite a departure from the "Wannabe" days of '96, but despite the transition, there's little to celebrate.

The lead single, "Holler," marks an unimpressive foray into stateside urban-pop, a genre already cluttered with schlock like TLC and Pink. In fact, "Holler's" opening guitar sequence nearly samples the intros to both "No Scrubs" and "There You Go." And not to be missed is the "Dark Child" shoutout, courtesy of wünderkind R&B producer Rodney Jerkins, who helped to resurrect Whitney Houston and is currently charging the paddles for the King of Pop.

It seems Jerkins and fellow A-list producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the hit-churning duo behind Janet Jackson's "Doesn't Really Matter" and a host of other smashes, have done their best to infuse the Girls with a dose of rhythm and bass. Here, their success is mixed, the product homogenized.

Forever chugs through its first seven tracks with a near-constant, mid-tempo beat fit to lull a metronome into sleep mode. "Right Back At Ya," the Girls' "triumphant" comeback anthem, features another shameless TLC ripoff-a faux-Japanese club-synth sequence. The track, like the slower "Weekend Love," also boasts an obnoxious cockney rap interlude courtesy of Scary Spice Mel B.

The similarly uninspired "Groove With Me" ventures into vocoder-ville but returns empty-handed. And don't let "Wasting My Time" fool you-it's your four minutes you'll be missing at the end of this one.

Forever cools off with a quartet of downtempo cuts. The asphyxiating "Oxygen" belongs on a compilation disc with Whitney's "Exhale" and Faith Hill's "Breathe." The album's closer is 1998's "Goodbye," which, alongside "Holler" and the sugar coated ballad "Let Love Lead the Way" is among the only bearable offerings.

This latest Spice Girls product is an underwhelming amalgam of played-out gimmicks and laughable lyrics. The guilty-pleasure appeal of its predecessors Spice and Spiceworld is gone. And if they keep up the artistic pretense on this album, the Spice Girls won't be around Forever.


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