'It's me on a plate, pretty much'. This is how Melanie Chisholm describes the content of 'Reason', her second solo project, and follow-up to 1999's much loved and multi-platinum debut, 'Northern Star'. And what a gourmet feast she represents. With her vocals displaying a new warmth and maturity, and her songwriting yet more boldly assured and energetic than before, she is set to turn any remaining preconceptions about her upside down. This is not the work of a manufactured pop puppet, but that of a richly gifted and imaginative artist. In both personal and artistic terms, 'Reason' is a joy and triumph and a giant step forwards. You didn't have to be an avid Spice-watcher to know that, with 'Northern Star', Melanie fared far better commercially and critically than did her former colleagues with their own first individual projects. Which was very nice, she admits, but something of an irrelevance. 'I've never felt that I was in competition with the other girls. I think any one of them would tell you that, during the time we were in the band, I was the one who was most serious about her music, and the most driven.'
She had rushed headlong into the writing and recording of that album, immediately after the mutual decision had been made to call a halt to what had been the biggest global pop phenomenon of the 1990s. 'It was an amazing, amazing ride', she says now. 'I can't say I enjoyed every minute of it. I can't say I loved every song we did. But it was just an out-of-this-world experience, something incredible to have been a part of.' That said, being one of five, then one of four, had meant learning to live with compromise and frustration, most especially in musical terms. No wonder, then, that she couldn't wait to start expressing her solo self. 'I went straight into 'Northern Star' off the back of the Spice Girls final tour, which may have been a bit of a mistake. But the fact is I couldn't help myself. I was just so excited by the freedom of it all. And to find that so many great people wanted to work with me... I just went crazy...Mental.
" I so loved the whole process of making a record that was all about me and my tastes, and which didn't have to be put together by committee.' That sense of excitement and self-expression permeated all 12 of 'Northern Star's' tracks. But how would it be received? Having enjoyed Top Three success the previous year as featured vocalist on the Bryan Adams hit 'When You're Gone', Melanie now prepared to stand alone. To their great credit, British consumers proved happy and willing to look, listen, and quickly put away all received notions of who or what Sporty Spice represented. Acceptance of the new, lone Melanie was such that a first single, 'Goin' Down', debuted at Number Four in October of 99, and the album's title track replicated that achievement in the crowded Christmas chart two months later. But it was 'Never Be The Same Again', written with a team that included the late Lisa Left Eye Lopes, which would fully break 'Northern Star' in April of 2000. In doing so, it gave Melanie her first solo Number One single. 'I Turn To You' would give her a second, four months later.
In preparing for that album's release, she had made it clear to company executives that she didn't intend to promote it merely by flying from one territory to the next, schmoozing a room full of sales and media personnel, and then miming to a track for three minutes. True to her word, then, and with former Spice drummer Fergus Gerrand as her musical director, she set about putting together the band that would tour with her for two full years, thus notching up a total of 124 gigs and festival performances - more than the Girls achieved in their entire career. Returning home to London finally in September of last year, Melanie intended to take time out to breathe, to just allow herself to live a life... Not possible. The singer and composer within her wouldn't switch off. Two months later, she was back in the studio, and the fruits of a writing and recording marathon that zigzagged back and forth between London and Los Angeles are now ready for us to enjoy. 'Reason' is, save for one exception, an album of wholly original material.
This time round, Melanie's songwriting collaborators include such stellar names as Rick Nowels, Gregg Alexander, Tore Johansson, Rhett Lawrence and Phil Thornalley. Rick, Gregg, Tore and Rhett also take production credits, along with Marius de Vries, Peter Vettese, Pat McCarthy, Damien Le Gassick and Gary Clark. The first single, written with Marius and former Blow Monkey Dr Robert Howard, is the insidious and irresistible 'Here It Comes Again'. It's the aperitif to an album that is uplifting, insightful, exciting, energetic and reflective, all at one and the same time. How true a portrait does it provide of its maker, meanwhile? Melanie thinks for a moment or two, and then smiles. 'I think it offers up a pretty accurate reflection of who I am and where I'm at now. It's generally positive, which is the way I'm trying to go these days. It says I've found myself in what is generally a good place, but that I still have my moments of darkness and insecurity - as, I think, everyone does'. 'In that sense, I hope people will be able to identify with it and hence with me. In summary, and as I said at the outset, it's pretty much me on a plate. Oh, and could I just say that I'm very, very excited by and proud of it? I could? Well, thank you very much!' The single 'Here It Comes Again' is released February 24th on Virgin The album 'Reason' is out March 10th.