Melanie C - Northern Star Melanie C
Northern Star

The first solo album from Melanie C (aka Melanie Chisholm, aka Sporty Spice) has a harder edge than the Spice Girls' usual fluff pop material, though it still stays firmly in the bubblegum pop arena. Chisholm probably won't win awards for astounding solo vocal talent, but she carries these tunes well, and the beats and hooks on most of these 12 tracks are so infectious that she really just needs to show up at the mic and emote energy — which she's great at. "Go!" mines a '60s aura for its crunchy charm and the previously released Big Daddy soundtrack song "Ga Ga," sounds like Garbage on a lusty sugar high. Then there's "Goin' Down," an eye-opener for anyone who dismisses this as just another kidstuff Spice project. With a rock hard beat, fuzzed-out guitars and her own heavily processed vocals, this one would spin well at alternative radio and in hip clubs — not something the Spice's ever managed.

The best part about Chisholm's debut is the wide range of material she tackles. "Northern Star" is a pretty, Madonna-esque ballad, "I Turn to You" is a tension-filled ambient dance anthem, and "Never Be the Same Again" mixes sing-song love lyrics with a Casio-simple "I Just Called to Say I Love You" bass and key background. Then there's "Suddenly Monday," a stunningly perfect piece of early '70s la-la-la piano pop that the Partridge Family could have had a hit with.

Northern Star is a buoyantly celebratory debut from perhaps the most undersung but most talented Spice Girl. This year the C's have it — Christina Aguilera, Vitamin C, and Melanie C are the guilty pleasure pop discs of 1999.


New on the Shelves:

The Christmas shopping craze is just around the corner, and the "Best Of" collections have already begun to pile up in anticipation of the "what can I get him/her" season.

Sony/Legacy has released Luther Vandross' Greatest Hits, which includes "Never Too Much," "Power of Love/Love Power," "Here and Now," "Don't Want to Be a Fool," and 10 more tracks.

The Legacy label has also issued another greatest hits set for America's best-loved pop-folk duo since The Everly Brothers. The Best of Simon & Garfunkel offers every hit the duo had on Columbia in a 20-song collection that spans 1965-1975.

Toad the Wet Sprocket played its last show here in Chicago on New Year's Eve 1997, and Columbia has at last issued a swan song collection from the critically acclaimed moderate rock band. PS A Toad Retrospective has all their hits like "Good Intentions," "Walk on the Ocean," "Fall Down," "Something's Always Wrong," "Come Down," and a remix of "All I Want." It also includes bonuses for fans in the upbeat, jangly title track, "P.S." which was previously only available in another version for the band's fan club members, the cinematically orchestral "Silo Lullaby," which appeared as a hidden track on their last disc Coil (it was only accessible by computer) and a previously unreleased track in "Eyes Open Wide."

With only two solo CDs under her belt, it seems a little premature for Natalie Merchant to be releasing a live album. But her Live in Concert on Elektra contains crowd-noise-augmented versions of her hits "Wonder" and "Carnival," but also covers of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" (which is serving as the first single for this set) and Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush," as well as Katell Keineg's "The Gulf of Araby."

Celine Dion - All The WayRather than present all of her hits, Celine Dion's new All the Way...A Decade of Song features nine of her biggest smashes along with seven new tracks. The set is divided between old and new with the "hits" section including "The Power of Love," "If You Asked Me To," "Beauty and the Beast," "It's All Coming Back To Me Now," "My Heart Will Go On," and "I'm Your Angel" (it covers most of her "monster" hits but omits her first Top 5 single "Where Does My Heart Beat Now"). The title track of the set may, however, be its centerpiece. Dion duets with Frank Sinatra on his romantic masterpiece, "All The Way."

Perry Farrell's new collection seems to be a bit of a bait and switch. From the title on the spine (Perry Farrell - Rev) you'd think this was a new solo album from the controversial Lollapalooza founder. But instead, this is actually a "Best Of" set covering 14 of his songs from his days with Jane's Addiction and Porno For Pyros, along with two new Farrell solo songs the frantically guitar grinding title track, "Rev," and a weak techno cover of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love."