Eternal: the spice-free girls of soul

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The Independent Culture
Take That's last tour was back in 1995. The Spice Girls' first tour isn't due until 1998. If you're going to stake your claim as pop's top entertainer, now's the time to do it.

Eternal have got the scale right at least. The London trio's show in the Manchester Arena on Tuesday was a grand affair, with no shortage of dancers, props and costume changes (although they really should have changed out of their motorcycle suits before coming on stage). There was some shaky comedy and some shakier tap-dancing. There were even some decent songs. Eternal's weightless gospel-soul is executed efficiently enough on "Power of a Woman" and "Don't You Love Me" to explain why they've sold two million albums in Britain. But what about America?

Given that everything about Eternal, right down to the Whitney Houston wobble of Easther's coloraturas, is designed to prise open the door of the Toni Braxton market, they must have been sickened when the less formulaic Spice Girls strolled past them into the US charts. The problem may be that America has a surplus of homegrown, shiny R'n'B as it is. Why should they import the stuff from Britain? Adequate as Eternal are, they're not quite the best or the most beautiful singers, and their songs, one suspects, are those which Toni and Whitney rejected beforehand.

This show, meanwhile,was the product of more perspiration than inspiration. Yes, there were dancers, but we've seen those vigorous aerobics routines before. Yes, there was stagecraft, but a lack of nerve stopped it short of the mark. For instance, Eternal performed John Lennon's surrealist self-portrait, "Come Together". Whereas Take That did a whole Beatles medley, while wearing Beatles suits and looming overhead on a hydraulic platform. Still, in a post-Take That world, Eternal live are as good-value a pop extravaganza as is available ... for now.

The main prop used by Peter Andre at the Brighton Centre on Monday was his own torso. For those not familiar with this chart-topping Australian, Andre is a Chippendale impersonating Michael Jackson. He has copied Jackson's moves, his robotic combination of smoothness and jerkiness. He has copied Jackson's voice: high and yearning, with moments of phlegmy roughness, and punctuated by odd little percussive gasps. He has Jackson's indeterminate pigmentation, too, although Andre's skin seems to be getting darker as time goes on, not paler.

But Andre isn't in line for the King of Pop's throne. He tries reggae, swingbeat and funk, but never with much inspiration, and the music was a muffled irrelevance for most of the show. No one complained. What mattered to the 3,000 pre-teen girls in attendance was that Andre looks like Michelangelo's David on steroids.

The first half-hour of his show goes like this. 9.18: Peter starts singing. He wears an anorak made of bin-liners. 9.23: He unzips the anorak, but - easy now - he has a pair of dungarees on underneath. 9.24: The top is off! The dungarees keep his pecs partially covered, though. 9.27: Calm down. Peter puts on a white plastic raincoat. 9.43: He flicks up the coat to reveal a glimpse of eggbox stomach. 9.37: And it's off! The lights come up for a new song and Peter is topless. 9.38: To prevent mass faintings, a dancer brings on a white shirt for Peter to slip on. A minute later, he pulls it off his shoulders, then back on, then off again, then on again. It's a volume switch. Every time he unveils his all-over tan, the hall shakes with screams. When he covers himself up, the screams stop just as suddenly.

Andre goes on to model a selection of kagoules, but once we've seen The Body, his body of work is an anti-climax, even if he does seem a hard- working, well-meaning fellow. As an encore, he perched on a stool and sang a sensitive ballad he wrote for a terminally-ill fan. Two girls behind me shouted, "Kit off! Kit off!" all the way through.

On a rather different note, on Thursday I made a rare sighting of Ike Turner. Depending on how you look at it, Turner is either a drug-addled megalomaniac who abused at least one of his 13 wives, or the legendary creator of rock'n'roll: a violent husband or a founding father. The crowd who saw his guest spot at Joe Louis Walker's show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire knew where they stood on the issue: They like Ike.

In a dandy gangster's cream three-piece suit, and with black, flat-topped hair, Turner, 65, seemed too young to play a boogie he learnt "when I was a kid, 55 years ago". His age betrayed itself in his gurgling, unsteady voice and his stiff fingers, but the former weakness only abetted his soulful delivery, and the latter didn't stop him attacking both piano and guitar with dramatic, volatile flair.

He could pass for a man 20 years his junior: that is, only 20 years older than the questionably talented vocalist who joined in on two songs. Coincidentally, this buxom, peroxide country gal is Mrs Turner Mk XIII. She's no match for Mk II, but perhaps, after all this time, one shouldn't even mention Tina. Still, one new song that Ike has co-written with Walker goes: "You took my time, and my name, too / There's gonna be murder in the first degree." You can't help but wonder whom he has in mind.

Eternal: Reading Rivermead, 01734 504343, tonight; Cardiff Arena, 01222 224488, Tues; Nottingham Royal Centre, 0115 948 2626, Wed & Thurs; Brighton Centre, 01273 202881, Fri.