Spice Girls head for the top but are nowhere to be seen

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Two years have passed since the last Spice Girls single, but now, just when music lovers thought they could relax, along comes another one.

Two years have passed since the last Spice Girls single, but now, just when music lovers thought they could relax, along comes another one.

With it comes the prospect of one of the more chilling statistics in rock history: if it gets to No 1, the the Girls will beat the Rolling Stones' total of chart-toppers.

The double A-side "Holler" and "Let Love Lead the Way" is widely tipped to reach No 1 by the end of the week and put the all-girl group in the same league as Abba, with nine chart-topping singles.

Despite the importance of the record, the girls were apparently too busy to indulge in the sort of promotional frenzy that each has been devoting to their solo projects. Emma Bunton, formerly known as Baby but now officially grown up, was in the United States yesterday, while Mel C, aka Sporty, was on her European tour. Mel B and Victoria Beckham, formerly known mostly as Scary and Posh, were "around but not doing anything", according to their official spokesman. There were the inevitable whispers from inside the industry that the girls, having proved themselves as solo artists, were now less interested in the band that made them famous.

Only one Spice Girls single has failed to reach the number one slot, the appropriately titled "Stop" breaking their run in 1998 shortly before Geri Halliwell left. Since then Mel C has managed two number ones and Emma and Victoria have both made it to second place. Mel B reached number one with her first solo record in 1998, but has failed to measure up since. Her debut album entered the charts at 28 last week.

The new single is up against releases from Gabrielle, Martine McCutcheon and Ricky Martin, but none of them is thought to offer any real competition. Jason Legg, a chart expert at HMV, where the single was selling steadily yesterday, said: "Nothing can stand in their way. They've covered all bases - there's the upbeat 'Holler' on one side and a slow ballad on the other for the more mature market."

Nemone, presenter of the Saturday morning breakfast show on Radio 1, said the single was still indisputably Spice, but that they had a more mature sound. "It's less catchy than their old stuff and there's no doubt they are trying to take their very young fan base on with a more mature sound but, that said, they can still cut it as the Spice Girls and it will probably go to No 1."

John McKie, editor of Smash Hits, said: "They have all done very well as solo artists and if anything the public appetite is bigger for them as a group than on their own, so they can't lose. It must be frustrating for Virgin Records that they can't clone them and get them to do more publicity, but they are very busy doing their own things. They are still great as a band but it will be a close fight with the Baha Men for the No 1 spot."

The real fight will come on 6 November when both the Spice Girls and the boy band Westlife release albums. But whoever makes it to the top will probably only be there for one week as The Beatles Album 1, a collection of all their UK chart-toppers, is then released.