Four years after she got back together with the Spice Girls, Melanie Chisholm is stalking much smaller venues.
If the former Sporty Spice is frustrated her solo career has seen diminishing returns, she hides it well. Mel C strides from one corner of the stage to another, as if back at the O2 with that all-conquering quintet, rather than at a King’s Cross club.
At least Chisholm can lay claim to the most sustained post-Spice Girl career. After a couple of big-selling albums early on, she has been self-funded, ironically for someone previously nicknamed Indie Spice when she expressed an interest in Britpop. Her last album came out in 2007, preceding an eventful period that included the reunion, starting a family and garnering respectable notices in long-running musical Blood Brothers. Now she has returned with fifth album The Sea, its mild-mannered pop-rock yet to bother mainstream tastes.
Oddly, Chisholm opens with ‘Rock Me’, a trance anthem abetted by chugging guitars that does not even appear on her fifth album in the UK. A minor hit in Germany, this performer clearly enjoys better success on the continent than David Cameron. As a Portuguese flag is waved near the front, she remarks, “I see there’s another large foreign crowd in tonight.” ‘Weak’, meanwhile, is a forceful ballad that reminds us Sporty always had the best voice in her old group, though the rest of the new material wilts in comparison.
‘One By One’ starts off personably autobiographical, but ends up simpering and cloying, while elsewhere writing-by-committee bogs the singer down with clunking metaphors –trying to burn bridges with dynamite and gasoline or drowning after falling off ice. What saves this portion of the set is her populist touch. Delivering torch songs and upbeat rock with equal commitment, you can understand why she was nominated for an Olivier theatrical award. Chisholm is engaging if not massively lucid between numbers and gamely straps on an acoustic guitar to quietly strum through ‘Burn.’
There are also some fine oldies to keep the set ticking over – the celebratory hi-NRG tune ‘I Turn To You,’ the clipped hip-hop/soul of ‘Never Be The Same Again’ and the sweet ‘Northern Star’. All that, and a guest appearance from showbiz chum Brian May, who provides a genuinely electrifying solo for a romp through Queen’s ‘One Vision’. Sounding here more karaoke than Killer Queen, Chisholm has still shown plenty of girl power.