Spice Girls: Spice World (Virgin, CD/tape). Hard to believe, but it's been only a year since the mind-bogglingly famous five released their first album, and since then their success has been so dazzling that it's made some onlookers feel as if they've spent a week in the custody of the Thought Police. You gaze at those mountainous global sales figures and think, well, maybe the Girls' music is the stuff of pop genius after all. This album has come along just in time to put us right. There's no genius in evidence here, apart from that of Virgin's marketing department. But Spice World is 38 minutes of very efficient, straightforward pop. It's soft, it's old-fashioned, and it's a lot more fun and more well-meaning than most of the tripe which pre-teens are fed. "Spice Up Your Life", the faux-South American fiesta single, heralds the Girls' mission to have a bash at as many different genres as possible. There's a passable Motown pastiche, "Stop"; there's some funk and some disco, and there's a disastrous 1930s big-band number at the end. That aside, this is a catchy, skilfully arranged album. You can't knock it - unless, of course, you have some irrational prejudice against the vacuous and derivative. Nicholas Barber
Benjamin Britten: A Ceremony of Carols/Rejoice in the Lamb/Abraham and Isaac, etc. Westminster Abbey Choir/Martin Neary (Sony, CD). The unearthly sound of Michael Chance and Ian Bostridge blending flawlessly into the voice of God for Abraham and Isaac is the big attrac- tion of this disc; and although you can't really believe that Bostridge is tough enough to sacrifice his son, he sings with such exquisite beauty, sense of line and feel for diction that the lack of true grit is a minor issue. But it's only modified rapture for the rest of the release: it's good to have Britten's wedding anthem Amo Ergo Sum and antiphon Praise Be the God of Love on disc, and the boys of the Abbey choir make a clean sound in the Ceremony of Carols, but the recording acoustic for Rejoice in the Lamb is too big and the tempi are too slow. And there's not much motivation in the singing. The Sixteen and the Corydon Singers (both on Hyperion) do it better.