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Spice Girls

Forever (Virgin)

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Spent force or vital player on the pop scene? Only Spice Girls management knows for sure. Whether they're over or not, the videos will keep pumping, and you can bet there'll be a tour. The latest material is another matter. The Spice Girls' third album proves they know how to pump out the product. What isn't clear is any personality; perhaps the Girls reserve that for their solo projects, like the Gerri Halliwell and Melanie C. records that came out last year. Halliwell, or Ginger, is gone now, however, reducing the Girls to four, primarily distinguishable by their nicknames.

Tunes such as "Right Back at Ya," the goopy "Let Love Lead the Way," "Wasting My Time," and "Oxygen" work for casual listening. You can even dance to them, though more strenuous efforts such as the first single, "Holler" (an unfortunate name), and the execrable "If You Wanna Have Some Fun" will make you shake your booty harder. There's nothing wrong with dumb pop, but this is particularly disappointing when you consider how the Girls burst on the scene nearly five years ago, a distaff version of the Monkees with more chutzpah and sex appeal. Now, they've been reduced to sloganeering; sprinkling this CD with ersatz soul cheerleading and "house" production only set its essential vapidity in higher relief. The low points are "Holler" (one can only hope the video is steamier than the song itself) and "If You Wanna Have Some Fun." The Girls shouldn't have printed the lyrics to their latest effort, because "wink wink nudge nudge" doesn't cut it verbally, even if it moves this clichéd, aerobic song along. The Girls look great, and their stylistic fit still works well, particularly in contrast to such young things as Mandy Moore, true vocalist Christina Aguilera, and überbimbo Britney Spears. But they've traded their personality for longevity, making their moves more careerist than creative.

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