02/04/1997 3:00 AM, LAUNCH
English sensation the Spice Girls are a study in perfect pop packaging--something of a British En Vogue crossed with a grown-up New Kids On The Block. But there's more to them than that: They write their own songs and they're surprisingly good.
The Girls conveniently possess five very individual and identifiable personalities, have been No. 1 more or less everywhere else in the world, are rivaled only by Oasis in U.K. tabloid press coverage and promote a unified belief in "girl power," a well-balanced manifesto for young women everywhere (not unlike Madonna's "Express Yourself" message) that is neither twee nor riot grrrl-angry. To wit, in the euphemism-laden first single, "Wannabe," all the Girls want to do is "zig-a-zig-ahhh," yet warn (in "Love Thing"), "God help the mister that comes between me and my sisters!"
Then there's the music, which owes as much to the stellar production teams of Stannard & Rowe and Absolute (dance music gurus Paul Wilson and Andy Watkins) as it does to the Girls' pop/R&B sensibilities. "2 Become 1" and "Mama" are glossy ballads that would do Mariah Carey proud, while "Love Thing" and album standout "Naked" are as soulful and funky as anything by T.L.C. or acid-jazzers Brand New Heavies.
In the wake of grunge's misery, industrial's noise-filled bitterness and Oasis's trad-rock decadence, this is pure, upbeat ear candy. Will Spice find a place among the greatest albums of all-time? Probably not. Is it one of the most fun and exciting pop releases of this year? Absolutely--and that's the whole point.