It's difficult to remember a time when Spice Girls' solo careers weren't met with either total apathy or utter bemusement, but at the start of the noughties, Melanie C appeared poised to become the Robbie Williams of the group, with debut Northern Star racking up over a millions sales, spawning two U.K. number one singles, and sticking two fingers up to the skeptics who argued that a girl-band singer, best known for doing back flips in track suits would never appeal to an older album-buying audience. Unfortunately, it's all been downhill since then, and after taking herself too seriously on 2003's underperforming Reason, her solo career has fallen the wayside of her former bandmates', with the self-pitying pub rock of 2005's Beautiful Intentions and 2007's more encouraging but still slightly bland This Time failing to make any kind of impact whatsoever. But while the rest of the Spice Girls appear content to concentrate their efforts on trashy reality shows and fashion ranges, the artist formerly known as Sporty Spice continues to persevere with what she became famous for, as evident on her fifth studio album, The Sea. The good news is that while the four-year gap between her first and second record killed her career, the same lengthy time away this time around appears to have rejuvenated it, as its 11 tracks, co-written with the likes of Starsailor's James Walsh, Guy Chambers, and Spice/Spiceworld producer Richard Stannard, are the most mature and accomplished she's produced in over a decade. Drenched in luscious cinematic strings, the tribal drums and new age melodies of the title track, the Latin-tinged percussion of "Weak," and the twinkling, ambient electronica of the epic eight-minute "Enemy," feature the kind of orchestral production which show that Melanie's sometimes rough-around-the-edges tones have pleasantly mellowed somewhat: "Think About It" and "Stupid Game" are bombastic Katy Perry/Kelly Clarkson-esque pop/rock anthems which prove she can still compete with those who were barely in their teens during the peak of Spicemania, while the grandiose "Get Out of Here" sounds like Muse's cover of "Feeling Good" crossed with a John Barry James Bond score. The X-Factor winner's "Beautiful Mind" and '80s-inspired "Drown" are perhaps just two string-soaked ballads too many, while "Burn," with its simplistic, childlike production, is pure synth pop by numbers. But The Sea is still a huge leap forward from her past three efforts, and had it been released as the follow-up to Northern Star, rather than 12 years down the line, it could possibly have sustained her initial solo success.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien