“A ballad with no tension, just anticipation”

In the introduction my list of best singles of 1997, published in my college paper, I praised “2 Become 1″ as the best of the three top five Spice Girls singles. Then and now I prefer uptempo numbers except when they’re as good as this. I’m happy Tom Ewing agrees:

The situation, first – an encounter in which the guy is hesitant, maybe feels guilty, and certainly is in need of reassurance. (I’m assuming it’s a guy because of the “put it on” safe sex line, though the group sensibly dropped Geri’s clumsy “Boys and girls do good together” line from the LP mix.) This is an unusual setup for pop as we’ve encountered it: men present themselves as vulnerable, but its rarer to see that from a woman’s perspective. Refreshing, too: as with “Say You’ll Be There”, the Spice Girls have taken a classic pop premise and tweaked it to give themselves a lot more autonomy. The soft-focus strings and Tinkerbell keyboard twinkles code this firmly as “slushy romantic ballad” – and it is – but it’s one in which the woman is unwaveringly in control of the situation, and just trying to get her partner to come to the same conclusion she has about what’s going to happen next. It’s a ballad with no tension, just anticipation.

The rumbling three-note string hook after “Set your spirit free/It’s the only way to be” introduces an unexpected ominousness; it’s my favorite of this song’s filigrees.

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