Released: 23rd October 2000
Writers: Rodney Jerkins / LaShawn Daniels / Fred Jerkins III / Harvey Mason Jr. / Victoria Beckham / Melanie Brown / Emma Bunton / Melanie Chisholm
Peak position: #1
Chart run: 1-3-10-22-31-38-39-43-46-42-46-62-54-54-64-66-69
If you were to ask the general public (of a certain age) about any of the Spice Girls’ singles up to and including Goodbye, they could probably muster an opinion. Such was the group’s phenomenal impact on popular culture that ignorance was not an option. But mention Holler/Let Love Lead The Way, and there might be a flicker of recognition, at best. Conversely, few releases generate such debate and discussion within the Spice-community as this double-A side: the black sheep of the group’s back-catalogue and their last #1 single.
The Forever-era is one of the most fascinating periods in Spice Girls history. It was fraught with challenges; the absence of Geri Halliwell being the most obvious one. Her departure from the group led to a rather drastic overhaul in their sound. One that is hard to imagine would have occurred under her watchful eye. But that’s less a factor in Let Love Lead The Way or – indeed – any of the ballads from Forever since they were probably the least affected of the material. But other factors were pressing on the group; the biggest one was their blossoming solo commitments, which heavily dictated how Forever was promoted. Melanie B had released her debut album Hot scarcely a month earlier, while Melanie C was rounding off the Northern Star campaign, having scored two #1 singles. Even Emma Bunton and Victoria Beckham had dipped their toes in the water as solo artists by this point. The group had enjoyed much success during their hiatus, but they were no longer an infallible pop force that pumped out record-breaking, chart-topping singles. In their absence, a new generation of pop acts had appeared and were starting to make their mark (while breaking their own records in the process). Amid reports of fractured recording sessions and a miserable album launch party, Forever suddenly started to feel like a burden to the group, which should never have been the case with a new Spice Girls album.
Thus, the backdrop to this single was a recipe for disaster. But the saving grace is that both Holler and Let Love Lead The Way were brilliant comeback tracks. There is no escaping the fact they both present a challenge within the Spice Girls canon, and the one facing Let Love Lead The Way is this: it’s not their best ballad. How could it be when the group has songs like 2 Become 1 and Viva Forever in their back catalogue? However, that’s often where any fair assessment of the track is abandoned, which does it a bit of a disservice because this is great, nonetheless, and features a phenomenal performance from the group – particularly Melanie C – that was quite unlike any they’d done before.
It helps if you love a big old schmaltzy ballad because Let Love Lead The Way is about as syrupy as they come. But that was the Spice Girls’ signature sound when it came to their more tender moments. The only real advancement from the formula had been Viva Forever, which remained very much an anomaly. The most significant shift from the group’s earlier material was the production, helmed by Rodney Jerkins; the song has a booming, glossy finish that seems more suited to the closing credits of a major Hollywood movie. While many critics complained the Spice Girls had lost their quintessentially British charm by aligning themselves with a mostly American production team on Forever, that’s not entirely true here. Throughout Let Love Lead The Way lies an understated drumbeat that sounds almost like a sombre military march. It doesn’t ebb or flow with the rest of the track; it merely plays with regimented consistency and precision. That subtle touch grounds the song with the very identity that was purported to be missing from the rest of the album.
Melodically, Let Love Lead The Way is very much a Spice Girls ballad-by-numbers, which is no bad thing. However, where it comes into its own is the performance. Although this was the group’s big comeback, the fact they were all – to varying degrees – now recording as solo acts elevated the song. There is a case to be made that neither Emma Bunton or Melanie C had laid down better vocals than the ones they deliver here. For Emma Bunton, Let Love Lead The Way marks an important transition; she ditches her cutesy persona and emerges as the mother of the group, now possessing a warm, womanly tone. The second chorus is essentially The Emancipation of Baby Spice, as she takes charge of the song and metamorphosises before our ears. And then there’s Melanie C, now an established artist in her own right and with more reason than most to merely phone in the performance. Banish any such thought because she smashes it out of the park. There’s an extraordinary softness to her voice, still every bit as reliably powerful but with some of the more abrasive edges smoothed off. It’s barely possible to pick a highlight, but the final chorus is goosebump-inducing:
Part of me laughs
Part of me cries (I CRY)
Part of me wants to question why (question WHY)
Why is there joy (so much JOY)
Why is there pain (so much PAIN)
Why is there sunshine then the rain (SHINE then the RAIN)
One day you’re here (you’re HERE)
Nextyou are gone (you’re GONE)
No matter what we must go on (and I W-I-I-I-I-I-LL)
Just keep the faith
And let love lead the way (LEAD the way)
It’s a phenomenal showcase, and – at that moment – feels epically triumphant. But where are Melanie B and Victoria Beckham while all this is going on? Well, Melanie B, in particular, may take onus to the radio edit, which ditches her chorus completely. But this is – despite the individual highlights – much more than four solo singers on one song; it’s very much a group performance, and the core melody is every bit as important as everything going on around it.
The accompanying music video is a suitably pleasant affair; it uses a similar concept to Holler, with each of the girls representing one of the elements. The video is most striking when it utilises the more vivid colours, particularly the blues of the water (Melanie C) and the greens of the earth (Emma Bunton). There’s little to fault in the overall aesthetic quality; the video has an almost filmic-looking glossy appearance. And, of course, as the song builds to a climax, the four elements come together in explosive – and dramatically slowed down – fashion. That said, the styling for the Forever campaign wasn’t the best, and it’s clear that more effort was directed towards Holler, which is understandable since it was very much the main focus of the single. Let Love Lead The Way was the contingency plan: insurance in case Holler completely tanked. In that sense, the video is successfully functional, but if you’ve seen it once, then you probably never need to see it again, regardless of how nice it looks.
Of course, Holler/Let Love Lead The Way debuted at #1 in the UK. But it was much less a foregone conclusion than a brand-new Spice Girls single normally would be. The single sold 106,000 copies in its first week, putting it about halfway down the list of biggest sales for a #1 single in 2000. Notably, both of Melanie C’s chart-toppers that year had considerably better first weeks, as indeed did Victoria Beckham when Out Of Your Mind debuted at #2. However, at that point, there was a more significant threat looming on the horizon in the shape of Westlife. They promptly dethroned the group after just one week and then went head-to-head with them in the album chart a few weeks later, where they emerged victoriously. The truth is, the momentum was no longer with the Spice Girls as a pop act. That’s not to dismiss their achievements; a #1 single and a #2 album is hardly a disaster in anyone’s books. And, had the group wanted to continue promoting Forever with the same tenacity that they had their earlier efforts, most fans would accept that – in commercial terms, at least – their best days were behind them. The worst thing is that the whole project screamed “contractual obligation”; the passion was gone. You need only look at the energy and enthusiasm of the Spice Girls’ recent reunion to see what was missing here.
Let Love Lead The Way is nonetheless a worthy addition to the group’s catalogue, albeit one perhaps better enjoyed out of context. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful performance, which marks a palpable evolution of the Spice Girls’ voices, even if not their sound.