ropping the surname for this, her second solo release, Emma Bunton aka Baby Spice uses Free Me to extricate herself from a variety of things. Musically, Bunton is saying goodbye to the somewhat schizophrenic style-hopping that marked A Girl Like Me and replacing it with a 60s theme throughout. Along with this, she’s also moved labels, from Virgin to Polydor after being dropped because of her lackluster sales performance, in comparison to expectations. And, of course, the surname. Seeking to carve out her iconic niche in the market, Ms. Bunton has made it so that there’s no other official way to refer to her.
The album begins with the title track, which can only be described, because of its orchestral arrangement, key changes and subject, as one of the best failed Bond songs from the recent past. It’s followed up by “Maybe” an upbeat homage to the swinging 60s presumably, which works much better due to the lack of context that surrounds it. Additionally, the song doesn’t ask much of her range, in contrast to the voice straining “Sunshine on a Rainy Day” from A Girl Like Me, allowing her to vamp as much as she wants.
“I’ll Be There” is the third single, the previous two being the aforementioned tracks, and it’s probably the best of the bunch. Unlike those tracks, “I’ll Be There” has both a style indebted to the 60s and one all its own. It also contains some of the album’s best production, featuring two false endings, a bridge with a harmonica solo and swelling and trilling strings that add a nice dash of melodic color.
The other major highlights of the album that haven’t been released as singles are varied and plentiful. “Crickets Sing For Anamaria” is Marcos Valle’s undeniable Tropicalia track reworked, riding a clapping riddim and Emma’s harried vocal performance. It’s the only cover here and nearly makes up for the Edie Brickell cover version on her previous album. Almost.
“Who the Hell Are You?” also bears mentioning, going towards shedding her nice girl image by telling the subject of the song that he’s not worth it if he’s going to treat her badly. It’s also the first time that very obviously modern production makes its appearance on the record.
But, by and large, the album sticks to its formula of 60s string flourishes and understated and gorgeous pop. And that’s what it’s good at. Because despite the fact that along the way, Bunton has dispatched the strange personality-making asides that helped to unify A Girl Like Me such as the incessant giggling that permeated otherwise disparate tracks, it’s with good reason. Her personality is now, although couched in a 60s London form, finally coming to the fore. As Emma herself says on the closer “this is something that’s quite beautiful / Found what I’ve been looking for”. Herself.