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Spice and Everything Catchy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Critics may dismiss the Spice Girls’ cheery pop songs as so much fluff, but the English quintet isn’t about to apologize for its international success.

The female vocal group, brought together four years ago when the show-biz hopefuls responded individually to an advertisement seeking young singers for a distaff pop band, is too busy spreading its aural sunshine around the globe.

Its debut U.S. single, “Wannabe,” has sold about 4 million copies worldwide and soared to No. 1 in more than three dozen countries, reaching the top spot on the U.S. chart just this week as its album, “Spice,” was being released on this side of the Atlantic.

“We write positive songs with positive messages,” says Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm, trying to explain the group’s success. “There’s been a lot of negativity in music over recent years--with the grunge scene and gangsta rap and stuff like that. What we’re about is having a laugh and having fun, and I think people enjoy seeing other people enjoying themselves.”

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The catchy songs and the group’s girl-next-door image has helped create a sensation among young girls in England, where interest in the group members, all in their early 20s, has made their private lives ripe for the tabloids.

“We’re not beautiful,” Chisholm says. “That’s something we’re proud of: None of us is a supermodel, none of us is super-thin.

“We’re not the glamorous pop-star type that you’d expect. We’re five normal girls from England. . . .

“We’ve come up against a lot of preconceptions. People don’t believe we write our own stuff, people think there’s a manager behind us pulling all the strings. That isn’t the way it is, and we could stand up and scream it till we’re blue in the face, but we really don’t care.”

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What they care about as they prepare for a promotional blitz of America this year and a world tour in 1998 is preaching “girl power” to an English pop scene that has long been dominated by all-male bands.

“There’s a feeling among young girls that girls are getting a lot stronger,” Chisholm says. “It’s an image that we want to portray so young girls can see that we’re doing well and achieving, and that they can do the same.”

Cough It Up: M. Doughty, leader of the New York-based art-rock band Soul Coughing, is living the dream of every frustrated rock critic or concert ticket-taker who aspired to be a musician.

He was both.

A former doorman at the Knitting Factory in New York who once wrote record reviews for the New York Press, Doughty assembled the group from among the players he’d seen at the club.

“We got together mostly out of curiosity,” Doughty says of the quartet, which plays Feb. 14 and 15 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. “I think [drummer] Yuval [Gabay] heard a folk tape of mine, which is why he accepted the supreme indignity of a gig backing up a doorman.”

The four members clicked immediately, Doughty says, and Soul Coughing (slang for “heavy vomiting”) has released two critically acclaimed albums, 1994’s “Ruby Vroom” and last year’s “Irresistible Bliss,” which both feature a mix of rock, jazz, soul and hip-hop.

A single from the new album, “Super Bon Bon,” ranks among the Top 30 most-played songs on Billboard magazine’s “modern rock” chart as Soul Coughing returns to the Southland only three months after playing a sold-out show at the El Rey in November.

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The band’s success has even made a believer out of Doughty’s father, who teaches military history at West Point.

“He’s psyched that I’ve got some kind of wage going down,” says the singer-songwriter. “He was none too pleased with my punk rock years, as you can probably imagine. But that fact that other people seem to like this . . . I think he gets a kick out of that.”


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