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Emma Bunton / Dannii Minogue: London Astoria G.A.Y.

Baby unveils her new album - and it's great!

Emma Bunton / Dannii Minogue: London Astoria G.A.Y.

Dannii has been responsible for four or five cracking pop singles, but when your sister has made 30+ who's counting? Even her role as sulky Emma in 'Home And Away' is but a blob of grease on Charlene's khaki overalls. Yup, it's fair to say that despite being the one 63% of all men would like to do it with (according to University Of Leicester's 1997 study: 'Famous Ladies Men Like') Dannii Minogue has spent her career in Kylie's shadow.

But a starring role in a West End musical is something big sis has yet to do. 'Minogue makes magic!' is the tabloid quote dominating the Dominion theatre's advertisement for 'Notre Dame De Paris', and while it may not be in the same alliterative league as 'Buddy brilliant!' it's probably the best review Dannii's ever had.

If Dannii's only claim to fame were the single 'This Is It' she'd still be welcome at G-A-Y for the rest of her life but tonight she's giving a one song taster of the epic 'popera' she performs nightly just a few yards from this theatre. Hi-NRG beats pump, strings swoop, and Dannii strides on in a Parisian dress and braided hair. She belts out 'Live For The One I Love' with gusto, finishing with an acappella tribute to the G-A-Y crowd. No bells, no hunchbacks (sadly), just Dannii back at the top and back in our lives.

It would be foolish to write off a Minogue, such is their ability to return from the brink of disaster. It'd be similarly unwise to doubt the staying power of a Spice Girl too. While the freaks and witches at the nation's 'red tops' cackle at a perceived Girl Power demise, the solo Spice revolution has been quietly happening under their noses. And successful solo careers are not easy to come by. Boyzone and Take That spawned only one and a half each, East 17 just a half, and Paul Cattermole's cover of 'Pass The Dutchie' is unlikely to set the charts ablaze. But Geri, Mel C, and Mel B have all scored number one singles and Victoria and Emma look very likely to do the same within the year. What other group could boast that? Try and name one. Go on!

Tonight, in the presence of the ubiquitous Emma's mum, Baby Bunton is giving the world its first glimpse of her solo album 'A Girl Like Me'. Judging by the opening number, the world is in for a treat. It's all Motown stomp but with an authentic Southern swagger (the kind of thing Primal Scream used to try and do but fail on account of them being rubbish and taking drugs!).

Next up is a cover of the Zoe (where now?) song 'Sunshine On A Rainy Day' and, unlike the pleasant but unnecessary 'What I Am', this is a triumph. The verse is all stripped down funky bass and truncated sample loops but the chorus erupts with a gospel choir that even R Kelly might consider OTT. It brings to mind a Coke advert on a mountain top. It is very big.

It's down to new single 'What Took You So Long?' to close the evening and a thousand people in the audience turn to their partners and whisper "I love this one". It is one of those songs. If it hasn't already, it will get under your skin. Emma's voice live is, remarkably, stronger than on record and her boundless energy is matched by the crowds rapturous appreciation. Practice the speech now: "I don't normally like the Spice Girls but..."

Timothy Mark

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