Monday, August 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Ms. Geri Halliwell

Halliwell today
Hailing from working class Watford, England, Geri Halliwell made up one-fifth of a defining female group in popular music: the Spice Girls. Along with Melanie's Brown and Chisholm, Victoria Beckham, and Emma Bunton, the Spice Girls hit the ground running with their cheeky, whip-smart pop tunes.

The drama that ensued after Halliwell's departure from the group in the spring of 1998 isn't unknown. It all ended up fine, the Spice Girls went on as a four piece, solo careers followed sparked by Halliwell's own solo start in 1999. The Spice Girls formally reunited in late 2007 and wrapped their story on a high note. Today, the Spice Girls music endures in many different forms. Their legacy extends to the varied shapes of career paths each Spice Girl has carved out. Currently, Melanie C remains the sole active group member to continually release new music. Though Geri Halliwell has been inactive on the music front since 2005, her own discography is epic in its own right. Halliwell released three full length recordings: Schizophonic (1999), Scream If You Wanna Go Faster (2001), and Passion (2005). Two of the three long players met with commercial gains, Passion being the only one that was a disappointment sales wise at the time of its release.

Love her or loathe her, Halliwell's pop everywoman stature established her as the glamazon young women aspired to, gay men worshipped, and knowing (if embarrassed) music aficionados (silently) cheered for. Now, in the era of pop death we dwell in, Halliwell's musical potency is being rediscovered. The enduring quality of her artistry, regardless of the limitation of her (pleasurable) husky tones, was that Halliwell knew how to dress her pop songs. Writing nearly everything she sang, her material sported a mixture of intelligence, sexiness, humor, and (good) camp that didn't sound like any other act hustling on the pop scene when she was active.
Halliwell Through the Years

As All Music Guide critic Jose F. Promis once remarked of Halliwell's music, "This set (Scream If You Wanna Go Faster) is diverse, uplifting, and fun through and through, only the most hardened and cynical listener would be incapable of finding a song to tap their foot to."

Rumors have swirled, culminating this year, that Halliwell is considering a return to pop music. It's a different space than it was in 2005, now a mother, Halliwell has nothing to prove as her iconic place is secured. Yet, if Halliwell keeps her wits about her, the sky could be the limit.

Halliwell herself, via her second memoir Just For the Record (2003), humbly summed up her ethos as thus:

"I love doing this (music). It's so cathartic just expressing where I'm at, which (in case you were wondering) is why I do it. Sometimes I get a little scared that I will be judged or criticised for being so honest and going on about myself. But actually, I have nothing to hide and in a way, I hope that when I share my experiences (good or bad), the message I will get across is that we're not alone in this thing called life. It's hard sometimes, it's funny, it's serious, it's ridiculous, but we're all in it together!"

To celebrate Geri's 40th birthday, I've collected the nine singles from the three albums she has released. From "Look At Me" through "Desire," the trajectory of this clutch of pop classics will be examined. Happy Birthday to the one and only, Ms. Geri Halliwell.

Look At Me
Release Date: May 10th, 1999
B-Sides: Remixes only
U.K. Position: #2
Writers: Geri Halliwell, Andy Watkins, Paul Wilson
Parent LP: Schizophonic
Single Synopsis: Halliwell's first single on her own was a sneering, jazzy, manic slice of runway attitude. On top of snapping horns, sampled bossa nova groove, Halliwell gave an aerobic vocal. The words of the track divided between clever commentary on opposite pairings and tearing down superficial perceptions. The middle eight contains a wacky funeral marching break that lends to the pop majesty of "Look At Me" which is all at once ridiculous, winning, and thoroughly Geri Halliwell.

Directed By: Vaughn Arnell

Mi Chico Latino
Release Date: August 16th, 1999
B-Sides: "G.A.Y.," "Summertime"
U.K. Position: #1
Writers: Geri Halliwell, Andy Watkins, Paul Wilson
Parent LP: Schizophonic
Single Synopsis: Adding her own take to the Latin pop craze that had taken the globe by storm in 1999, Halliwell contributed "Mi Chico Latino." The saucy cut brought to mind her self-confessed idol Madonna's own "La Isla Bonita". Whereas Madonna's cut relied on pathos that led to sensuality, Halliwell's cut dealt strictly in humid sexuality, tastefully.
B-Side Synopsis:
"G.A.Y.": A slick, disco-pop anthem for her gay fan base that turned the simple acronym "good as you" into a rallying cry for independence and individuality.
"Summertime": One of her strongest efforts, this psycho-sexual outcast played on analogies. Halliwell literally caught fire when she sang the line "So dry your tears in the sun, burn your skin, we've just begun". Dark and mysterious in equal doses.

Directed By: Doug Nichol

Lift Me Up
Release Date: November 1st, 1999
B-Sides: "Live & Let Die," "Very Slowly"
U.K. Position: #1
Writers: Geri Halliwell, Andy Watkins, Paul Wilson, Tracey Ackerman
Parent LP: Schizophonic
Single Synopsis: A demonstration of Halliwell's penchant for slower fare and her pen's ability to craft genuinely moving works, "Lift Me Up" was plush. At this point, Halliwell's voice was still coming into its own, but she didn't lack for conviction. Much was made of the only "Solo Spice" chart battle between Halliwell and Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton's "What I Am," a pleasant cover of the Edie Brickel & The New Bohemians hit. Halliwell stole the pole position, while Emma received (graciously) the second place slot. Ms. Bunton would be rewarded with her own number one record in 2001, with "What Took You So Long?"
B-Side Synopsis:
"Live & Let Die": Halliwell's love of older pop was proven with her cover of Sir Paul McCartney and Wing's '73 James Bond film hit "Live & Let Die". Busy and dramatic, the track got away from Halliwell slightly, but her enthusiasm was no less contagious.
"Very Slowly": A modish, urban growler, Halliwell vocally slinked and crept through the cut convincingly.

Directed By: Howard Greenhalgh

Bag It Up
Release Date: March 13th, 2000
B-Sides: "These Boots Are Made for Walking," "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps"
U.K. Position: #1
Writers: Geri Halliwell, Andy Watkins, Paul Wilson
Parent LP: Schizophonic
Single Synopsis: The fourth and final single from Schizophonic was the best of the litter. The rhythmic, horn laced, glittery treat boasted some of Halliwell's best lyrics. The song, built for her seductive and sly vocal, presented the worn the "battle of the sexes" idea in a fresh and imaginative way.
B-Side Synopsis:
"These Boots Are Made for Walking": Returning back to the pop songbook of yore, Halliwell struck gold on this Nancy Sinatra hit. The arrangement stayed true to the original, which suited Halliwell's spiced approach perfectly.
"Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps": Reaching back (again) to Doris Day, Halliwell's delivery was spot on. Vintage and lively, she gave the cha-cha-cha backdrop of "Perhaps" an additional helping of salsa and made it her own. Of note, her former group mate Emma Bunton would also cover this Doris Day diamond on her third LP Life In Mono (2006).

Directed By: Dawn Shadforth

It's Raining Men
Release Date: April 30th, 2001
B-Sides: "Brave New World"
U.K. Position: #1
Writers: Paul Jabara, Paul Schaffer
Parent LP: Scream If You Wanna Go Faster
Single Synopsis: According to Halliwell, the recording of The Weather Girls camp classic "It's Raining Men," was done on the fly. It shows, in a good way. The vitality, immediacy, and accuracy of Halliwell's on target delivery made the song a surefire hit and relevant once more. "Raining" was included on the soundtrack to the film adaption of the Helen Fielding novel Bridget Jones' Diary (starring RenĂ©e Zellweger) and Halliwell's (then) upcoming second effort, Scream If You Wanna Go Faster.
B-Side Synopsis"Brave New World": On top of a rushing stream of lyrical psychology ("Ego! Bliss!") and electro cool, Halliwell unveiled the next phase of her musical travels on this nitro-fueled nugget.

Directed By: Jim Canty & Jake Sebastian-Wynne

Scream If You Wanna Go Faster
Release Date: July 30th, 2001
B-Sides: "New Religion," "Breaking Glass"
U.K. Position: #8
Writers: Geri Halliwell, Rick Nowels
Parent LP: Scream If You Wanna Go Faster
Single Synopsis: A stunning display of pop power the title track, and second single, from Halliwell's sophomore long player payed homage to fiesty '60's rock keyboards and trappings.
Lyrically, the song alluded to spiritual freedom, rebirth, and escape, her peppery vocals front and center. It's one of the truly underrated pop songs of the last decade.
B-Sides Synopsis:
"New Religion": Halliwell's '60's pop fetish didn't let up on this adventuring non-LP cut. Full of Beach Boys inspired guitar licks, hand claps, and pummeling percussion, Halliwell sparkled on this flirt of a song.
"Breaking Glass": A mournful, tender opposite to "New Religion," Halliwell's introspective colors shone as brightly as her fluffier ones.

Directed By: Jim Canty & Jake Sebastian-Wynn

Release Date: November 26th, 2001
B-Sides: "Getting Better," "Destiny"
U.K. Position: #7
Writers: Geri Halliwell, Peter-John Vettesse
Parent LP: Scream If You Wanna Go Faster
Single Synopsis: Autumnal and European, "Calling" stood as Halliwell's definitive moment as an artist. The song exemplified when Halliwell was left to her own devices, she produced the goods repeatedly.
B-Side Synopsis:
"Getting Better": "I want attention, but not correction." That line solidified Halliwell as the mistress of the stream-of-consciousness pop lyric on this thrift-groove b-side. Funny and touching all at once, Halliwell doled out advice and cheer with her spoon full o' pop sugar.
"Destiny": Pert and perky in its disco-pop dolly lane, "Destiny" and its appeal rested solely on the easy vocal and quick hook it displayed.

Directed By: Pierluca DeCario

Ride It
Release Date: November 22nd, 2004
B-Sides: Remixes only
U.K. Position: #4
Writers: Ian Masterston, Josef Larossi, Andreas Romdhane, Geri Halliwell
Parent LP: Passion
Single Synopsis: Two years after her last single and album, Halliwell hit the U.K. charts with "Ride It," a commercial surrender or restructuring? The unique acordion introduction, over which Halliwell harmonized beautifully, spilled into a general U.K. dance-pop romp. Not boring, nor exciting, it operated somewhere in the middle considering Halliwell's pop precision on past music.

Directed By: Luca Tommassini

Release Date: May 30th, 2005
B-Sides: "True Love Never Dies"
U.K. Position: #22
Writers: Mathias Wollo, Terry Ronald, Henrik Korpi, Geri Halliwell
Parent LP: Passion
Single Synopsis: "Desire," the second single from Passion, arrived in the late spring of 2005 and deserved a better fate than it received. It became her lowest charting affair to date. A daring mixture of an orchestral strike-up and a deep sea diving mechanism ping, Halliwell worked out the kinks in the layered seduction of "Desire".
B-Side Synopsis: "True Love Never Dies": A throwback to her '60's pop songbook musings, "True Love Never Dies" was an endearing ballad that was lovable, knowing adult schmaltz and sincerity.

Directed By: Andy Marahan

[Editor's Note: Geri Halliwell's discography is in print physically & digitally, and the prices for the physical discs are reasonable. For official & current information on Ms. Halliwell, visit Geri Halliwell Official. Thanks to Andrew Bird for creating the Geri Halliwell montage art.-QH]

1 comment:

RellfromLastFM said...

Great article, as usual. I'm surprised you didn't mention the french version of "Calling" named "Calling (Au nom de l'amour)", in which she sings in French. It was ranked #22 in France and remained in the charts for 5 months ! (from november 2001 to march 2002).