Released: 1st November 1999
Writers: Andy Watkins / Geri Halliwell / Paul Wilson / Tracy Ackerman
Peak position: #1
Chart run: 1-4-7-14-23-29-42-39-35-39-54-65-60-61-71-X-61-68
Although musically, Lift Me Up was the safest release from Geri Halliwell’s Schizophonic album, as her first venture into ballad territory, it was an incredibly risky move…
Nobody was ever under any illusions about the limitations of Geri Halliwell‘s voice when she launched a solo career. However, she’d been able to compensate – to a certain extent – for that with bravado and a brand of speak-singing on earlier singles Look At Me and Mi Chico Latino. On Lift Me Up, though, there’s absolutely nowhere to hide, nor any attempt to. This is Geri Halliwell fully committing to being more than a pop star. Here, for better or for worse, she was showcasing herself as a singer. And if nothing else at all, there is no faulting her commitment to the cause. There is a lot to like in Lift Me Up, and for all that it lacks in technique, the song more than makes up for with effort and a whole lot of heart.
Sensibly, Geri Halliwell doesn’t try to cut her teeth on a subtle, nuanced ballad. This is a safe – or at least contingency planned – approach to balladry; it throws up few surprises and has a chorus that is sufficiently big enough to accommodate bellowing if required (indeed, at times it comes perilously close). However, the most immediately apparent wobbles are during the verses. Geri Halliwell has a distinctively husky tone in her lower register, but it’s also the point at which she sounds least in control. The early: “It’s a wonder, baby like you and I, all the colours of the rainbow, going somewhere, baby like you and I”, is a somewhat futile exercise in searching precariously for the right note. Yet, that does make Lift Me Up feel like the sort of raw performance usually heard only by the producers before they master the track. This is Geri Halliwell as herself, doing what she loves. No smoke and mirrors, and no pretence that she’s something she isn’t. What other pop star at the time would expose themselves in such an honest way?
The saving grace – for Geri Halliwell and the song – is the sweeping chorus, which immediately banishes any doubts one might have had when it delivers precisely what it promises. You can say what you like about her, but there is no doubt she understood ‘90s pop music, even where the ambition is slightly outpaced by ability. That’s certainly not an issue with the chorus, though. It’s fascinating because you can hear the song moving into a more comfortable tone during the pre-chorus: “It’s gonna be alright, but when my sky clouds over…” and it’s from here that Geri Halliwell gives a much more assured performance, which is terrifically uplifting.
The vocals are rather smartly layered so that Geri Halliwell is essentially singing over herself. With the assistance of some backing vocalists, of course. Although the focal point of the chorus is the recitals of: “Lift me up / Show me love”, etc. it’s the latter half of each line where you can hear Geri Halliwell testing her voice a little more and stretching the melody. Like Look At Me and Bag It Up, the song is simply – but expertly – crafted around opposing statements: “Take me up…when the sun is going down / Talk me down…when I’m flying way up high”. Tender balladry might not be Geri Halliwell’s traditional territory, but lyrically it’s very much on-brand with Schizophonic and incredibly pretty writing.
If further proof were needed that she was utterly fearless at this point in her career, then Lift Me Up concludes with a key change. It’s enough to leave even the most ardent fan completely agog as Geri Halliwell has her very own Icarus moment and flies just a bit too close to the sun. It’s a soaring climax, make no mistake. And perhaps the intention was always to propel the song into a key that sounds genuinely painful to sing in.
As a very pretty song, Lift Me Up deserved an equally lovely video; and that’s exactly what it received. The beautiful twilight shots of Geri Halliwell driving through the sprawling Malaga countryside create a mood that perfectly complements the whimsical string-synth melody snaking through the song. The plot involves Geri Halliwell happening across a posse of aliens who are trying to repair their ship. Before helping them on their way, she takes them to the car wash for a water fight and back to a motel room to show them the latest music videos from…herself (well, she was on her way to becoming the most UK’s most successful female artist at the time). It’s a cute concept, and despite the outlandish premise, it successfully mirrors the song by presenting Geri Halliwell in a dressed-down, homely manner. It suits her; she looks stunning, and after the pop drama of the preceding two singles, it was sensible to show a different side to the album campaign. It’s worth mentioning the live performances, which featured Geri Halliwell performing the song (or at least the chorus) in sign language. It could have come across as insultingly gimmicky, but at that point, it was a very “Geri Halliwell” thing to do. It fit her mantra in a rather lovely way: this was inclusive pop music for everyone. Until the next single, at least.
Lift Me Up duly became Geri Halliwell’s second #1 single. But it wasn’t straightforward by any means. It quickly emerged that the track was going head-to-head with the new Tin Tin Out single What I Am, which just happened to feature Emma Bunton. This was – in truth – a bit of a weird chart battle for the pair, because if anyone had envisaged a solo Spice face-off, then it probably would not have been between two mid-tempo tracks. Both were reasonably pedestrian efforts compared to the material usually associated with the women; however, the ‘battle’ was anything but tame. Geri Halliwell publicly criticised the decision to pit her single against Emma Bunton’s, but she knew how to play the fame game, and by sheer coincidence, details emerged that week about her short-lived romance with Chris Evans, buying her valuable tabloid space. Lift Me Up ended up shifting 33,000 more copies than What I Am.
It would be remiss to pretend that Lift Me Up isn’t a flawed pop song. But ultimately the song is what it is because of those flaws, not in spite of them. The wobbles – and occasional difficulties – are what stop the track from being a run-of-the-mill pop ballad, which is quite fitting because Geri Halliwell was anything but a run-of-the-mill pop star.