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
Now, you’re going to have to bear with us on this one. Because 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…
So, we’re going to be brutally honest when we talk about this song. There was nowhere to hide with the vocals in Lift Me Up; the song exposes some of the limitations that Geri had been able to conceal – to a certain extent – with bravado and her unique brand of speak-singing. No such techniques were employed here. This was 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 while we’ll try not to linger on how successful her endeavour is in that regard, what we will say is that we cannot fault 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 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 – or simply plumping for one that is flat as a pancake. Yet, we’ve come to love Lift Me Up in that respect. It feels 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 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 Geri Halliwell, but there is no doubt that she understood ‘90s pop music, even where her ambition slightly outpaced her 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 gives a much more assured performance, which is terrifically uplifting.
The vocals are rather smartly layered so that Geri is essentially warbling over herself. With the assistance of some backing singers, 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 testing her voice a little more and stretching the melody. We’re rather fond of her efforts here, even if it makes perfect sense that much of it is masked by the main hook in the foreground. 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. Perhaps we’re harsh, and the intention was always to propel the song into a key that sounds genuinely painful to sing in. Geri’s commitment is unrelenting, of course. But we certainly hope she gargled saltwater immediately afterwards because that is a sore throat waiting to happen.
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 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 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 performing the song (or at least the chorus) in sign language. It could have come across as insultingly gimmicky – and we have no idea whether she was signing legibly – but at that point it was a very “Geri” 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 / ballad tracks. Both were reasonably pedestrian efforts compared to the material usually associated with the women; however, the ‘battle’ was anything but tame. Geri publicly criticised the decision to pit her single against Emma’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 of us to pretend that Lift Me Up isn’t a flawed pop song. But we’re very fond of this single because of those flaws, not in spite of them. It’s the wobbles – and occasional difficulties – that 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.