Geri Halliwell – Desire

Released: 30th May 2005

Writers: Henrik Korpi / Mathias Wollo / Terry Ronald / Geri Halliwell

Peak position: #22

Chart run: 22-45

Geri Halliwell never did anything by halves. So, even as the wheels came off and her solo career imploded, it all happened in typically spectacular fashion with Desire.

In a telling moment of foreboding during the Channel 5 documentary, There’s Something About Geri – which served as a prelude to the release of this single and Geri Halliwell’s third album, Passion – she mournfully reflects: “I’m just not the most important person in anybody’s life, anymore”. And where her attempts at sustaining a music career were concerned, she was probably right. It’s certainly not the case that people didn’t care; Geri Halliwell’s comeback single, Ride It, had been a top-five hit, after all. And while she wasn’t – technically – any more disadvantaged than most other pop acts found themselves in at this time, her larger-than-life persona had, in many respects, personified the bubblegum era. Thus, during a period where R&B, rock and indie dominated the chart, few artists could have looked more like a fish out of water than Geri Halliwell. She would have to work hard to keep people on her side and really couldn’t afford to put a foot wrong…except things were already going awry behind the scenes.

What would eventually be released as Passion was initially conceived as a dance-pop album, tentatively titled Disco Sister. However, following Ride It, Innocent Records (who Geri Halliwell has been moved over to from the main EMI label) got cold feet and insisted on new material being recorded. Their concerns weren’t wholly unfounded since a planned tour for May 2005 was cancelled due to poor ticket sales. However, shifting plans for the album at a relatively late stage was not without consequence. Perhaps more significantly, it led to a six-month wait until Desire was readied as the next single, which killed any momentum generated by Ride It. The delay didn’t go unnoticed by the tabloids either, leading to speculation that Innocent Records had lost confidence in Geri Halliwell altogether and were quietly planning to shelve the album. Even though that isn’t what ultimately happened (though the rumours may not have been baseless since the label evidently wasn’t sure what to do with it), this all projected an unnecessary air of desperation around Desire, despite there being no objective basis for it whatsoever.

There was a sense that the song became less important to this single than the baggage that came along with it, which is a real shame. Having tried – and failed – to convince Richard X that she should record Some Girls (the track went to Rachel Stevens instead), Desire became Geri Halliwell’s attempt at edging in on the electro-pop market. And it deserved to be talked about, even if only because she was trying something entirely different. With a forcibly static bassline, looped crashing synths and a dramatic whirring build-up to the chorus, the production is very credibly current by mid-’00s standards. That doesn’t necessarily mean Desire jumps out as an obvious hit, but it’s certainly easy to see why Innocent Records might have felt this was a better direction to pursue than Ride It.

Some aspects of this single are quintessential Geri Halliwell, like there being no such thing as a throwaway lyric. An innocuous metaphor – in this case, a cat metaphor – that appears in the first verse (“I’m a sure-fire pussycat, I ain’t gonna tell you that, I’m givin’ myself away”, subsequently extends into the chorus (“Whatever you sold me, whatever you feed me, it’s taking me over and over; I’m the cat that can’t fight it, whenever I need it, your kiss kills me with…desire”), and ultimately ended up being extrapolated into the music video. Yet, there’s also a lot about Desire that sounds nothing like Geri Halliwell whatsoever, and it extends far beyond the production choices. The vocals are barely distinguishable as belonging to her, and it’s not merely a result of the throat surgery she’d had in-between albums, either. Her voice almost seems to have been pitch-shifted, creating such a different tone and tempo that some parts – like the second verse: “Sweet man I know you can, but I would never tell you that, baby, I’m diggin’ your scene” – contain little semblance of Geri Halliwell whatsoever. Desire is great as a song in its own right; the entire arrangement is alluringly hypnotic and has an edgy, cool swagger. However, it’s just challenging to listen to the track (or watch live performances) and reconcile the fact that the voice heard a lot of the time here ever came from Geri Halliwell’s mouth.

The most notorious aspect of this single was the aforementioned music video, even if it ended up being characterised by one – relatively brief – sequence in particular. Geri Halliwell portrays an office worker with feline tendencies, and there are some excellent ideas here that are well realised. For example, the way she unfurls and stretches herself on the bed after waking accurately mimics the movements of a cat. There are also neat touches, like a dog barking at her as she walks through the street for no apparent reason to its owner. This could have been a pretty clever notion if that’s how the concept was played throughout. But it goes too far by adding in a weird sexual undertone. When Geri Halliwell swigs milk from the bottle, it runs down her chin in what is presumed to signify eroticism. And we soon find she has a crush on her boss, leading to a fantasy sequence where she crawls across his desk and dips her head towards his lap as though she’s about to perform oral sex…only to lap milk from a bowl in front of him instead. As the defining image of Desire that sticks in most people’s memories, it could scarcely be a more reductive version of everything that made Geri Halliwell – when she was at her best – a terrific pop star and cheerleader for girl power.

After snapping back to reality (or is it…), she spots her boss heading home and follows him, transforming into a black cat as she climbs through the window. Having been affectionately petted, Geri Halliwell wakes up right back where the video started. Yes, it was all a dream. Some may argue that the visuals did more harm than good, although given the nonchalance to everything else about the single at this stage, at least they provoked a reaction, albeit not the most positive one.

Despite a flurry of promotion, it did feel that the media narrative ascribed to Desire meant  the outcome was something of a foregone conclusion. This duly became Geri Halliwell’s first single to miss the top ten – and indeed, the top 20 – when it peaked at #22. The situation didn’t improve with the release of Passion, either, which reached #41. Against the backdrop of a cancelled tour and an overall sense of disinterest from the general public, Geri Halliwell’s three-album deal with EMI ended (making her the only solo Spice Girl not to get dropped, which is an achievement of sorts…). Although, as it turns out, even if things had turned out more favourably, the album campaign would always have been curtailed to some extent because it was only a few months later that Geri Halliwell announced she was pregnant.

So, what exactly went wrong with Passion? Judging purely from the critical response, perhaps it simply wasn’t very good. If you listen to the fans, there was a solid dance-pop concept here; however, several planned tracks – including a cover of 100% Pure Love – were vetoed by the record label, leading to a finished product that was essentially a diluted version of the original vision. As for a wider audience, well…There’s Something About Geri had intended to capture the creative process of Passion and ingratiate her to the general public but did the complete opposite. Though the TV crew must’ve been rubbing their hands with glee over the footage they captured – tears, tantrums and a stream of profound musings – little of it felt set up or manipulated. It’s just that Geri Halliwell’s personality quirks (“d’you know what I mean?”) came across better in small bursts, and magnifying them to such a degree in this format did her no favours. Thus, Passion appeared to be a perfect storm of missteps that came together and saw it fall wide of the mark.

Yet, there are aspects of the album that work. And as an overall effort, it takes itself far less seriously than Scream If You Wanna Go Faster. It’s just that the heady concoction of ideas on show here – which seems to be as Innocent Records intended – were all part of the issue. When Geri Halliwell made her chart debut, finding an identity as a solo artist was a core part of the narrative. Plus, the Schizophonic campaign was ably propped up by four perfectly chosen singles. Now, six years later – and with the charts far less tolerant of pop music – there was both an expectation and need for her to know what she was doing. So, to be greeted with an album that still felt unevenly realised wasn’t good enough at this point. Geri Halliwell was better than this. And there are moments during the documentary where it becomes painfully apparent that she knew she was better than this too.

While Passion could undoubtedly have been handled better, a Geri Halliwell album in 2005 was probably only ever going to meet one fate. There is a song that may have cushioned the blow somewhat, though: Love Never Loved Me. A deliciously melancholic uptempo that was not just one of the best tracks on the album; it’s easily one of the best things Geri Halliwell ever recorded. If she’d had her way, it would’ve been the second single, but the label pushed for Desire instead. In a different context, it would have made sense to sit on Love Never Loved Me and release it later in the campaign to keep the album selling. However, nothing – even that there would be another single – could be taken for granted here. Front-loading Passion would probably have been the better strategy. Even if it hadn’t significantly altered the eventual outcome, there would at least have been the consolation in knowing Geri Halliwell had been given the very best chance at making this work.

The most ironic thing about Desire is that it addresses most of the criticisms frequently levelled at Geri Halliwell. The song is current, cool and showcases her voice (sort of) in a way that avoids many of the usual pitfalls associated with it. Yet her career was not built on technical precision; indeed, it was often her ability to compensate for any shortcomings that drove her success. So, in taking away all of those factors, Desire is a proficiently enjoyable track but a curious one to launch the album since it has very little interest in being a Geri Halliwell single.

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