Geri Halliwell – Calling

Released: 26th November 2001

Writers: Geri Halliwell / Peter John Vettese

Peak position: #7

Chart run: 7-18-30-35-35-43-57-60-69-73

Geri Halliwell’s second album might have been called Scream If You Wanna Go Faster, but that certainly wasn’t the case with Calling, which marked a sudden change of pace as a tender, heartfelt ballad.

Two singles into the Scream If You Wanna Go Faster campaign, and things didn’t seem to be going to plan. The album was not – as is often suggested – an unmitigated commercial disaster. It reached #5 and is the best-selling of all the Spice Girls’ second solo albums (just ahead of Emma Bunton’s Free Me). But it had been far less impactful than Schizophonic in chart longevity – having exited the top 75 after 15 weeks – and, perhaps more obviously, a comparative lack of hits. That was compensated for to a certain degree by It’s Raining Men, though the track was never intended to be on the album (it was recorded for the soundtrack to Bridget Jones’s Diary) and certainly not envisaged to be the lead single. Releasing the title track from Scream If You Wanna Go Faster as the follow-up is where it became apparent that the new material wasn’t quite connecting. The song reached #8, becoming Geri Halliwell’s lowest-peaking single at that point, which raised eyebrows. Yet, this could still have been a blip; there was still every chance that whatever track came next could reinvigorate interest in the campaign.

With the stakes high, Calling was not an obvious choice as the third single. Co-written with Peter-John Vettesse – who rose to fame in the ‘80s playing keyboard for the progressive rock band Jethro Tull – it’s a tender ballad that eschews the bombastic traits associated with Geri Halliwell’s brand of pop music. She also had a personal investment in the track, citing it as her favourite on Scream If You Wanna Go Faster. Calling also received an endorsement from George Michael, who’d voiced his approval after being played an early demo version. Yet, even at the height of the Schizophonic campaign, when the momentum behind Geri Halliwell rendered her an unstoppable tour-de-force, a song like this would’ve been a risk. And more so now, at a point where it seemed people might be losing interest. Even so, while Calling mightn’t necessarily have been an attention-grabbing single, it is a different – and therefore rather interesting – one.

The track immediately establishes itself as a vulnerable one, both musically – the track opens with Geri Halliwell gently harmonising alongside a plucked guitar melody – and artistically. Balladry is not, generally, something that plays to her strengths as a singer. However, the Scream If You Wanna Go Faster album does represent growth in that respect because it shows a better understanding of what she can (or can’t) do. Unlike Lift Me Up from Schizophonic, which stretched Geri Halliwell’s voice to – and often beyond – its limits, Calling is composed with an inherent awareness of the parameters in which she can comfortably perform. As a result, the vocals never sound conspicuously limited; by striving to do less, Geri Halliwell can deliver much more in tone and emotion.

Moreover, while her lyrics could often – intentionally or otherwise – read as whimsical platitudes, on Calling, there’s the undercurrent of something deeper and more reflective: “The sun is going down on me, as she surrenders to the sea, so steal the night and fly with me, I’m calling, I’m calling”. The gentle plink-plonk of the production is somewhat disarming because a creeping melancholy starts to emerge as the song progresses: “Chasing shadows through the years, I whisper softly to my dear, be sure to know that I am here, forever…”. Geri Halliwell’s warm, earnest delivery adds to the sadness, emphasising her commitment to a seemingly hopeless situation (“The moon is high on me and you, is my message breaking through, darkened skies that once were blue, are falling”) with no suggestion that it’ll be reciprocated.

As the track progresses, Calling builds to become more involved. A soaring string accompaniment swells through the production while the chorus: “Calling out your name, burning on the flame, played the waiting game, hear my calling, hear my calling”, is additionally layered with prominent backing vocals: “Whispers in the air (I dream you into life), hear a lover’s prayer (I can feel you there), hear my calling, hear my calling”. The arrangement ends up giving Calling a vaguely Bond-theme vibe. The elements are never quite heightened or overt enough to suggest that’s what Geri Halliwell was aiming for, but the song comes surprisingly – and credibly – close, regardless.

To give Calling some international appeal, a French (or Franglais) version of the track was recorded, subtitled Au Nom De L’Amour. It’s not entirely clear why only eight lines – the first half of each verse – remained in English or how successful Geri Halliwell’s attempts at pronunciation are. Indeed, while there’s certainly logic in recording bilingually, Spanish – which she was, at least, reasonably fluent in – seems like it would have been far more on brand. Nonetheless, whether it’s the existence of Calling (Au Nom De L’Amour) or the generous number of remixes and B-sides included on the UK release, there was no let up in the record label’s attempts to support the single and give it the best shot at positively impacting the album campaign.

Like the song, the video for Calling strips away the bravado and pomp that usually accompanied Geri Halliwell in favour of something much more straightforward. Black-and-white visuals portray wearing an oversized jumper wandering barefoot through Sant Vicenç de Montalt in Catalonia. The architecture is used to create some strikingly artistic sequences. In one, a row of pillars cast shadows across the floor, with Geri Halliwell framed from afar to emphasise the scale of the structures. Another shows her standing next to concrete staircases shot from the side; the perfect, right-angled alignment of the steps appears more like a painting than a background location. Yet, despite the video being meticulously staged, it’s done in a way that comes across – certainly by Geri Halliwell’s usual standards – as more intimate and unassuming. There are moments where close-ups of her singing into the camera feature performative coquettish glances, but there are far more which seem to convey a distant, misty-eyed yearning.

The black-and-white aesthetic instils Calling with a calmness and tranquillity that justifies its use; the footage could have been presented in vivid, sun-drenched colours as it was originally filmed, but that wouldn’t fit quite the same. Geri Halliwell had consistent form in ensuring her singles were accompanied by strong visuals. And the same is true of Calling, albeit in a slightly quieter way. It’s understated – which arguably ended up being detrimental in making the desired impact for such an important single – but is beautifully shot and complements the song so well.

Released at the end of November on the periphery of the festive season, Calling was one of six new entries in the top 10. So, in that regard, a #7 debut proved Geri Halliwell could still hold her own commercially. However, there’s also no getting away from the fact that a few years earlier, she’d have been in direct contention with acts like Daniel Bedingfield, Hear’Say, S Club 7, and even Kate Winslet(!), rather than finishing behind them all despite heavy promotion. Calling was the 192nd best-selling single of 2001 – though total sales were just over 73,000 as it continued to chart into the new year – which was roughly consistent with the previous single. More telling, though, is that the single didn’t generate any notable interest in the Scream If You Wanna Go Faster album. It failed to re-enter the chart, which brought an end to the campaign.

There were rumours that Circles Round The Moon had been planned as the fourth single (it was also performed on CD:UK to help promote the album). The track is Geri Halliwell and Absolute at their radio-friendly best, and fans almost unanimously cite it as the missed opportunity from Scream If You Wanna Go Faster. Yet, whether one good song would’ve been enough to change the overall trajectory of the campaign is entirely debatable. Geri Halliwell’s experience with her second solo album wasn’t drastically different from that of most of the other Spice Girls. The quality of the material might have been a factor. Still, there were also broader issues relating to negative media coverage and a tired public perception that quickly became deep-rooted. Thus, choosing instead not to try and fight a losing battle may have been the better option.

But there were also other, more serious considerations. By Geri Halliwell’s admission, her emotional well-being was often intrinsically linked to commercial success. Thus, however proud she felt personally of Scream If You Wanna Go Faster – which she deemed better than Schizophonic – the modest performance of the album would, undoubtedly, have been difficult to comprehend. And given how much Geri Halliwell had personally invested in Calling, the nonchalant reception it received would likely have stung all the more. So, maybe this was the right time to break that relentless chase of chart success to prove her self-worth. And that’s precisely what happened. As the dust settled on Scream If You Wanna Go Faster, a stint as a TV talent show judge beckoned for Geri Halliwell in the UK with Popstars: The Rivals and on the US show All-American Girl. She also landed an infamous cameo on Sex and the City, appeared in the movie adaptation of Fat Slags and hosted Party In The Park for Channel 5. However, while these endeavours weren’t always a resounding success for Geri Halliwell, they also weren’t necessarily subject to the same level of (self) scrutiny as her music.

Although Calling is most likely to be remembered – if at all – as bringing about a muted end to the Scream If You Wanna Go Faster campaign, in hindsight, there’s more to it than that. A ballad of this nature may be the antithesis of what people expected (or wanted) from Geri Halliwell and thus easily dismissed. But putting that aside, the track is more creative and ambitious than it’s often given credit for, even if that didn’t translate commercially.

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