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Jun 14

ALL SAINTS – “Bootie Call”

Popular20 comments • 1,445 views

#800, 12th September 1998

bootie All Saints’ pitch to be the classier girl group option rested on several things: their fashion sense, their songwriting, their metropolitan sophistication. But also their comfort with R&B – British cool, not for the first time, was being underwritten by familiarity with the music of black America. So “Bootie Call” is All Saints’ tilt at a straightforward, state-of-the-art, late 90s R&B single. It almost works.

It’s frustratingly easy to see what All Saints are aiming for here. The model is a record like Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” – its shuffly, fuggy beat and conspiratorial, end-of-the-party atmosphere. Where Blackstreet used that woozy background as a way to bed a bunch of startling individual hooks down together, All Saints use it for a playful, sex-positive message about dating. “Good loving ain’t always from the heart” is a bit of usefully candid advice you can’t imagine any other girl group providing – compare Blackstreet’s own “Booti Call” single, which puts casual sex in the usual tiresome landscape of good girls, bad girls and irresistible horndog urges. So far, so good.

The problem is all in the execution. Sex has rarely sounded beige-r than on “Bootie Call”. The chorus – a hopscotch around the repeated phrase “It’s a bootie call” – makes for a dreadfully weak main hook, and nothing from the rest of the record steps up as an alternative. The performances confirm what “Lady Marmalade” suggested – this is not a team of amazing individual voices. And “Bootie Call”’s production is more fussy than sultry, particularly when it tries to find room for a whole group’s ad libs. Somewhere in the background here there’s a looped squiggle of bass and keyboard that sounds like a repeated cartoon snore, which nicely sums up this botch of a decent idea.

4

Comments

  1. 1
    AMZ1981 on 29 Jun 2014 #

    Context is everything – at the time All Saints were still riding the crest of Never Ever’s wave, a song that had been a million seller and wowed the critics at the same time. Bootie Call was their first song since and arguably illustrates why the intervening single was a cover, namely that they didn’t have much else to offer. That said War Of Nerves, the single that came next (the only one of a run of six All Saints singles we don’t get to discuss) was better and I still can’t work out why they chose to run with this instead. While some of the songs I’m rediscovering through Popular are surprising me sixteen years on this sounded as bereft of inspiration on youtube ten minutes ago as it did on the Top 40 in 1998.

    It’s worth noting that Bootie Call dropped to seven the following week, becoming the first number one to drop directly out of the top five since Love Won’t Wait well over a year before.

  2. 2
    thefatgit on 29 Jun 2014 #

    I must admit, All Saints’ trip-hoppy singles are much more preferable to me, than their R&B-flavoured output. “Bootie Call” disappoints, because it seems like warmed over leftovers, rather than something fresh. For ages I thought this was a cover version of an R&B song that never made it over to the UK, or at least a Teddy Riley cast-off. It sounds like someone had deconstructed a Blackstreet record and then reassembled it without that vital component that rolled under the sofa. In this case, it’s sexiness. A polished production just underlines the lack of sexiness. The plucked strings sound prissy. The snore whistle is the pass-agg sound made when being bored by someone, feigning sleepiness. Definitely not sexy. (4)

  3. 3
    mapman132 on 29 Jun 2014 #

    Not my thing, and the snore sound is just annoying. 3/10.

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 29 Jun 2014 #

    it’s a bit listless -someone should put this in a room with ‘Freak Me’ and let them get on with it

  5. 5
    iconoclast on 29 Jun 2014 #

    Got bored of this very quickly. FOUR.

  6. 6
    Kinitawowi on 29 Jun 2014 #

    We meet All Saints a total of five times and by some distance this is the worst. It’s not even a bad execution of a good idea, it’s just a terrible idea.

    See, the problem is that it aims to be a sleazy R&B strut – like so many others – but then goes for the message; the one mentioned up top, and they’ve also nicked the Spice Girls idea of a sneaky condom reference (“Jimmy has to ride in your pocket or lock him in your wallet”), and suddenly their remit to be the anti-Spices has fallen apart. Sleazy and message-y don’t go together; sultry and message-y maybe, flirty and message-y definitely. There is nothing sultry about Bootie Call, and the result is a confused song that can’t decide which it wants to be and settles on a very boring neither.

    2.

  7. 7
    chelovek na lune on 29 Jun 2014 #

    This is *weird*, and at the time I thought it was pretty abysmal – incoherent, and, well, barely a song – kind of incomplete, perhaps. While atmospherically it is a bit all over the place. It is presumably trying to be sleazy, but somehow doesn’t quite get there.

    But…hearing it again, now, there is something almost hypnotic about the repetition, combined with the very stripped down nature of the piece, the near absence of a tune that goes some way towards redeeming it for me.

    Think of it as a cutting edge (well, almost….) white-label by an unknown act that might work (with almost all the vocals removed – Professional Widow style-even) on the dancefloor, rather than a disappointing song lacking much in the way of a tune or lyrics by what had been (and yet proved to be) a promising girl group, and I think it makes a bit more sense. Think I’d give it a 5 nudging a 6.

    The mind boggles though as to why this was released before the pretty stunning and immeasurably more complete “War of Nerves”

  8. 8
    hectorthebat on 29 Jun 2014 #

    Sample watch – the beatboxing is taken from “Back to Burn” by T La Rock.

  9. 9
    swanstep on 30 Jun 2014 #

    This is new to me, and I seem to like it a good deal more (or at least find it a lot less annoying) than most here. The ‘Bring it on’s that the ‘Bootie Calls’ wrap around (at least until the slightly ponderous final chorus) are very hooky I find. Put that together with the syncopated bass-line, the superior lyrics (Emotions, they’ll come into my head/so don’t be misled/My heart doesn’t need to be bled), the nifty surprise vocal melodies (e.g., on the lyrics cited, e.g.2 on ‘I’m always happy when you make me laugh’), and a pretty ingenious and well-integrated range of keyboard flourishes, and I’m on board with this track. The All Saints best #1 so far:
    7

  10. 10
    punctum on 30 Jun 2014 #

    The darkness continues to gather. Not only was “Bootie Call” Britain’s 800th number one single, but it is also the first of two number one singles this year (#802 is the other one) which owe their genesis in great part to Tricky’s “Overcome,” and by that I mean general harmonic structure and mood of encroaching tar-induced underground claustrophobia. The synthesised pizzicato string plucks also nod to the then emergent UK Garage scene as well as to Timbaland passim. The girls’ opening, lowing chant-cum-whisper of “bring it on, bring it bring it on now!” is enticing enough, but as the song progresses it has become an ode to sex over the ‘phone, at one remove. “I like playing games, and if it’s all the same,” they claim, “you can bring it on with the rough stuff.” But the limitations are clearly laid out: “But I don’t get around/Jimmy has to ride in your pocket/Or lock him in your wallet,” and later, the sardonic “names are always good to have.”

    It’s about mental stimulation at a preserved distance, bearable only if it sticks to the (meta)physical, and despite the regular Goldie Hawn giggles which pepper the record (“It’s a BOOTIE call!”), it doesn’t take long to establish that the singer is turning herself on to stave off unimaginable loneliness – “But don’t try to find this heart of mine/Emotions will come into my head.” There are the lovely, mock-cynical purrs of “yeah, yeah,” while the Appletons ’ brief spoken interlude sounds like Laurie Anderson at 78 rpm (“Good loving’s not always from the heart/You’ve gotta be SMART!”). Over the midtempo squelches and bumps the girls continue their chorus, but they sound bunched in, huddled in a corner, anxious not to be discovered or uncovered; following a sudden harmonic thickening and darkening we snatch in our ears a sudden eruption of strangulated song (“Do you really love me baby?”) sung in horrified surprise at the record’s end, before the proceedings are cut off by the cold rationalism of the answering machine – “Please hang up and try your call again. Please hang up now. This is a recor-cording.” They knew that some moments couldn’t be lived forever.

  11. 11
    Weej on 30 Jun 2014 #

    Not sure if I agree that there’s a good idea hiding here – it just seems like expensive production in search of either a song or a vocalist to do something with it. Fortunately this isn’t the last think we’ll hear from them, but at this stage it looks like diminishing returns.

    Edit: apologies for effectively talking over Punctum’s well-thought out review with my tossed-off comment.

  12. 12
    Mark G on 30 Jun 2014 #

    The repeated “bring it on now, bring it on now” bit reminds me of the “Dick a dum dum, dick a dum dum” of Des O’Connor’s 60′s tribute to the Kings Road.

  13. 13

    Judging by the variety of (p good) versions on the AS Remix alb, there’s a “good song” hiding here not in the silly sense that the “real thing” hovers platonically somewhere between the sheet music and some best-and-simplest performance, but that it’s a pretty rich framework into which to pour interpretative possibility, including the beat and the way the vocals work together and play off each other (so not “real song” boy-twerp busker with an acoustic guitar “proving’ that a Britney number is “actually” really interesting, but as something more like a play’s unrealised script, which only becomes music in the realisation). Telling perhaps that most of the remixes seem to take it a lot faster — turning the beat itself into the meat — and also I think it’s true AS aren’t making incisive use of their various voices here after the first half. The unchangingness of the repeated chorus does indeed inject an element of sadness and desperation to it, but the fact of collectivity kinda works against punctum’s otherwise compelling interpretation unless handled very smartly — and in the single mix here the other three aren’t doing much more than sitting it out, which makes you wonder where they’re sitting. Doesn’t it work a bit against the singer’s intended boredom and loneliness if they’re right there to hand? I actually like the sleepiness of the beat and the minimalism of the arrangement a lot — but again, I’m not sure the established mood frames the topic entirely helpfully, even if the song is reading against the grain (meaning that the “message” element is self-hatingly ironic). There’s a smart idea here that doesn’t quite come off (haha).

    On a sillier note — and recognising that this is bringing a sub-editor’s red biro to a sex party — isn’t a “bootie” one of those funny little shoes that babies wear? Shouldn’t it be “booty call”?

  14. 14
    JLucas on 30 Jun 2014 #

    Producer Karl ‘K-Gee’ Gordon was instrumental in helping All Saints to land a record deal, and was widely considered the ’5th member’ of the group, contributing songwriting and production to all three of their albums.

    Unfortunately, with the exception of the throwaway but fun ‘I Know Where It’s At’, his contributions (this, All Hooked Up, Lady Marmalade) are among the weakest songs the girls have released. All Saints worked best with producers who made the most of their harmonic skills and Natalie Appleton’s lovely, Karen Carpenter-ish voice. K-Gee’s style of production has aged terribly and sounds really cheap and thin compared to their William Orbit and Cameron McVey sessions.

    For me this is painfully of its time and stands out as a very poor, forgettable number one today. But then I didn’t like it very much in 1998 either.

    3

  15. 15
    Kat but logged out innit on 30 Jun 2014 #

    Always a bit jarring that the video looked like it was filmed on Sesame Street. WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILLUN

  16. 16
    anto on 30 Jun 2014 #

    One of those acts who got more number ones than they really deserved. I haven’t heard this in yonks – I haven’t missed it, mind.

  17. 17
    Ed on 1 Jul 2014 #

    To Tom’s point about “this is not a team of amazing individual voices”, it’s instructive to compare BC with a contemporary hit from another new female four-piece group: Destiny’s Child’s No No No. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQtoCz9dIJQ

    It’s not their best-realised work by any means, but you only have to listen for a few seconds to be able to tell which group was more likely to give rise to an international superstar. As JLucas points out @14, the production is relatively weak, too. The overall effect is like watching England play Italy: an enthusiastic but limited group’s attempt to substitute energy and commitment for their opponents’ deep reserves of subtlety and skill.

    @13 Haha yes I noticed that about “bootie” / “booty” call. IIRC, Melanie Blatt had just had her first child at this point, or was just about to have it, so maybe booties were more on her mind – and more welcome – than booty.

  18. 18
    Izzy on 1 Jul 2014 #

    Still on ‘collection of voices’, there’s a horrible MTV Europe clip of them doing an a capella Never Ever, which hasn’t been arranged at all: http://youtu.be/7W3n3W8LDvk

    It’s so amateurish; you can’t ever imagine e.g. Destiny’s Child allowing something similar to happen without tipping a sackful of ideas in first.

  19. 19
    ciaran on 4 Jul 2014 #

    The thing I recall most about it was that it sounded very shoddy on Now 41 when played on cassette (actually the last Now that I encountered on tape come to think of it).

    Not much else to say. Very underwhelming. As Jlucas rightly points out its painfully of its time. Seems more of a fanbase Number 1, the 12 month momentum just about doing enough. Unlike nearly all the the other All Saints chart toppers I haven’t heard much of this at all in the 16 years or so.

    3

  20. 20
    Cumbrian on 5 Jul 2014 #

    Bootie Call is about a fifth as good as No Diggity – i.e. I am giving it 2. Tom’s nailed it with the comparison; even if they are aiming at the same sort of target, ND is full of hooks, vim and life, whereas this record is pretty dull.

    No Diggity? No doubt.

    Destiny’s Child we’ll get to – but even at this stage of their career, I reckon the chew up All Saints, especially on this evidence.

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