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.