Thursday, July 28, 2005

War - Why Can't We Be Friends

RATING: **1/2 (of four)

Another campy-ass highlight from my hour of "Super '70s" on VH1 Classic, "Why Can't We Be Friends" holds two distinctions:

a) It's the absolute most obnoxious of the glut of Smash Mouth remake songs from a few years back (their cover of this War hit was the last track on the BASEketball soundtrack - I can't believe I know that)

b) It's the single most repetitious song in pop history. I don't have the patience (and plus, it's more fun to just make up a number) to listen to this song all the way through just to count how many times the words "Why can't we be friends?" are sung, but I'm guessing it's in the low hundreds. It's almost brainwashing; by the end, you want to be friends with everyone.

The video's opening sequence illustrates this amicable brainwashing, as the camera opens on two hippies playing chess with each other and pans out to show a series of unlikely pairs coming into frame from opposite ends to shake hands or embrace. It's funny enough to watch when the prisoner and priest give each other a soul shake, or the Mexican and the construction worker.

But when the black activist and the hood-wearing Klansman grin and slap each other on the back... well, that's worth half a star right there. No doubt if this video had been shot 15 years later, we'd see a bloody Rodney King pick his brains off the pavement, grin widely and invite Sgt. Koon and the other LAPD officers out for a round of King Cobra tallboys on him.

Other awful but somehow endearing images:

- A man parachuting into a rich couple's backyard with a bottle of champagne, then pouring it into their glasses while they strike their best looks of befuddlement. A hard expression to master, befuddlement.

- A masked criminal snatching an old lady's purse at gunpoint, while a Gheri-curled, Barry White-looking brother in a white and powder-blue leisure suit tux walks by and does nothing.

- A choreographed procession through the welfare line, while a grinning man with an Afro hands out checks to all who boogie by.

- A brother in an Uncle Sam costume handing out cash to a surrounding circle of citizens, while another masked criminal comes by, grabs his money at gunpoint. Again, no one does anything to stop him. The Uncle Sam guy looks amused by the situation, and who can blame him, really?

- Some very large moustaches that extend down into band members' chins.

It all ends with a rapid-fire montage of "friends" the band made while making the video and touring. So, so cheesy, but the video for "Why Can't We Be Friends" will put an involuntary grin on your face, just like the song itself was so shamelessly designed to do.

The Carpenters - Close to You

RATING: * (of four)

I had no idea this was a Carpenters song until "Super '70s" on VH1 Classic clued me in. Trust me, whether you know the song by the title alone, you know the song. That famous opening piano-ballad riff and the sounds of 89-pound singing sensation Karen Carpenter's opening line, "Why do birds suddenly appear / Every time you are near," it's all buried in your subconscious somewhere.

I've had this song so ingrained in my head, thanks to years of overhead supermarket Muzak and oldies radio, that I always pictured it being as old as time itself. Perhaps older. It doesn't sound cool enough to have been in the '70s music lexicon, a lexicon including far superior performers such as both the Captain and Tennille. Or, if you'd prefer a little soul, both Peaches and Herb.

If Karen's so curious why birds suddenly appear when her man is near, I'd say it's probably because when she wrote the lyrics she'd only eaten a grape that day and was so weak from hunger that birds were actually appearing by the dozens. This is no mere metaphorical pop lyric. This is literal, motherfucker.

The video for "Close to You," by nature, is just as cheesy and out of touch as the song itself. It takes place on a brightly lit yellow-orange soundstage adorned by giant serif-type "Y," "O" and "U" letters. The late Karen is sitting in the crook of the enormous "U," lip synching off into space while wearing a beyond-bad pink bell bottom and matching criss-cross-shaped triangle vest. Under that? A nice ruffled-sleeve white blouse with an odd origami collar.

Oh, but there's more. A video cannot live on soundstage lip-synch footage alone, giant yellow, orange and pink letters or no. The uncredited director also intersperses still-photo montage shots of friends and family of The Carpenters. I think by the second repetition of the chorus, I'd spotted all of the Carpenters' parents and celebrity pals John Denver, Elton John, Peter, Paul and Mary, Miss Piggy, Spiro Agnew and two-thirds of the horn section from Tower of Power. Also, birds were suddenly appearing everywhere. Don't quote me on this. I did a lot of acid just out of college. And I've only had one grape to eat today.

BEST SHOT: The entire band, at a distance, with the giant "Y" in the foreground and the pink "O" topped by the other female singer and the bass player, both in matching blue Oxford and off-white bell bottoms. The trumpet player is positioned in between the "Y" and "O," decked out in a rainbow button-up frock. The guy singer, sporting a white leisure suit with a wide-collared pink dress shirt beneath it, wrings his hand earnestly as he belts out the background vocals. And in between the "O" and "U," with combination Peter Frampton-Farrah Fawcett blonde locks, the guitar player does his thing. In the dead back is Karen, and from where she's sitting the "O" looks just like a monstrous cake donut smothered in pink icing. The whole mise en scene is enough to make Ingmar Bergman's corpse spit-take earthworms.

Welcome to eMpTyV

It's been 3 1/2 years since the original eMpTyV: Music Video Reviews website disappeared from the Internet. I was an amateur critic bouncing my site from server to server, the last of which yanked eMpTyV with no warning. I've been a lazy bastard since then, I'll admit, but the timing couldn't be better. Thanks to a roommate who has more than double the disposable cash I do, I've got access to a brand new Mac G4 laptop, wireless DSL service, the deluxe-channel digital cable package and a very overworked TiVo box.

When I started reviewing music videos, in 1994, I had MTV, VH1 and BET, along with a stack of six-hour VHS tapes loaded with selections from all three channels. I was 16, my music taste was godawful, and I spent more time going off on the artists than actually reviewing the videos. Now I'm 27, my tastes have developed somewhat, and I still plan to go off on the artists - when they deserve it. Or, fuck, when they don't deserve it and I'm just plain jealous of their inexplicable success.

Posts will be on a semi-weekly basis - essentially, when I'm not out drinking or sleeping too late or too lazy to drag out the laptop. The lengths of these posts will vary, as will the lengths of the reviews themselves. The videos will be rated on a four-star scale, as follows:

**** = John
*** = Paul
** = George
* = Ringo
zero = Yoko

Your comments are welcome - on the reviews, the videos themselves or whatever pops into your mind while reading this self-indulgent fluff. Over time, I hope to design and archive the site in a structured manner and publish reviews from a handful of other contributors. If you're interested in writing music video reviews for me, let me know. You can reach me at