Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Toto - Hold the Line

*1/2 (out of four)

VH1 Classic never disappoints, man, I'll tell you what. If camera-in-camera shots of guys in leisure suits playing double-necked guitars with rainbox straps is what you're after, you won't be going home empty-handed if you watch for more than fifteen minutes.

This soundstage lip-synch effort is full of bright-color stage lights, closeups of hands playing guitars, closeups of hands playing pianos and primitive color-wash visual effects. And a very sexy moustache on the lead singer - you'll strain yor eyes trying to alternately stare at the 'stache and the medallion under the unbuttoned shirt on his hairy chest.

A horrible video, to be sure, but I must confess a guilty fondness for this 1978 Toto classic. Last spring I proudly sang it with three piano bar entertainers while walking the downtown streets of St. Louis on our way to an afternoon game at Busch Stadium, and I'm sure I'll sing it on the way to some sporting event in the future.

NOTE: This review written March 8, 2005.

Juvenile - Slow Motion

** (out of four)

As previously stated, I'm rusty on the Top 40 music scene and have been for some time, but there's no way I could have missed last summer's biggest jam that didn't involve Usher or Lil' Jon. And, really, no way I could have predicted that monstrous a comeback single for the Dirty South genius who gave us the booty-flapping classic "Back That Azz Up." For you ignorant honkies over the age of 29 - the word "Azz" means "Ass." As in posterior. Butt. Flank steak. Don't let the slang fool you; I'm here to help.

There are three stars in this video - the first, of course, is Juvenile, who steps off a bus in an unknown ghetto with his posse and attracts his own Pied Piper-like crowd of neighborhood residents of all ages. The second is Soulja Slim, who is currently resting in peace and has his name on dozens of t-shirts in the video. (I don't know how Soulja Slim met his premature demise. Perhaps he was subjected to that Good Charlotte video and "just wanted to end the pain.") And the third? Asses shaking. Anonymous cheeks, and lots of them.

You've got to wonder what kind of fame these professional hip-hop booty shakers aspire to. Most of the time all you get is a close-up of their asses and never even see the face. ("No, Tyshawn, that's me in the video! Don't you recognize that signature reverse camel-toe in those gold lame floral print stretch pants? I'm goin' places, Tyshawn!")

It honestly makes me wonder if their agents even bother sending music video casting directors the standard head shot. They, the casting directors, probably just rifle through a stack of ass pictures and think, Nope, too flat; nope, too pear-shaped; nope, too much crack; ooh, that one's just right. Get that azz on the phone! That means "ass," honkies.

NOTE: This review written March 8, 2005.

Ludacris - Number One Spot/The Potion

**1/2 (out of four)

If Gwen Stefani can get away with sampling from a four-hour Orthodox-Jew musical from fifty years ago, why can't Ludacris lift the opening theme from the Austin Powers movies? There are geekier choices, most notably the dramatic "I'm Awfully Glad It's Raining (Because Now No One Can See The Tears In My Eyes)" Jim Varney number at the lowest point in Ernest Goes to Camp.

Besides, the Austin Powers theme was composed and conducted by legendary R+B producer Quincy Jones. Who I'm sure is ecstatic to appear in the video for a rap track that reduces his work to a five-note burst of horns and someone endlessly pushing the whistle-flute button on the keyboard.

Also endorsing the video - Verne "Mini-Me" Troyer, who cavorts around the video's bright-colored sets in matching Luda Afro wig while he's not strapped to the rapper's chest in a baby carrier. Other images - giant disco ball, giant plate of pancakes, giant golden replacement Afro wig, giant-breasted Beyonce stand-in, giant glass of rum on the rocks, giant blue-screen behind Luda's Cadillac.

And don't forget the giant fat suit Ludacris wears in bed with a hot mama and a bucket of chicken in his own twisted homage to Fat Bastard. (Yes, the soundbite "Get in mah belly!" gets trotted out.) What Mike Myers must think about all this no one can say, but rest assured Ludacris looks no more ludicrous in this video than Myers did in The Cat in the Hat.

NOTE: This review written March 8, 2005.

Gwen Stefani featuring Eve - Rich Girl

**1/2 (out of four)

Practically a decade of music stardom and Gwen Stefani is looking hotter than ever. Still sporting one of the hottest sets of abs and juiciest petite booties in the MTV lineup. And there's Eve, who spends half the video wearing some kind of strapless T-shaped piece of upper body lingerie I swear I can see her nipples through. It makes it almost possible to forgive Gwen's building of her first solo single around a signature song from Fiddler on the Roof. Oy fucking vey indeed, Miss Stefani.

The video takes place on a number of stages, spanning time and culture - there's the harem set, the English ale house set, and let's not forget the enormous pirate ship set. Where Gwen lip synchs from a giant swinging anchor and frolics with a bunch of shirtless seamen. (Remember these words of advice from Waylon Smithers, Gwen: "Women and seamen don't mix.") Eve is spotted at one point with a pirate patch over her eye, no doubt manufactured at great cost by Gucci. Or Prada. Or Versace, whose 2005 winter line of eye patches is simply to die for.

Then there's the video's intro and outro, which both feature giggling little girls playing in a bedroom with Gwen and Eve dolls in a plastic pirate ship. "No Cindy, I get to take off my clothes and give myself sexually to a dozen randy pirates!" "No way, Samantha, it's my turn to snog the pirates! Don't cross Eve, bitch!"

NOTE: This review written March 8, 2005.

Good Charlotte - Hold On

** (out of four)

God, there's always that moment when every novelty band with their novelty power-pop hits tries to go serious. Add to that list Good Charlotte, who has entered both the lexicons of Top 40 radio and the background music of countless VH1 and E! Network fashion/sex scandals/celebrity gossip specials with their song "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

The pop-punk boys have decided they have to slow things down to adult album-rock midtempo turf and put together a statement song about suicide. And, at the risk of, ahem, killing the suspense, I will go ahead and reveal that Good Charlotte is categorically against suicide. Unlike that bat-head eater Ozzy Osbourne. So parents, you can breathe easier.

The video is four minutes of very serious-looking band members - even their turquoise eye shadow and wallet chains appear to be in mourning - lip- and play-synching to the song from inside a hollowed-out, roofless building. That's all filmed through the blue filter. Then, filmed with the green filter, we get the Soul Asylum "Runaway Train" parade of cameo shots of actual suicide-attempt survivors and people who have lost sons, fathers, sisters and girlfriends to self-termination.

I'm a cynical fuck, that's patently obvious, but even I have to wear the kid gloves when dealing with a topic like suicide. Abortion, cancer, mental retardation - I'll gladly poke merciless fun at those three. Suicide, however, is a completely different demon. One that hits particularly close to home for me because I had a second cousin fatally slit his wrists midway through a 2003 Good Charlotte concert because he "just wanted to end the pain."

NOTE: This review written March 8, 2005.

Will Smith - Switch

*** (out of four)

I was absorbed by the beat of "Switch" way before I figured out it was a Will Smith song. That kind of takes all the credibility out of any venture - and, yes, I am aware that seven years ago I gave three stars to the "Men in Black" music video, and that six years ago I gave three stars to the "Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It" video. And, yes, I am aware that as a rapper Will "Fresh Prince" Smith is at least competent. It's just, when his songs come on, you always picture your old, uncoordinated relatives dancing to them at a wedding reception.

Good beat, though, yes - who is the mystery producer they keep showing in the video? It looks like Xhibit, but as a writer who refuses to do his homework, I can only speculate. Mostly, though, in the "Switch" video we're treated to shots of Will in an underground studio, rapping into the microphone; Will in a graffiti-covered subway station, dancing with a camouflage-pants-wearing honey while wearing a refrigerator repairman shirt with his name on it; Will dancing with a dozen or so other honies in a tent-looking white room.

There are a couple other sets veteran director Paul Hunter keeps returning to, but it would be a more than repetitious trying to describe all that. Rest assured it looks like a lot of other hip-hop videos, just a little more tasteful. Since your uncoordinated relatives will have to dance to it and all. I can picture my own 63-year-old Aunt Ruth shouting out the song's "Hey-ey-ey" refrain after a couple zinfandel spritzers when my Cousin Chester gets married for the third time.

NOTE: This review written March 8, 2005.

Brie Larson - She Said

*1/2 (out of four)

This teen pop stuff is way worse since I quit writing these reviews. I mean, yes, we've always had to deal with these here-today, gone-yesterday mini-diva artists with their synthesized pop, but I wasn't always in my late twenties when I had to deal with it. It's derivative, it's interchangeable, and it will go away. I can't help but wonder at which point this song was played during the two hours of Radio Disney my TiVo decided to record for my consideration sometime overnight last night.

Brie Larson is one such mini-diva of the moment, easy to look at in a generic way with a voice that doesn't really stand out. She spends the duration of the video trapped behind the counter of a no-name fast food restaurant, helping a succession of Abercrombie-model customers from the pair of snooty bitches who each insist on having sweet-and-sour AND honey mustard sauces with their chicken nuggets (one or the other, you filthy whores!) to the, like, totally cute guy with the '70s perm, thick sunglasses and Napoleon Dynamite "Vote For Pedro" novelty t-shirt on. He must piss old Brie off in some way, because seconds after giving him his order, she leaps over the counter, jumps on his back and causes him to crash to the floor, landing novelty t-shirt down in his supersized #3 meal.

After five viewings of the video, I'm not sure which part I like better - the slo-mo shots of Brie running through the stock room and knocking over an entire three-metal-shelf stash of red and white food baskets or the sequence that has Brie strumming a red guitar that matches her paper fast food uniform hat. Then the director just gets lazy and includes two straight minutes of neon-lit soundstage performance footage. The cumulative effect is neither obnoxious or memorable, but Brie - however old she is - is one smoking hot little mama.

So here's the problem with this shit - not that they've sexualized these teenage girls who used to at least be seventeen when they came up. I don't mind the sexualization; some of these videos are great with the volume turned off. It's the fact that a lot of them aren't even seventeen anymore. They can make a thirteen-year-old pop star look completely delectable and downright edible these days - look at that JoJo girl. I had no idea she was in seventh grade the first time I saw her video. All I saw was a TRL superstar who would not get kicked out of my bed for the consumption of crackers.

NOTE: This review written March 8, 2005

Mike Jones featuring Slim Thug and Paul Wall - Still Tippin' Chopped and Screwed Version

** (out of four)

I've seen "Still' Tippin'" by Mike Jones pop up twice in an hour. I'm not entirely sure why. The beat is spare and fairly tight, but the rapping itself is voice-processed in that deep, evil-voice way that makes it sound slowed down, slurred and monotone. What is intended to be bad-ass instead comes out sounding semi-retarded. And it makes the song - even when it switches to rappers Slim Thug and Paul Wall - sound even more repititious than its four-bar beat already renders it.

But, and this may be more to the credit of the trace amounts of marijuana I just smoked, the whole thing is almost mesmerizing for a minute or two. Before it all just sounds like some kind of outtake from Prince's "Bob George," the talked-out, deep-evil-voice-processed track off the Black Album.

The video? Maybe it's been, you know, chopped and screwed out of its original glory, but it's just your standard collection of clips of dancing girls; shots of the DJ, face screwed up in conversation; pimped-out cars rolling down the street, some of them featuring neon-light writing on the interior of the trunk - not part of your standard factory options package but well worth the additional cost. And don't forget the posse of G-thugs standing in the street with t-shirts that read "Property of Mike Jones."

And, I mean, I know it's great to get your name out there and all, but do you really want a video full of black men with shirts that say they're owned by somebody named Mike Jones? It's been 140 years, yeah, but take it from me and my existing police record - slavery's still kind of a touchy issue amongst the urban community.

One more question - who starts out in the hip-hop industry looking to pick a unique MC name that sounds badass and that everyone will remember and then settles on Mike Jones? I don't care if it's his real name or not, he really should have sat down and done a little brainstorming.

NOTE: This review written March 8, 2005