Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Missy Elliott featuring Ciara and Fat Man Scoop - Lose Control

*** (out of four)

Of the entire hip-hop world, only a handful of artists qualify for the MTV Video Vanguard award. Outkast, Busta Rhymes, Eminem and certainly Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott. While pretty much everyone else falls back on the requisite shots of expensive cars, bling, lavish club settings and booty dancers, you never know quite what to expect from one of Missy's videos. Though I admit "Lose Control" does have expensive cars, bling and booty dancers.

The video divides its time among a plain black soundstage with a choreographed line of men and women dancing robotically in blue sweat suits and white gloves, the same group in white shirts and khakis dancing in the desert while the camera rumbles earthquake-style and a flickering, silent-movie set that allows its participants to defy gravity at a couple points. And the a capella interlude from sexy-ass Ciara, who's positioned with the blue sweat suit crew in the middle of an empty street, certainly doesn't hurt.

"Lose Control" is one of the great party jams of the summer, its beat built around an old techno sample from Cybotron, and even though Fat Man Scoop doesn't do much more than stand around and yell "Hit the floor" over and over, his presence is welcome. This is fun stuff, and it marks the first time since I've been back reviewing videos that I've written about one I truly like and is not just plain passable or fucking horrible. I'm definitely keeping my eye out for more, but as we all know the crap-to-quality ratio these days is higher than ever. Thank God for Missy Elliott.

David Banner - Play

**1/2 (of four)

Speaking of goofy-assed rapper names, here's a guy named after the Incredible Hulk's nice alter-ego. Yep, David Banner's posse includes other rhyme-smiths like Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and rapid-fire spider-bitten rapper Peter Parker.

I'm kind of on the fence about "Play," which steals the "Whisper"-style beat of the Yin Yang Twins and the premise of Kanye West's "The New Workout Plan." Despite its unoriginal pedigree, though, the hook "Work them hips / Run girl" is far catchier than you'd imagine, and the percussion track sounds like it was put together from samples of the guy in Weird Al's band who makes the hand-fart noises.

"Play" is also the first video I can think of since the early '80s antics of Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" and "Muscles" from Diana Ross (written by Michael Jackson - now there's a disturbing trivia tidbit) to feature nonstop workout footage. Instead of steroid-buff Reagan-era beefcakes, though, we get a cabal of hot-ass hip-hop honeys who are far better to look at than the saggy-breast grannies I see at my local health club. As the critic on the Talkin' Videos website points out, it's the first video to feature a hottie in sunglasses doing situps.

Aside from the eye candy factor, some of the images are damn funny. There's Banner spar-boxing with one of the models, there's the trio of ladies on '80s step machines, there's Banner sitting and reading a newspaper for some reason, and it all takes place on a bright, multi-colored soundstage. Novelty through and through, but it's kinda fun.

R. Kelly featuring The Game - Playa's Only

**1/2 (out of four)

The MTV Jams channel is on a pimps-and-playas binge right now. Back to back to back, they gave me Ray Cash's "Pimp in My Own Mind," Czar-Nok* rapping "Pimp Tight" and now R. Kelly and The Game with "Playa's Only." It's kind of a throwaway song, but I'm glad to see R. Kelly isn't still trapped in the closet. After part seven, the whole "Trapped in the Closet" saga got kind of overdone.

This is just a straight summer party video, hip-hop's answer to the country trash of "Redneck Yacht Club." R. Kelly and The Game**, flanked by a half-dozen hotties, navigate their boat through tropical waters to find five or six yachts tied together. If you guessed a large number of scantily clad women would be dancing on top of these boats, well, congratulations, you've seen a rap video before.

R. Kelly, for his part, does his best to play the part of a yuppie boat owner. At one point in the video, he's wearing a white Polo with a red ascot sweater tied around his neck. It's around the point he's singing, "When the doors close, handle your business," directly into a woman's writhing torso. Me personally, I can't stand it when a sexy woman's innie belly button can't handle its business.

* = I know I'm gonna sound like a whiny old fart, and I'm aware that most of the best artist names are already taken, but what the fuck kind of rapper name is Czar-Nok?!

** = I know I'm gonna sound like a whiny old fart, and I'm aware that most of the best artist names are already taken, but what the fuck kind of rapper name is The Game?! Last I checked, that was a 1997 David Fincher thriller starring Michael Douglas.

The System - Don't Disturb This Groove

*1/2 (out of four)

I work as a waiter, and the Muzak in my restaurant is constantly tuned to the Adult Contemporary station. And despite the "contemporary" designation, I end up hearing the 1987 R+B ballad "Don't Disturb This Groove" every time I'm clocked in. I think I even spilled a large Pasta con Broccoli on someone during the chorus once.

This is the first time I've ever seen the video, though, and if I wasn't sitting here reviewing it, I'd be fast forwarding the fuck out of it. So I can only imagine how boring it must be for you, Gentle Reader, to have to read secondhand my observations of an 18-year-old forgettable pop hit. I'll keep this brief, then.

The band, half-white and half-black, checks into a hotel suite, carrying cases of instruments equipped for what the desk clerk must assume will be a night of kinky homosexual fun. (If you've never had sex with three men, a couple electric guitars and a bright red keyboard bass, let me tell you, you're fucking missing out.) In the next room, a woman of mysterious descent - could be Asian, perhaps Filipino - listens as they play a certain song I have to hear at work every night.

Other memories I'll no doubt carry with me - the lead singer's giant, upward-swept boxcar bouffant, the nauseating stutter-motion camera shots, the insistent foward-motion head bob of the keyboard player as he works his magic and an odd interlude in the desert that has the Asian/Filipino stretching across a big rock while wearing a skin-tight black dress.

A little poking around on the Internet, and I discovered Don't Disturb This Groove: The Album! also features the classics "Soul Boy," "Modern Girl," "Nighttime Lover" and another track simply titled "Groove." Which is also, I'm sure, not to be disturbed.

Phil Collins - Another Day in Paradise

** (out of four)

This 1990 pop ballad about destitute street-dwellers made Phil Collins a shitload of money. Like Bill Hicks says, it's irony on its basest level, but I fuckin' like it. Yes, "Another Day in Paradise" is a oddly perky #1 hit about homelessness, co-sung by David Crosby, who knows a thing or two about scraping together quarters and dimes to buy plastic bottles of Aristocrat Rum.

The funniest thing is - and no one believes this - I went to a baseball game about six or seven years ago and, while I was walking to the entrance turnstyles, passed the outdoor gated area where all the rich folks were drinking beer and eating their fill of brisket and burgers. And outside the gate, three or four homeless people were slouched together, hats and hands out for whatever money passersby could spare. As accompaniment to the whole thing, the Muzack speaker-rocks spread around the entire area were playing "Another Day in Paradise." More base-level irony.

Phil spends the duration of this sepia-toned video singing in profile from one side of the screen to the other, brow furrowed with concern and hands wrought with sympathy. Intercut are still photos of immigrant children crammed onto boats, a starving black man with a "Don't Worry, Be Happy" stocking cap*, a bone-skinny man sleeping on a street grate, and my personal favorite, a billboard reading "Don't Give to Beggars - They Cause Traffic Problems."

This is a world where newspapers are used for blankets, cardboard for pillows, and for the first time in his life, Phil Collins is the most attractive person on the scene.

That's the video - silhouette Phil, still photos of the homeless, opening and closing shots of the planet Earth and, just when you think it couldn't get cheesier, close-ups of fingers pounding synthesizer keys and strumming an acoustic guitar. Cheese aside, this was some heavy-handed shit for the VH1 crowd at the time, especially considering it was released in the days of Wilson Phillips and Paula Abdul.

* = Yes, Bobby McFerrin, you are responsible for the homeless epidemic! Think of all the out-of-work musicians you could have fed while you were selfishly recording your a capella music tracks to save a couple production bucks.