Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Fat Joe - So Much More

** (out of four)

I don't know why exactly, but Fat Joe always reminds me of a Grade A jumbo farm-fresh egg. He definitely has that Humpty Dumpty thing going on, and it's too bad his mentor and pal Big Punisher died so prematurely - when standing next to Pun in their videos, Fat Joe actually looked kinda skinny.

Surrounded by music video rental hotties and, in "So Much More," an inexplicable Flavor Flav cameo, Fat Joe looms large. Director R. Malcolm Jones even has him rapping while holding what appears to be a foot-and-a-half -long hot dog while in front of a food stand. So much for subtlety.

There's not much to the "So Much More" video. Fat Joe wanders the streets of the city, walks through a party, gets the hot dog, drives around town. The best shots are closeups of Joe rapping under a flourescent black-light effect with shock-white contacts making his eyes look evil as hell. And of course there's the trademark introduction of a second, unrelated song for the last minute of the video.

Strangest is the interlude sequence that takes place in a subway car. Joe's making out with a very lucky blonde (he met her - no joke - in front of the hot dog stand) when a gender-mixed trio of thugs tries to steal his lady's purse. Joe pulls his tongue out of the blonde's mouth, asks them what the problem is, and they give back the purse when they recognize who they're robbing. Then Fat Joe reaches into his pocket, pulls out an enormous rubber-banded roll of hundreds, tosses it to the would-be thieves, and offers them all jobs.

As for the song itself, "So Much More" doesn't have many of the qualities that made "Lean Back" such a smash hit. The beat's not bad, but the chorus sucks - it's an off-key interpolation of the bridge from 2Pac's "Temptations" (which was, I'm sure, stolen from a third source), and there are way, way too many words cut out. An entire line is missing from the video, and the closed-captioning has nothing but "- - - - - - - - -" mystery hyphens.

Also, I didn't know this, but apparently Fat Joe's nickname is Crack. Maybe he's named after the drug, maybe after his crack skills on the microphone, or just maybe it's for the solid 22 inches of ass crack he sports. Who the hell knows.

Britney Spears - Do Somethin'

*1/2 (out of four)

Yes, I confess that since my last birthday I'm officially in my late 20s now, but one thing that makes me feel downright old is that Britney Spears already has a greatest hits album. Why, it seems like just yesterday that I turned on MTV and first saw the video for "Baby One More Time."

I remember fondly how I watched the still-kinda-innocent teen pop singer dance around a high school hallway in a pleated Catholic school girl skirt and stroked myself to orgasm before the end of the second chorus had even rolled around. And now she's got a greatest hits - Christ, how the time flies. It flies kinda like spunk when you're stroking yourself in time to the image of a certain Southern TRL superstar.

For you pervs out there, "Do Somethin'" does feature its share of Britney writhing and working her body in belly shirts and, subtlety be damned, sleek black undergarments. It's got the stuff Stuff magazine photospreads are made of, and Britney spends the video hanging with an equally hot quartet of blonde hotties. But the whole thing is ludicrous, inside and out, disposable and not at all meant to be taken seriously.

For starters, the opening sequence features Britney in the girls riding around the clouds in a pink Hummer, while singing "Somebody pass my guitar / So I can look like a star." The chick in the passenger seat hands Britney a guitar, which she poses with for a half-second before pushing it away. Sucks - I was all primed to hear her rip out the opening chords of "Smoke on the Water." Those beginner lessons have to pay off sometime.

The pink Hummer in the clouds shit soon gives way to a hole in the wall that's actually called Hole in the Wall. Where Britney and the girls dance on stage for an appreciative crowd of Abercrombie boys and later set up their instruments (!) to perform the song in question.

The whole thing reeks of the sparse throwaway material that's usually tacked onto a greatest hits album to entice fans who already own the artists' other albums to purchase this one too. First came Britney's remake of "My Prerogative," now this Avril Lavigne/Pink-sounding glam pop shit. I remain thoroughly unenticed, though my eyes can't help but be glued to the screen anyway.

Green Day - Holiday

*** (out of four)

I've got a pair of friends, both in their early 30s, who swear Green Day's American Idiot is "the best rock opera since Tommy." They also both went to a Green Day show a few months back and each declared it one of the three best concerts of their lives. Each favors bands like Weezer, Oasis, Pearl Jam and surprisingly better than you'd think Nada Surf, so I trust their recommendations in general.

But I haven't brought myself to purchase (or even significantly download) American Idiot - I'm still the kind of Green Day listener who's perfectly happy to pop Dookie in the CD player every six months or so and leave it at that. I like "Holiday," though, the song and video - and, you'd never guess it, but it turns out Billie Joe Armstrong and the boys are left-leaners, politically. I would have pegged them for Bush supporters myself, but we're here on this planet to learn, and learn I did.

Don't worry too much about the protest elements of the song. With the exception of a raspy, distorted bridge ("Pulverize the Eiffel Towers who criticize your government"), "Holiday" is pure catchy rock and roll, suitable for the AOR radio format. It could play in between Sheryl Crow and Hootie, and I know the members of Green Day would hold me down and beat me if they read that.

The video opens, none too subtlely, with fighter planes dropping a bomb bearing the band's name on some city, then Billie Joe & Co. spend the next two minutes or so riding around town in a manically moving convertible while the blue screen background flashes incongruent images.

All this is intercut with the band getting drunk in a bar and hitting on what appears to be a transvestite. (The transvestite represents that corporate whore Dick Cheney. Or Rumsfeld perhaps.) Eventually Billie Joe is flanked by four super-trashy dancers while images of more fighter planes grace yet another blue screen. A fun video, overall, and it's under three minutes long so it doesn't even have a chance to wear out its welcome.

The Specials - Ghost Town

*** (out of four)

I first heard this British ska classic on the soundtrack of Guy Ritchie's film Snatch (really, a musical hodgepodge of all kinds of shit and a soundtrack I highly recommend). Not long after I picked up The Special's Singles Collection, which includes a six-minute 12" version of "Ghost Town." And, yeah, it's a great song - lazy, spooky-sounding reggae with a true atmosphere of its own - but when you sit through six minutes of it, you realize there's not much to it. Two verses, a chorus and a memorable synth and horn line. Four minutes is plenty.

"Ghost Town," the song, came out in 1981 - the birth year of MTV. I honestly can't tell if the video was made that year too or a few years later. (My instinct is telling me 1984, for some reason.) In either event, it's primitive but effective, which the racially mixed band crammed into a moving vehicle at dusk and eventually night. They're rolling through said ghost town, which consists of low-angle shots of big, empty buildings, a long tunnel and lots of lights reflected off the car's windshielf.

The band mugs to the camera more and more as the video rolls on, which keeps the song's protest bent (where are all the jobs? why are there fights at their concerts? etc.) from becoming too heavy-handed. The whole package has held up pretty well after two and a half decades - I'll take this over the "Bette Davis Eyes" or "Maneater" videos any day.

Foo Fighters - Best of You

**1/2 (of four)

The entire first minute of "Best of You" consists of a profile closeup of the lower half of Dave Grohl's face (and eventually the whole face) singing into a big electric shaver-looking silver microphone. He's also got about ten days of stubble on his face, and his teeth are nice and white. Except for the left front tooth, which is yellow. These are things you notice when you have to stare at the same shot of a face, stubble, teeth and a microphone for a minute straight.

"Best of You" eventually launches into a collection of outdoor performance footage of the Foo Fighters guys, camera occasionally shaking and calling to mind U2's "Beautiful Day" video. There are no airplanes flying over their heads, though, just a decent sunset and plenty of stock footage clips of images both comforting and disturbing. Little kids, cars crashing, a snake attacking a rodent teeth-first, a sign that says "Pain feels good," a flower in reverse bloom, and so on.

This is one of the band's better singles of the last few years, sing-along power pop/rock with throat-shredding vocals and a thundering finale. Will it be remembered in a year? Five? Ten? Not by many, is my guess. Does the video feature any of the comic antics that made "Big Me" and "Learn to Fly" such fun videos to watch (and re-watch, most importantly)? Absolutely not. It's merely passable and ultimately forgettable but pleasant enough while it lasts.