Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Leo Sayer - You Make Me Feel Like Dancing

zero stars (of four)

Back when I did weekly eMpTyV review postings, around 2000 and 2001, I had a Gay Video of the Week feature. Which drew heavily on the big hair period of the mid-eighties (Tina Turner, Miami Sound Machine and, of course, Frankie Goes to Hollywood) but would have gladly made Leo Sayer's clip for "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" feel right at home.

Leo Sayer is a scrubbed-up Osmond boy with a Richard Simmons perm, white sleeveless shirt and cream-colored bell bottoms. He clutches an oversized, sparkling-silver microphone, grins widely and sings in a bizarre falsetto from one darkened soundstage. The screen is circled in, alternatingly, blue, red, green and white while Leo gestures wildly and mirror images of him recede infinitely into the background.

Oddest of all, when he sings the pre-chorus refrain, Leo sounds just like Freddie Mercury. I don't know, the whole affair just has to be seen to be believed, and it stands out like a sore, homosexual thumb even among its contemporaries on the VH1 Classic "Super '70s" set list.

All-American Rejects - Dirty Little Secret

**1/2 (of four)

There's only thing that distinguishes the "Dirty Little Secret" video from that of any of the other soundalike post-grunge, punk-pop TRL acts, one little concept, and they kind of blew it. See if you could have come up with this idea, too - the entire video consists of generic soundstage performance footage intercut with people standing alone and each holding up a decorated 5" by 7" index card bearing his/her "dirty little secret."

You could do some wicked, incisive satire with this concept, but as far as dirty secrets go, these are all kind of scaled down. At least half the blame goes toward MTV's stifling policies of content censorship, and I shouldn't hold that against the video itself. But, instead of admissions of crime or religious doubt or deviant sexuality, half the people in this video either are in love with their best friends or aren't sure they should marry their fiances.

Okay, one kid admits to having gay sex at church camp ("three times!"), but a lot of these admissions are just laughable goober shit. ("I can eat a dozen donuts in one sitting," "I waste office supplies because I hate my boss," and, my favorite, "I know it really stinks, but I really like the smell of my own poop.")

But, I'll admit, there are some good, juicy ones in here. ("I only love two of my children," "People think I've stopped lying but I've just gotten better at it," "I pee in the sink.") And veteran video director Marcos Siega knows well enough not to blow his wad at the beginning - the pacing is damn near perfect, and the song's short enough not to wear out its welcome.

"Dirty Little Secret" itself is a hell of a generic song, but the video held my attention. I'd just kind of like to see someone responsible hold up a decorated index card that reads "This shit could have been a whole lot better."

Gwen Stefani - What You Waiting For?

RATING: *** (out of four)

In her debut solo video from last year, Gwen Stefani can't concentrate on writing those brilliant, brilliant pop songs of hers because she's preoccupied with her deadbeat boyfriend. So she answers an ad ("Writer's Block?") posted on a bulletin board in the hallway of her recording studio.

After watching an informative video and signing a waiver in an office building, Gwen wakes back up in her recording studio to find a mysterious Flavor Flav alarm clock necklace on her piano and a miniature, computer-animated Japanese clay bunny running at her face.

After that, all bets are off - it appears Gwen has been issued a heroic dose of psyillocybin mushrooms, and she spends the duration of the video in another world. Gwen sings to a clone of herself - both of them clad in off-white top hats, enormous high heels and way too ruffly skirts. She finds a giant version of herself stuck in a house, with arms and legs popping out of windows on the top and bottom floors.

She crawls into an equally cramped greenhouse while Japanese geisha girls writhe from atop umbrellas in the water. She hangs out with pink flamingoes. She crashes a tea party. She gets opium smoke blown in her face by an old Japanese guy smoking from a houka. And, the kicker, Gwen runs through a garden maze whose green shrubbery oozes and drips with the exact living-watercolor imagery of a solid mushroom trip. Not that I'd know what that's like, Bush administration Justice Department officials. You don't have to tap my phone or put a camera in my bathroom.

Meanwhile, we see the real Gwen lying back in a wooden chair in her studio, defying gravity, while the song writes and records itself on a ProTools computer rig and the song's lyrics appear in calligraphy, in her notebook, as they're being sung. If you guessed the lyrics are actually about the fact that Gwen is under pressure to come up with a hit song for her big solo debut and define her identity apart from her band, then wow, you're as clever as Gwen. She could use your lyric-writing help, maybe. Or your drugs. Whatever drugs you could give her.

It's all pretty derivative - I mean, for a song that's about conquering writer's block and unoriginality, "What You Waiting For?" borrows a hell of a lot of ideas and images. There's one part Alice in Wonderland, one part Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one part Bjork (the "lyrics writing themselves in the notebook" motif is almost identical to her "Bachelorette" video), and I can't put my finger on it, but I know I've seen the "giant person trapped in the house" thing in at least one other music video.

Still, I've got a massive soft spot for videos that go all out with psychedelic effects, and director Francis Lawrence at least puts a halfway novel spin on it by indulging Gwen's sizeable hardon for the Japanese. The entire bridge of "What You Waiting For?", which doesn't seem to have much to do with the rest of the song, is devoted to Japanese people and cities. Apparently, Gwen Stefani can't wait to get back to Osaka, and the Harajuku girls have some damn wicked style. Oh, and she wants your drugs. Give her your drugs, for the love of God.

Click Five - Just the Girl

RATING: *1/2 (out of four)

Click Five is a band that rolls a hell of a lot of gimmicks into one - boy band TRL charm, British Invasion mop-top hair, '80s synth production and identical black-and-blue suits that call to mind the Strokes or the Hives or one of the other one-name bands that made a temporary splash in 2002.

All this could be excused if Click Five actually was from England (they're from Boston) or if their record company had allowed them to lead their career off with a single that wasn't written by the Fountains of Wayne guy. As it stands now, "Just the Girl" is an even more treacly reprise of "Stacy's Mom" (with a hint of Tal Bachman's "She's So High") with far-too-cheesy lyrics about an unattainable girl the singer's in love with. ("She laughs at my dreams / But I dream about her laughter.")

The video begins in a boring classroom, with a TRL cross-section being taught Hemingway by Peter Brady in shirt and tie. (Or is it Bobby Brady? I don't know my Brady boys too well, and I don't really purport to.) A helicopter bearing the name of the band descends onto the school's roof, and Click Five begins playing from a stage already set up and also bearing the band's name.

And a note circulates in the TRL classroom, "Click Five On The Roof - Now!" If you're Peter or Bobby Brady, trying to teach these kids the virtues of a long-dead, severe-alcoholic novelist, and there are five identically clad, newly appointed teen idols power popping it up on the roof, do you expect to retain the attention of your class? Hell no.

The classroom clears out immediately, and Peter/Bobby spends the rest of the video wandering the empty halls, looking sweaty and confused and trying to find out where all his students went. (HINT: If you hear a helicopter land on the roof, and suddenly there's a bass-and-snare backbeat filtering down into your classroom, and the kids all shriek and vanish, they're probably headed up to the fucking roof. It kind of stands to reason.)

Director Vem employs a lot of staple music video tricks, frequently splitting the screen into fours and nines and wiping back and forth from performance footage to the flustered Brady English teacher. The lighting scheme is a bunch of pale blues and greens, and the surprise ending - when the teacher gives up his search and returns to his classroom to find all his kids sitting quietly at their desks - is no surprise at all.