Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Alicia Keys - Unbreakable

*** (out of four)

There have been a couple Alicia Keys songs I was underwhelmed with that got really inescapable on pop radio, but right now there's no way to make me tired of "Unbreakable." But, if you've traced my good and bad video reviews through the years, it should be easy to figure out I have a soft spot for good funky, backward-looking R+B divas.

Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Leela James, India Arie, I love them all, especially when they slap together a bass guitar and organ-based midtempo anthem like this one. Keys has a dignity, confidence and expertise that completely belies her young age, and she manages to be cover girl gorgeous and completely respectable at the same time. Try that shit, Christina.

"Unbreakable" is the flagship single from Alicia Keys' MTV "Unplugged" album and, I'm sure, eventual DVD. Filmed in a room both intimate and spacious, Keys is flanked by an army of musicians and backup singers while she stands behind a keyboard and sings about classic romances.

Her verses, catchy on their own, are rendered even more so by references to Ike and Tina, Bill and Camille, Oprah and Stedman, Flo and James Evans, Will and Jada, Kimora and Russell (Simmons, I'm guessing?) and Joe and Catherine Jackson. These high-profile couples, as Keys points out to the object of her interest, "ain't no different from me [...and...] you." Except that few can luck themselves into having a girlfriend as drop-dead amazing as her. Or Camille Cosby, for that matter.

The video is mainly performance footage, from varied angles, of Keys and her band and the audience, but there are also slow-mo backstage clips of Keys and the band walking onstage and Mos Def and Common nodding approvingly. You see, they both would like very much to have sexual intercourse with Keys. Or Camille Cosby, for that matter.

Ricky Martin featuring Fat Joe and Amerie - I Don't Care

*1/2 (of four)

Wow, everyone's favorite fruity, closeted 1999 Latin pop sensation is trying to make a comeback. Silly Ricky, trying to light the TRL crowd on fire. All of your original fans are off at universities somewhere, reading Proust and indulging in girl-girl experimentation. The tweenage record-buying public today will probably see right through this shit. The fact that it's called "I Don't Care" even further proves my point through simple, unknowing (I hope) irony.

It should be noted upfront, though, that "I Don't Care" could have been shopped around to practically any male pop or R+B performer and have sounded exactly alike. Martin is an anonymous set of vocal cords in a production that also includes an Amerie verse, a Fat Joe verse, a chorus that sounds straight out of a Nelly song and some Neptunes-imitation production from Dr. Dre's second-favorite white guy, Scott Storch. When Martin does get to sing a verse in his own song, he pulls out that same old Jon Secada delivery he used to coast on. Generic, generic, generic.

Ricky's bumming over a girl who cheated on him. He gave her a ring, thought he was going to marry her, then walked in on some other guy pounding her ("He had your feet up over the seat / All I heard was screaming"). He gasped, felt an utter sense of betrayal and then slowly, against his will, got a hard-on looking at the new guy's metrosexually shaved ass cheeks. He sings about that with the same old Jon Secada delivery, too, by the way.

The "I Don't Care" video, from veteran director Diane Martel, is just as forgettable as the song itself - black-and-white macho-attempt lip synching from Martin. Who is seen, at various times, leaning against a graffiti-saturated brick wall, sitting sideways on the driver's seat of a classic convertible, dancing with fly girls and singing with conviction into Amerie's lower thigh and knee. Trust me, I'm trying to figure that last one out, too.

Amerie actually has a dramatic moment during Fat Joe's verse, when he's rapping directly to her about her infidelity while she pretends to cry and her mascara streaks down her face. The mascara, by the way, is Revlon Ebony Dynamite, and was supplied to Amerie by one Richard Martin.

Click here for more amusing, anonymous comments about the "I Don't Care" single and video.

NOTE: The MTV censors have been utterly against the word "ho" since around 1994, but apparently it's okay to call a woman a "slut." Other chopped words and phrases include, "fo' fo' fo'" and "dead." Which I really didn't think was that offensive since it's less about murdering someone than commenting on the state of Ricky Martin's career.

Talking Heads - Wild Wild Life

*** (of four)

"Wild Wild Life" was the big hit from the Talking Heads' True Stories album, which was the soundtrack to a quirky 1986 film of the same name directed by Heads frontman David Byrne. You know, the strange fucker in the huge white suit. His wardrobe is a little more subdued here, but you can still tell Byrne is one weird, weird dude. This time, though, he's overshadowed by a parade of microphone lip synchers, each of whom slides up to the forefront for a line or two.

I'm assuming, just from the hammed-up cameo appearance by John Goodman (in orange suit and green bowling shirt), that the microphone performers are all from the cast of True Stories. Goodman was second-billed in the film, but the rest of the cast names are a mystery to me - colorful people, though, including a fake-moustachioed and greasy-wigged Latino gigolo, a ninja, a fat girl, Billy Idol and Prince impersonators and a skinny guy who jerk-shimmies like Byrne himself in the "Once in a Lifetime" video.

The band members - some snappy dressers their damn selves - stay in the background while random stock footage clips play on rows of screens above them. The whole thing goes down in a fairly intimate nightclub, and you can be sure the director (Byrne himself, I assume?) cuts to plenty of bemused reaction shots, both of individuals and couples. The whole thing is cheesy, but knowingly so, and there's just enough variety and stimulation to sustain the video the whole way through.

Michael Jackson - Another Part of Me

** (out of four)

Last night, after my bowling league ended, seven friends and I stayed and bowled a couple games. Five guys and three girls, and I entered everyone's name into the scoring computer as one of the Jackson family. We had a Janet, a Tito, a Jermaine, a La Toya, a Rebbie and a Joe, I was Marlon, and our Michael was the man's mannest of our present group of friends. This guy's a sports nut, he can talk guns and hunting for hours and his voice is an imposing baritone. But for two bowling games - twenty frames - he was Michael Jackson.

Every homosexual pedophile joke imaginable was cracked between Mike and the rest of us, and even in character, he had that deep, deep voice. Except for his version of the trademark Michael Jackson "Eeee-heee!" Which he developed midway through the first game, and which he soon learned became an extremely effective mechanism to distract me just as I was gearing up to release my ball. It was a funny, funny couple of hours, and I didn't even mind when Michael and his wife left and only paid for two games when they really owed for four.

Anyway, that's the only reason I allowed my TiVo remote to linger on the video for "Another Part of Me." Had the Jackson family bowling night not occurred, I'd have skipped right over this by-the-numbers concert clip from the 1988 Bad tour. "Another Part" was the, what, seventh? single from the Bad album and its least memorable. A mid-tempo, funk-lite throwaway with an extended funk-guitars-and-horns breakdown that does its level best to rip off the Prince 12" singles of the same time.

Michael's on his vast concert stage - you can be sure there will be multi-colored laser lights flashing behind him at various points - with his big-haired band flanking him from behind. He's wearing some white lycra bicycling shirt with his dozens-of-buckles leather pants held up by an uber-tacky silver, "Let's go line dancing, dang it!" buckle. Dressed to impress, Michael nonetheless doesn't seem that into the idea of putting on a show. He spins a few times, he tries to get the audience to sing along (HINT: that trick is always better executed when accompanied by a popular song, Mike) and mainly he just kind of wanders the stage with the microphone. My man's man friend would let this stay on for about five seconds. Then he'd let out a rousing "Eeee-heee!" and kill a deer or two.