Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bon Jovi - Have a Nice Day (2005)

*1/2 (of four)

I've had VH1 on for about five hours now, and it's starting to go to my brain. Bon Jovi's new video "Have a Nice Day" has been on three times, and I'm still not quite prepared for the reality of the awfulness of the song. Or the audacity of Bon Jovi, who's trying to put together a true fuck-you-I-won't-do-what-you-tell-me anthem out of a chorus that goes, "When the world gets in my face / I say 'have a nice say'." The lyrics are one cliche after another, and the music even sounds the same as "It's My Life," "Born To Be My Baby" and half a dozen other Bon Jovi songs.

The video concept is just as simple and beaten into the ground as the song itself. The Have a Nice Day album cover is a black-on-red drawing of a sinister, smirking smiley face. At the beginning, a guy takes a picture of the smiley face on his camera and sends it to everyone in his address book. We get to see all of them react. Then the smiley face logo starts appearing everywhere - on a Dumpster, on the side of a bus, in a crop circle, on a mailbox, on some kid's shoe and in a flyer handed to one Jon Bon Jovi, who gives an overdrawn look of surprise to the camera, like, How much is the publicity for this album truly going to cost? And do I have to fucking pay for it?

It gets old quick and positively annoying about halfway through. I've got a friend of a friend who is such a massive Bon Jovi fan that he has the New Jersey album cover tattooed on his left ass cheek, and even he thinks "Have a Nice Day" sucks.

Alanis Morissette - Crazy (2005)

** (of four)

I dream comical, oddball shit like this - left-field, unnecessary cover songs performed by random artists you might not have heard much from in awhile. I had a dream that Hootie and the Blowfish earned themselves a legitimate comeback on the strength of their remake of “She’s a Beauty” by The Tubes. One time I dreamt I was at a Green Day concert and they put on a showstopping acoustic rendition of Toto’s “Hold the Line” that had 12,000 fans in the audience singing along.

But I never dreamed I’d hear Alanis do a techno-tinged remake of “Crazy,” Seal’s signature dance/alternative/adult contemporary hit from 1991. It may seem an arbitrary choice, but think about it - Alanis and Seal have a few things in common. Both are unconventionally attractive, socially conscious and probably upset that their careers peaked in 1995.

“Crazy” is the token new song off Alanis’ greatest hits collection. (I’d be willing to put money on “You Oughta Know” being Track 1 and “Crazy” being Track 17.) It’s mediocre in every sense of the word - not bad, not good, and definitely not worth remembering or seeking out. There’s a cool rhythm guitar effect, and that’s about it. Thanks to Napster and a bored August afternoon five years ago, I know Alanis does a killer concert cover of “Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead - why not record and release that? Not a famous or upbeat enough song for VH1 to put on their “Jump Start” morning show, I suppose.

The video for “Crazy,” which earned director Meiert Avis a higher-than-scale paycheck and an even more firm mattress of flames to sleep on in hell, is as bland as the song. Alanis walks down the street looking pissed and determined. She stands around her apartment looking pissed and determined. She performs this song looking pissed and determined with a band in a small club.

And eventually, Alanis shows up at a party, pissed and determined, and tracks down a pair I can only assume is her ex-boyfriend and his new blond girlfriend. Screams the climactic bridge of the song at him and throws her drink in his face while the blond has a put-out, mouth-agape expression. See, that’s her, that’s the angry Alanis we all remember from ten years ago. So let’s all cue up Track 1 of her greatest hits and never listen to this generic shit again.

James Blunt - You're Beautiful (2005)

**1/2 (of four)

VH1 has been sucking this guy’s cock like crazy lately. I’ve seen the video for “You’re Beautiful” pop up four times on the video network tonight while I’ve been emailing people and searching the Internet. One airing came a mere 37 minutes after the last one. So, shit, I get the message - thirtysomething hipster pop fans are supposed to get behind James Blunt.

One thing I can say about Blunt - well, two things. The first one is he has a cool last name; that’s just obvious humor and I’m not going to waste time on it. The second, the dude has a distinctive, lilting voice. It’s almost an unholy genetic mashup of Jeff Buckley, David Gray and, like, Sarah McLachlan or somebody.

Blunt is bizarre-sounding, almost with an Irish/Scottish tinge, even though Blunt is British and used to be in the Army and is being compared to a young Elton John. I know these facts, you see, because VH1 - before airing this video four times tonight - preceded the actual video with a yank-job propaganda promo intro about how frickin’ cool James Blunt is.

I like “You’re Beautiful,” though. I’m enjoying it more and more every 37 minutes when it re-airs. The video, courtesy of director Sam Brown, is an odd, three-minute affair that’s all one real-time take of Blunt standing in the rain with a gloomy-sky backdrop. The camera slowly pulls back as Blunt, wearing several layers of clothing, stoically and methodically removes each layer as he stares into the camera, matted 1989 Dennis Miller hair framing his face.

Blunt is on a white platform, in front of open water, lip synching as he sits down and removes his shoes, belt and the pocket contents. Then he turns and takes a slow-mo leap into the water, and it’s unclear whether he’s attempting suicide. With lyrics like “It’s time to face the truth / I will never be with you,” I’m guessing self-termination is a feasible interpretation. Or maybe he’s sick of seeing his video every 37 minutes on VH1.

Kanye West - Heard 'em Say (B+W version) (2005)

***1/2 (of four)

I've spent a lot of time on the fence in the case of Kanye West. On one hand, he's a visionary hip-hop producer who has created at least a dozen immortal beats. On the other, his formula is simple and repetitious - how many songs with sped-up old-school soul samples as choruses are we expected to put up with? On the one hand, his lyrics are often articulate and thought-provoking. On the other, his arguments are muddled and not completely supported by basic logic. On the one hand, he's ballsy as hell when it comes to calling out White America on their neglect and exploitation of black folks. On the other, his flow is monotonous and amateurish, and his out-of-control ego is not merely an image-selling act.

But if I have one weakness when it comes to rap music, it's listening to a huge star drop the usual bitches/money/drugs/bling routine and wax emotional and philosophical instead. 2Pac's "So Many Tears," DMX's "How's It Goin' Down," The Game's "Hate It Or Love It" and, shit, even Ja Rule's "I Cry" had me at hello. Now here's Kanye West looking back on the wisdom of his elders and mulling over the bleak options of ghetto life - minimum wage not being adequate, having to steal to get a good reputation, being handed the AIDS plague by the government. Not to mention, Kanye West and Jerry Falwell can agree that lottery tickets and cigarettes are both horrible, horrible things.

It's not just the raw honesty of the lyrics and the piano loop on the beat that sold "Heard 'em Say" to me. Or the rather unexpected but perfect mesh of Kanye's flow and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine's soulful falsetto vocals on the chorus (not sped-up, either!). The video is also supremely watchable - well, once you overlook the interspersed clips of Kanye and Adam interplaying rather awkwardly on an empty soundstage. This is thanks to animator Bill Plympton, who brings the song's lyrics to life with black-and-white charcoal and pen and ink cartoons.

There's a little-kid version of Kanye and his family, while grown-up Kanye revisits the entire affair. And in the end, some dude spills gas on the ground, drops a match into it and blows the car holding grown-up Kanye and little-kid Kanye into the sky. Now, we all know Kanye West wants to escape the pains of this world in a spaceship, but in this case he escapes with angel wings. Then returns to earth - no joke - as an angelic cab driver who gives rides to the less fortunate. I don't know if Kanye's above doing a TV show, but this would make an awesome premise for an hourlong drama. Roma Downey and Della Reese have nothing on this shit.