Friday, January 20, 2006

Kylie Minogue - Come Into My World (2002)

**** (of four)

Yeah, you're reading right, I'm giving the first four-star rating of my rejuvenated eMpTyV website to a Kylie Minogue video. That's the same Kylie Minogue who bounced through her 1988 "Locomotion" video like a living Barbie doll. The same Kylie Minogue who's been a huge star ever since in Britain, Australia and bars where guys pick up guys. The same Kylie Minogue who perpetrated the massively overplayed dance-pop song "Can't Get You Out Of My Head."

But in the hands of Michel Gondry - the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind auteur who gobbles acid a sheet at a time - Kylie becomes immortal just by walking down the street. And replicating herself three times. Instant cloning, even down to the outfit and accessories, that's fucking impressive.

The video is on a one-minute loop, basically. Kylie weaves her way down a few sidewalks and a few streets and winds up back where she started, only to be joined by another clone Kylie when she repeats the adventure. Gimmicky, definitely, but every time Kylie treks back through the streets, the background extras are doubled and eventually tripled and quadrupled. That's a total of four Kylies, guys on ladders, kids on skateboards, metermaids writing parking tickets, motorcycle accident/fights and mattresses being thrown out the second-story window by the pissed-off girlfriend. says Gondry's shoot, in a Parisian suburb, had over fifty extras and required the entire neighborhood to be closed off to the public for two days of shooting. It also took more than two weeks of special effects duplication to add the twins, triplets and quadruplets into the frames. The "Come Into My World" video is just plain mesmerizing, requires multiple viewings and will put a smile on your smug, cynical face.

The White Stripes - The Hardest Button To Button (2003)

***1/2 (of four)

I was on the White Stripes bandwagon a few years ago along with all the other self-aware pseudo-hipsters, but I was pretty much done thinking they were anything special shortly after the release of Elephant. A solid single, though, complete with a killer AC/DC rhythm-guitar riff intro and singalong chorus, is "Hardest Button to Button."

The Michel Gondry video is supremely watchable as well, thanks to live-action editing that's so swift it's almost stop-motion. Jack and Meg White play their instruments all over the city - dozens of duplicate drum kits appear, one in front of the other, to the beat of the song while Meg hops from kit to kit. At one point, there are at least forty of the things, rotating in a dizzying eight-point star formation.

She descends the concrete stairs to a subway station, while a guitar-playing Jack pops down with her, duplicate amps appearing in front of him at will. The whole video is one big trick played on the eyes, probably several thousand shots in all, spanning a sidewalk scene, a highway overpass tunnel and a subway car. "Hardest Button" was made with patience and care, and it pays off big time.

Jan Hammer - Miami Vice Theme (1985)

* (of four)

Stay up until 6:27 in the morning and you may be surprised, as I just was, to learn there exists a video for the Casio-infused instrumental theme from "Miami Vice." This shit shot to the top of the charts in 1985, due in part to the popularity of the show and in part the brain-grating catchiness of Jan Hammer's synth guitar riff.

I've never laid eyes on Hammer until now, but watching him in his shimmering blue suit and bright red dress shirt, I'm oddly reminded of the "Inconceivable!" guy from The Princess Bride going through a mid-life crisis. Hammer spends the video in the studio with a concentrated, demented look on his face, playing synthesizer along to projected clips from "Miami Vice." Just in case we forget what show we're watching, the MV logo pops onscreen from time to time.

Jan has his regular synthesizer, his drum pattern number board and his synth guitar. He rocks out with the latter while the MV clips are projected across his body. There's really nothing quite like watching an abnormally goofy-looking guy push a bunch of buttons like a rock star for two and a half minutes.

Gregory Abbott - Shake You Down (1987)

** (of four)

One of the more noxious mid-'80s slow jams is "(Mama Let Me) Shake You Down" from two-hit wonder Gregory Abbott, who looks kind of like Ted Danson in blackface. Odd, since a quick artist bio search on the Internet just revealed that Abbott was considered one of the sexiest artists in pop at the time. Competition wasn't so fierce in those days, I suppose - the REO Speedwagon frontman was years away from his life-altering visit to Dr. 90210.

This video reeks of a bad senior portrait session. Images of Abbott - posing solo with chair in front of white backdrop, looking austere in front of the sepia-paisley backdrop, et al - and various multiethnic female models roll across the screen from right to left. Abbott, for his part, is dressed like Tubbs from "Miami Vice," with suit coat atop white T-shirt. The models are hit and miss - one strange-looking white girl keeps singing intently into the camera and eventually pulls her sweater up over her head to reveal some forbidden white bra strap. That one's a miss, methinks.

Hang in there until the end and you'll be rewarded with Abbott's pair of nursery rhyme ad-libs: "Roses are red and violets are blue / I'm gonna rock this world for you," and, "Eenie meenie miney moe / I'm gonna let my love flow." When I'm bored and this song comes on somewhere I can't change the channel, I sing my own ad-libs. My favorites so far are, "I do not like green eggs and ham / I'm gonna give you a lumberjack slam," and, "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two / Columbus beat your beaver blue."

Go West - King of Wishful Thinking (1990)

*1/2 (of four)

Thanks for coming to the pitch meeting, everyone. Now imagine, if you will, this mish-mash of ideas: we're gonna make a music video on a plain white soundstage, and we're gonna cram as many people, costumes and animals into the shots with the band as we can think of. None of it will serve a plot or really make any sense whatsoever. But we're gonna need a lot of extras.

First of all, this song's from the Pretty Woman soundtrack, so we'll need a Julia Roberts look-alike dressed up in that same spandex hooker costume. We'll need a Mexican mariachi band, some paparazzi, and a crossing guard. Oh, and there's some synth horn in here, so let's get a Louie Armstrong lookalike to play those three notes.

We did some screen tests, and the rhythm guitar player is sorely lacking in charisma, so let's walk a zebra or two in front of him to distract the viewers. How about some ballet dancers and hockey players and a Roy Orbison doppelganger while we're at it? We're gonna need some movie company executives and a guy in a pope suit.

And the lead singer, the guy who looks like Richard Jeni, make sure he sings into a giant silver wrench at one point. Since this song is called "King of Wishful Thinking," let's get an actual dude in a king costume with a big fake beard. And don't forget the circus elephant - he can hang out with the Elvis impersonator. I'd really also like to get a shot of early '80s SNL producer Dick Ebersol in a red sweater playing guitar.

Ah, brilliant, brilliant. Read that back to me, will ya?

Robert Palmer - I Didn't Mean To Turn You On (1986)

** (of four)

My friend Bambi had a killer idea for a Halloween costume. I would dress up as Robert Palmer - black suit coat, white shirt, black tie, white pants, hair shaggy and poofed out - and carry a microphone stand around all night. And I'd be flanked by four to five pale young ladies with identical eyeliner, lipstick, black dresses, sheer black pantyhose and white electrical guitars. Then we both realized I have way too many fat female friends to pull it off tastefully, and besides, Robert Palmer died in his sleep a couple years back. Which is a bad omen any way you cut it. I'm falling back on my '70s Meat Loaf costume idea instead, I think.

The Palmer girls are on full display in the "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On"* video, as off-putting and robotic as ever. And Palmer's got his trademark black suit and microphone stand, just as you'd expect. But this time there are also Robert Palmer dancers, big-haired girls in white dresses, and the backdrop switches from a painting of trees to an austere white country house. Oh, and there are a trio of Palmer girls in coveralls behind the scenes, directing the video and getting light levels and such. He has an entire Kathie Lee army of bargain basement labor, Palmer does, and when their twenty-hour work day is over, he turns them off and returns them to their storage cases.

* = I love the chutzpah of this song's lyrics: Oops, sorry, I got you all hot and bothered, but guess what? I don't really find you attractive. I was just being polite and kinda felt sorry for you, actually. Do you really think any normal guy's gonna look at that lopsided, bottom-heavy Mr. Potato Head face and horse ass and want to sleep with you? I mean, really.

XTC - Dear God (1987)

*** (of four)

The first time I saw this uber-blasphemous '80s video was in eighth grade Bible class. The teacher spent an entire week showing us the five-part Christian video series Hells Bells: The Dangers of Rock and Roll, and my sheltered ass had an immediate fondness for AC/DC, Hendrix, "I Want Your Sex," The Beatles and XTC's "Dear God." It's a haunting, melodic song that's almost jaunty (a la "Alone Again Naturally") in its presentation of God-renouncing lyrics.

The video opens on a hydrocephalic British kid in a black suit standing in front of a tree, singing into the camera. The shot starts over the kid's head and swings down so the kid can stomp his foot into the shot. Dissolve to the big foot of grownup singer Andy Partridge, who resembles a bloated, bitter Tim Robbins, mouth barely moving as he sings.

Partridge is still standing in front of the tree and still can't stomach the "man-made" idea of God. The camera swings back up, revealing kind old ladies and men sitting on the branches of the tree, which jut out horizontally to resemble a cross. These are the faithful, and the shot reverses as Partridge gives them back everything they, I suppose, sacrificed to the Almighty. Their wedding cakes and dead children and such.

The video reaches what the Hell's Bells narrator refers to as a "perverted climax" when Partridge attacks the trunk of the cross-tree with a hammer in each hand while the faithful clutch to their branches and end up falling to the ground. The symbolism is obvious and the sentiment a little chilling, but as far as mid-'80s video artistry and heavy-handed lyrics delivered in a thoroughly poppy way, you could do a lot worse than "Dear God." See you in hell, Andy Partridge.