Monday, January 23, 2006

Technotronic - Pump Up the Jam (1989)

* (of four)

Technotronic was a three-hit wonder, with "Pump Up the Jam" giving way to soundalikes "Get Up (Before the Night Is Over)" and "Move This (Shake That Body, Shake That Body For Me, People Don't You Know, Don't You Know It's About Time, Can You Hear the Jam is Pumpin', While You Taste a Piece of Mine)." Technotronic was also the musical guest on an early 1990 episode of "Saturday Night Live" hosted by "Wonder Years" star Fred Savage.

Let's see, what other useless trivia can I spout about Technotronic? How about I paraphrase the techno/dance/R+B act's autobiography from Okay, here goes - Technotronic was the Belgian brainchild of American philosophy teacher Jo Bogaert. The raps were performed by a female rapper (I seriously thought it was a dude this entire time until just now) named Ya Kid K but lip synched here by African model Felly*, who didn't speak a word of English. Not "jam," not "pump," not a single word.

The video is blue-screen mayhem straight out of the instant music videos you could make with a friend in the Six Flags lip synch booth and take home a VHS souvenir for twenty bucks. Felly - looking a bit drag queenish considering the masculine-sounding vocals - dances and pumps her fists in a variety of outfits while the camera jerk-zooms and cuts in generic, mesmerizing patterns for the blue screen. There's strobe, there's lyrics flashed on the screen, there's a spandex jogging outfit complete with fanny pack. Belgium really needs to stick to chocolate.

* = Felly sounds like the name of a Muppet character on "Sesame Street," if you ask me. ("Today's show is brought to you by the letter T. T for Technotronic, T for Trite and Terrible, T for Try Another Channel...")

D'Angelo featuring A.Z. - Lady (remix) (1996)

**1/2 (of four)

D'Angelo makes records like Albert Brooks makes movies - he puts one out then disappears for five to six years. D'Angelo's been gone for over a half-decade at this point, so it's reasonable for me to assume he's just gonna sneak out another album on us at any time. Until then, we've got Brown Sugar, one of the great R+B debut albums, the not-nearly-as-cool follow-up Voodoo and (courtesy of the VH1 Soul channel at 4:45 a.m.) a remix video for "Lady."

Not a lot of effort went into this one, the song or video, but it's truly not half-bad. The "Lady" remix groove is built around a standard drum machine beat and the same three notes pounded into a synthesizer. D'Angelo sits on his piano bench on a plain white soundstage while R+B divas step in to dance, flirt and lip synch. Erykah Badu brings some lime green headwrap to the proceedings, and I think I spot Mary J. Blige and Chante Moore, but I'm a little rusty and can't find any D'Angelo remix video trivia tidbits on the Internet.*

A.Z. pops up toward the end to share the bench with D'Angelo and spit out a verse ("This earth was once lavish / Now it's cursed, left for a savage"), at the conclusion of which he mentions twice that he's in the employ of Dr. Dre's rap outfit The Firm. You remember that debacle, don't you? Supposed to be huge, flopped, and then they couldn't even call themselves The Firm because Robert Plant or some Russian hair band already owned the copyright to the name.

* = Actually, on a Hype Williams-related site just now, I discovered the mystery divas are actually Faith Evans and Joi, but I like my original sentence better, so I'm leaving it. Sometimes ignorance truly does equal bliss.

Clay Aiken - Invisible (2004)

* (of four)

Think about this - a television show goes on a talent hunt in a country with a population of a quarter-billion. Multiple auditions net an enormous response at locations spread around the continental states. Producers and judges see countless individuals of varying talent and begin an elimination process to find the most bankable superstar.

Millions of viewers vote on the outcome of this show, and eventually the Chosen One, the last singer standing, is THIS GUY. This freckled, wispy little spright-boy of ambiguous sexuality. Oh, another guy actually wins the competition - a soulful, likeable and ultimately unremarkable cat named Ruben who looks like an unholy love child of Luther Vandross and Jabba the Hutt - but Clay Aiken is the one everyone pays attention to. For a little while.

I don't know. I never got the appeal of this guy... thing... whatever. And Clay's biggest hit, "Invisible," has a disturbing, oddly pathetic stalker motif. Clay likes a girl... guy... thing... who doesn't know he's alive. So he kinda just fantasizes, "I wish I could be a fly on your wall," so "I could just watch you in your room." You have to think famed privacy invader John Aschcroft finds a good deal of personal satisfaction in those lyrics. Of course, he doesn't need to be a fly on the wall. He already has 217 cameras hidden in the unrequited dame's duplex.

The video? Yeah, that's right, that's what we're here to talk about. Well, it's a bunch of shit. Clay lip synchs from an outdoor stage on a shut-down city block for an appreciative audience of teenyboppers, secretaries, interior decorators, a couple hyper-ironic goth kids and, of course, a human Red Rover line of security cops holding back the adoring throng.

Shit. A buncha shit.

Evanescence - Bring Me To Life (2003)

*1/2 (of four)

I have a history of prematurely declaring the demise of flash-in-the-pan artists I can't stand. I said - and prayed - Kid Rock would be done after his first album, and instead we got to hear the tin-ear duet "Picture" on four different radio format channels for 31 months straight.

So I can't say for sure that Evanescence's special brand of operatic adult-contemporary power ballads has seen its last thrust into the limelight. I can only get back down on my knees and petition the Almighty to banish Evanescence to the casino-venue circuit. Too bad the Almighty's already on their side.

"Bring Me To Life," as remixed for radio, trades off its chorus vocals between the regularly scheduled Female Operatic Adult-Contemporary Power Ballad Singer and Paul McCoy of 12 Stones. His job is to rap out the line, "Wake me up! I can't wake up!" in true wigger-punk fashion. I'd like to have his job. He doesn't have to work very hard.

Director Phillip Stolzl's template is a mish-mash here. It's a windy night in the city*, with sheer white curtains fluttering in the apartment of the slumbering Female Operatic Adult-Contemporary Power Ballad Singer, who dreams she's falling**. Upstairs, Paul McCoy's doing his "Wake me up! I can't wake up!" thing while the camera hovers outside.*** He wakes up the FOACPBS, she walks out onto her ledge and proceeds to climb up the side of the building.**** Will she make it, or will McCoy drop her to the streets below? What the fuck do you think?

* = Rendered in slow zoom with swooping side-to-side camera shots, a la Batman Forever.

** = a la Eminem's "The Way I Am" video.

*** = a la Nine Days' "Story of a Girl" video, Backstreet Boys' "I'll Never Break Your Heart" video and several anonymous others

**** = a la the eponymous character in Peter Jackson's three-hour holiday season waste of too much money King Kong

Maroon 5 - She Will Be Loved (2004)

**1/2 (of four)

I have no strong opinion either way of Maroon 5, a band I first encountered about four years ago at a concert. They opened for Nikka Costa, and a friend and I mostly talked over them. They were talented, sure, but the only song in their set that stood out was a well-executed cover of "Darling Nikki," Tipper Gore's all-time favorite Prince song.

The first few times I heard "Harder to Breathe," I thought it was a Justin Timberlake track. The second Songs For Jane single, though, "This Love," was a guilty-pleasure smash hit for me through probably its first eight months of heavy, heavy rotation. And then came "She Will Be Loved," which I semi-didn't mind listening to and semi-fucking hated. I was always annoyed by how closely the progression of this song's bridge resembles that of Cheap Trick's 1988 chart-topper "The Flame."

Why even review the video two years or whatever after its original release? Well, it's good to have a little distance - I can stomach this song a lot more now that I don't hear it ten to twelve times a week. And the video, from veteran director Sophie Muller, is actually somewhat intriguing. Granted, the video's Graduate-ripoff premise is about as groundbreaking and unique as Maroon 5 itself (that is to say, not very), but the intergenerational love triangle actually does hold about three minutes of my attention. Which is a bit of a fait accompli these days.

Singer Adam Levine is the Benjamin character here. He's dating a "beauty queen of only 18," an-uber hot little brunette from a well-to-do family. But watch the fuck out, the rich beauty queen's mom is Kelly Preston, Mrs. Travolta herself. Benji Levine leaves the pool party to console an emotionally wounded (and passed-the-fuck-out, with lipstick heavily smeared) Preston, whose husband couldn't handle the fact that she was flirting simultaneously with every twentysomething dude at the party.

They kiss, they stalk each other, and basically they stare across the room at each other for probably a combined seventy seconds or more when Preston comes to Benji's singing gig at the classy place with the giant Rembrandt oil mural backdrop. The video drags for awhile, but Preston finally stands up to her husband, Levine runs back out to console her/suck off her face, and the smokin' hot daughter happens upon the both of them.

Somewhere out in viewing land, Tipper Gore is masturbating furiously by the end of this video every time it airs. Masturbating with a magazine, that is.