Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Billy Currington - Must Be Doin' Somethin' Right (2005)

** (of four)

This is a new breed of country video, one where the singer writhes around on the wet sands of a tropical beach with his shirt open, frolics with a rented model and - GOD DAMN! - doesn't even wear a cowboy hat. If this doesn't scream "VH1 Crossover Potential!" or "Blatant Chris Isaak Ripoff!" I don't know what does. And, yeah, after reaching #1 on the country chart, "Somethin' Right" cracked the pop Top 40. I do mean cracked - it peaked at #39.

Yeah, this video is a retread of Isaak's "Wicked Game," only the song's not too entertaining ("Lean into my kiss and close those deep-blue, need-you eyes"), Billy Currington's a little too self-consciously hunky for his own good (and he's really not that built or good-looking, either), and the cinematography is nowhere near the smoke-filled, black-and-white brilliance of the 1991 Herb Ritts video it rips off. Not to mention, Currington's rented model is no topless Helena Christensen.

So, sorry Billy, top of the country charts or not, you're not really doing anything right here.

Trick Daddy featuring Cee-Lo and Lil' Kim - Sugar (Gimme Some) (2005)

*** (of four)

The poppier Trick Daddy gets, the more I like him, especially when he partners up with Cee-Lo (whose two solo albums are very much worth tracking down). 2002's "In Da Wind" was one of the great hip-hop singles of the year, and last summer's "Sugar" followed suit. The sound is similar, yeah, but the theme is a hell of a lot more suggestive and therefore more commercial. The sweet substance referred to in the song's title is none other than the vaginal juice of whichever rented booty-dancing model is nearest.

Yep, this shit's all about cunnilingis, and the phoned-in Ludacris verse from the album track is jettisoned in favor of sixteen bars or so from Lil' Konvict Kim. Interestingly enough, MTV censors allow Trick Daddy to refer to the female sex organ as "butter pecan," "french vanilla," "the berry," "honey," "a slice of pie" and "your Cocoa Puffs." But when Lil' Kim invites the thug rapper to bring his mouth down to her "jar of honey" and "come and lick" her Tootsie Roll, her lyrics get cut to hell.

The video takes place at the Trick Daddy Sugar Shack, a candy store filled with dancing models licking lollipops and kids trying to cheat the proprietor out of his profits.There's cotton candy, a big mixing bowl full of liquid chocolate and an oven full of cookies. All the while, chunky-ass Cee-Lo can't decide whether to put his hands on the girls or the Wonka bars.

And best of all, director Ray Kay cuts in parody candy wrappers ("Tricklets," "Pimp Mints") that are pretty damn funny. The whole affair reminds me of the Jerry Springer episode where the 600-pound redneck and his equally corpulent spouse combined their love for food with their love for sex and made love in a giant bathtub full of creamed corn. If someone could make that into a rap video, the MTV censors would be ecstatic, I wager.

Anthony Hamilton - Can't Let Go (2005)

*** (of four)

Anthony Hamilton seems to be overly concerned with the opinions of others in regards to his relationship. "No matter what the people say, I'm gonna love you anyway," he keeps singing. "Why must they try to tear down my house when they know it's made from love?" Sounds cheesy, yeah, but there's something sincere and organic and timeless about this organ-driven soul ballad and of Hamilton's strong-ass voice. I like both.

Hamilton's been around for awhile, but VH1 has picked this month to promote the crap out of him, comparing him to R+B greats like Bill "Lean on Me" Withers and Bobby "What Is This" Womack. If the video for "Can't Let Go" is any indication, Hamilton would like to be stuck in the past with them. Except his T-shirt has the word "Blingin'" on it. That kind of kills the effect.

Director Dean Karr follows a heartbroken Hamilton from a Southern diner booth to driver's seat of an ancient pickup truck to a beat-up bus to a dingy hotel room to the mirror of a convenience store bathroom. All the while, he keeps seeing phantom images of the woman he loves, the woman he apparently wronged and is trying desperately to return home to. The video is almost gentle in its turbulence, and a happy ending is never in question, but still it feels like an emotional journey.

Fall Out Boy - Dance, Dance (2005)

** (of four)

I don't know much about Fall Out Boy, aside from the fact that they share the same name as Radioactive Man's sidekick on a "Simpsons" episode. Oh, and that they think it's completely hilarious to watch white boys dance awkwardly. And it is hilarious - in real life, when white boys don't know they're dancing badly. When being intentionally arhythmic for the purposes of entertainment, particularly after Jon Heder's extended dance sequence in Napoleon Dynamite nailed that coffin shut, you are no longer funny.

That goes double for "cool" guys trying to make themselves over as geek guys for entertainment. Fall Out Boy's guitarist spends the entire video in a vintage suit, hair slicked down to his scalp, attending his high school's homecoming. (He's a twelfth year senior, apparently.) He asks out his plain-looking, big-chinned love interest by burning the word "Homecoming?" into her front yard grass, then cuts her chest while pinning on the corsage. But take off his thick Woody Allen glasses, and he's actually quite attractive and eager to dance.

Well, when you're at Homecoming and the house band is Fall Out Boy, and they're playing a song called "Dance, Dance," you have no choice but to do just that. The racially diverse crowd trades off moves, the guitarist-geek crowd surfs, and dorky doubles of each of the band members wander the crowd trying to find girlfriends. They do not succeed, although the guitarist geek - through his intentionally arhythmic dancing - does win the affections of the plain-looking, big-chinned love interest. No surprises there.

It's all very hammed up, even for MTV, but even while shaking my head at it, I have to admit the video is watchable. If just because the song is so solidly catchy. And because of the quick shot - about a minute in - where we see three rows of lonely fat girls sitting on bleacher risers in their dresses. Even when dorkhood is celebrated, big broads don't stand a chance.

Yellowcard - Lights and Sounds (2005)

*1/2 (of four)

This song's intro sounds just like the riff from Nirvana's "Breathe." Then the frontman - who resembles gay Broadway star Alan Cumming - unleashes his innocuously nasally vocal cards on us, and the unoriginality somehow gets more unoriginal. The band appears to be trapped in a large cattle car full of flashing, patterned flourescent lightbulbs with mini-searchlights flying around the room. Generic, forgettable, these "Lights and Sounds" not worth watching, writing about or reading about. Yellowcard wasted my time, and now I'm wasting your time.

Matisyahu - King Without a Crown (2005)

**1/2 (of four)

It's hard to establish an identity on "Total Request Live" these days, when the only options open are, a) hip-hop thug, b) power-punk boy, c) poppy teen slut, and, d) AOR growl-rock frontman. One way to stand out, I suppose, is to be a Hasidic Jew reggae rapper whose flow is eerily reminiscent of Snow ("a licky boom boom down"). That's Matisyahu, and he's huge right now on the pop and modern rock scene.

Time - and a follow-up single - will tell whether his talent transcends the realm of novelty. So far, it's mainly an issue of mainstream pop never having dealt with anything like this before. And I, for one, think it's refreshing in the most amoral age of popular music to have someone sing a blindly glowing love song straight to the Almighty. The so-called Christian acts (P.O.D., Reliant K, Scott Stapp) can only get vague and "positive" with their religion. But fat-bearded Matisyahu sports an eternal hardon for the wrathful Old Testament God.

"King Without a Crown" is a brown- and green-tinted collection of computer-manipulated clip art, disembodied shots of Matisyahu and his band performing and a smattering of the song's rapid-fire lyrics. Director P.R. Brown also keeps coming back to a street corner, where despondent lost souls trudge off to unknown destinations. What these sad individuals need is a little loving from a divine being who once covered the entire earth with a thousand feet of water because no one would pay attention to him.