Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Madonna - Die Another Day (2002)

*** (of four)

This James Bond soundtrack video likely pleased fans and detractors of Madonna, considering she spends most of the music video being tortured by Kim Jong Il and his Army-uniform-clad band of minions. Yeah, Madonna's some kind of renegade spy here - once she married Guy Ritchie and made that "What It Feels Like For a Girl" video, she switched her image to badass mode for a little bit. Peaking here, naturally.

Hauled into a grimy, green-gray interrogation room, a tank-topped Madonna is left alone to writhe and grimace atop various torture devices. Then Il and the boys return to shove her head into ice water, strap her down to an electric chair and slice up her torso. Meanwhile, in a concurrent death match in a bright-white armory/museum, two Madonnas battle each other. One is dressed in white, the other in black. I'll let you guess which one the viewer is made to root for.

And, while the camp value is high here, for sure, Madonna more or less pulls it off. Except for the sequence in which Evil Madonna breaks into a glass case housing the actor who played Odd Job, grabs his razor-sharp bowler off his head and frisbees it across the room, where it decapitates a fluffy cat puppet and whizzes by Good Madonna's cheek. Oh well, she gets points for creating a song I like (with her French techno-blip producer Mirwais) and for never being referred to as Agent M. Mariah Carey already laid claim to that title in her goofy spy video, 1997's "Honey."

Sheryl Crow - Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

** (of four)

I haven't seen the James Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies since opening weekend, but I'm pretty sure this entire video is pretty much the opening credits sequence with the credits removed and a black-turtlenecked Sheryl Crow inserted. Crow spends the video waving her arms around half-conscious and staring into the camera in closeup.

Not to worry, there are probably a dozen other, sexier dancers writhing along at various points on the soundstage. After all, James Bond is never satisfied with just one woman per movie. It's usually like three or four, and he never wears a rubber. Bond's illegitimate children number in the high dozens.


5. Sheryl standing on an outstretched, giant human palm.
4. Sheryl standing on a pursed, giant pair of human lips.
3. Sheryl standing on an upturned, giant human foot.
2. Sheryl standing on James Bond's turgid, surprisingly average-sized member
1. Sheryl standing. Period.

Outkast - Land of a Million Drums (2002)

*** (of four)

Now, there's no way in hell I'd pay to watch either of the new-breed, live-action Scooby Doo movies - a computer-animated Scooby? WTF?! - but for four minutes, this cheeky Outkast video makes the franchise seem almost halfway tolerable. Not to mention, the track is bouncy and lovable in a spooky yet perky way, and half the song's lyrics are about getting high in the Mystery Machine with Shaggy.

Andre 3000 rolls around in a vintage convertible while Shaggy rides bitch in the Mystery Machine with Big Boi driving. It's not that Big Boi is worried about Shaggy's judgment abilities or reaction time, he's just sick of the red-eyed bastard consistently driving ten miles under the speed limit. There's also a party in a haunted, cobwebby mansion while Dre plays pot-and-pan drums with wooden spoons.

Matthew "Shaggy" Lillard hams it up here, to decent effect, while Freddie "Fred" Prinze Jr. is nowhere to be seen. He was probably deep into a reading of the script for She's All That 2 when this video was being filmed.

Outkast even builds their closing refrain out of an age-old "Scooby Doo" catchphrase, spouted by every deposed real-estate scammer villain on the show: "I woulda got away with it if it wasn't for them meddlin' kids." Proving even throwaway, phoned-in songs from prime-era Outkast put most of the rest of these clowns to shame.

Kanye West - Jesus Walks (2004)

*** (of four)

I'm trying to fucking figure out what it is - I don't have a lot of respect for Kanye West in interviews and ego and overall rap ability and relevance, but every time the bastard makes a serious song and/or video, I lap it right up. "Jesus Walks" is probably my favorite example. Even though I know enough theology to know Kanye's interpretation of the New Testament is muddled and oddly self-centered at best. All through the song, West acts like he's talking about/to Jesus, but he's really talking about/to himself. A lot.

It's foolish shit, and to be taken with a grain of salt, but it kind of pulls on my emotion nontheless. Emotion can create the illusion of meaning. And "Jesus Walks," which cops a haunting, classic gospel hook, is still my favorite Kanye, and the video is up to par. Provided you fall, like I did, for the clip's grainy black-and-white mood. "Jesus Walks" has a timeless, culture-crossing monochrome beauty, in a way. Hard to turn off, if I'm the one with the remote.

That's not to say you might not chuckle as you see Kanye leave the front door of his project tenement building while Jesus, who's patiently sitting out in the hall waiting to personally guard Kanye, scrambles to his feet and hustles to get the rapper's back. This Christ seriously acts like a high-maintenance star's handler on serious speed, a true music video Messiah.

J.C. follows Kanye all through the video as he wanders the hood and, just so he doesn't get rusty on the whole miracle-working thing and get bored, Christ even makes food appear like magic in Kanye's refrigerator. I'm not joking. Name-brand and everything. No Jennie-O at this turkey feast!

The "Footsteps" poem gets referenced at one point, and there are choreographed kid dancers who break their steps when they see Herr Kanye walk out of the house. They seriously drop everything to run over and greet him with admiration. Jesus wisely stays out of that shot. He's inside, divinically refilling the toilet paper and unclogging the bathtub drain, like a good friend.

Kanye even delivers a frantic verse from the pulpit. It's the ego element that really drives this piece, you're reminded when the video closes on a two-shot of Kanye and Christ, with Kanye out front and Christ over his shoulder, looking off-camera in a Bergman-esque three-quarters shot. Kanye's staring into the lens while a white, cursive-script Thank You is imposed on the bottom of the screen.

Is that Thank You... from Kanye? To Jesus? No way. Thank you is what Kanye - who looms large in the shot, remember - hears the people gratefully projecting back at him for his brilliant, ghetto-redeeming opus. Of course, Kanye couldn't have done it without the divine protection of, shoot, what's that guy's name again? That olive-skinned white boy with the crown of thorns who's perched just over Kanye's shoulder. Pedro Something.

Sean Paul - Temperature (2006)

**** (of four)

I've always been a fan of the Dancehall genre, and the thumping beat of "Temperature" hasn't been able to escape my head since I've heard it. Sean Paul always manages to find a group of leggy beauties to perform physically impossible dance moves (it's always funny to see overweight girls attempting to imitate them), and this video is no exception.

The "Temperature" video has Sean Paul and an army of dancers dancing through the four seasons in front of obviously fake but colorful backgrounds. In the autumn, dancers shake it in front of trees with falling leaves, and in winter, the dancers don winter coats in the fake snow. On to spring, as rain starts to fall down, and finally summer - introduced with a squirting bottle of lotion - where the dancers strip down to bikinis and Sean Paul throws beach balls at them.

This is a great video to watch while we freeze our asses off in the winter. Yes, it's a frigid 50 degrees here in Tampa Bay. Stop laughing, that's cold! I’m going to try and review "Unpredictable" for you really soon.

Amerie - 1 Thing (2005)

**** (of four)

This sexy Afro-Asian beauty channels her inner Beyoncé and sashays her way through the "1 Thing" video, which perfectly captures the song's energetic, percussion-heavy feeling. Amerie dances in front of a band - with lots of drums, of course - and background dancers wearing some of the shortest shorts I’ve ever seen.

Some versions of this video have clips from the movie Hitch because the song was originally released from that movie’s soundtrack. But Amerie smartly rips down a canvas playing shots of Will Smith and Eva Mendes and dances some more. There are also some parts in which various versions of Amerie in silhouette dance behind a red background, while the real Amerie dances in the foreground. Sex-ay…

"1 Thing" draws heavy inspiration from the Go-Go sound of Amerie’s and producer Rich Harrison’s native Washington, D.C. Too bad the rest of her album, Touch was slept on, because it's great. Of course, the question is - what is that "1 Thing" that Amerie is looking for? I pray to God it's me.

Saul Williams - Black Stacey (2004)

*** (of four)

Does anyone remember? Was it Fear of a Black Hat or CB4 or "In Living Color" or "Saturday Night Live" that had a parody rap act performing a song whose repeated hook and entire lyrical focus was, "I'm black y'all, black y'all / Blickity-blickity-black y'all"?

It was overstated humor of the absurd, and like a decade and a half later, here's Saul Williams with damn near the same hook, except more prolonged and pronounced. And meant to be taken seriously.

The Williams style is half-spoken word, half-jazz, half-hip-hop, half-reggae and half-industrial. That's four halves, and as Saul constantly reminds you, each half is non-Caucasian: "They say you're too black / Man I think I'm too black / Do you think I'm too black? / I think I'm too black / I think I'm too black / I think I'm too blacka-blacka-blacka-black."*

Yeah, the lyrics here are all about confessional time, and Saul pulls it off. This street poet who has played Lollapalooza is still insecure about being chided in school for the color of his skin. Apparently, someone kidded around and called him "Chuck D" in sixth grade, and he hasn't forgotten it. (Though, when you think about it, wouldn't calling someone "Flavor Flav" be the bigger insult?)

And, as the song title reveals, he apparently was called "Black Stacey" by his adolescent peers. Which to me sounds like a name the Mattel corporation would give to one of Barbie's friends. Kind of a C-minus on the junior high insult scale but, I suppose, something you wouldn't forget when, say, you were trying to write your breakthrough single.

But I'm here to talk about the video, right? Ostensibly. Well, Black Stacey is indeed black - about four Hershey bars out of five on the complexion scale. In case you forgot that, he paints tribesman dots all over his face and refuses to wear any clothing over his beltline.

"Black Stacey" is low-medium budget but looks fucking rich and classy, lighting and color-wise. Half the time, Williams is seen in a three-quarters shot, medium close-up, with half of his face plunged into, er, darkness. Saul also stands outdoors in an old-school red leather jacket, holding a vintage boombox while performing in front of a dingy blue-steel-ribbed warehouse.

If this doesn't grab you at all the first time - if you're thinking, whiny fucker, too repetitious, get over it, kind of laughable at heart, watch it again. If you still think that, watch it a third time. Then get high, get drunk and sentimental, get in confessional mode. Watch it four times with a good buzz on, and you'll feel what this guy's saying. Hypothetically, of course.

* = Saul, you should be glad political correctness hasn't completely taken over - imagine the syllable crunch as a lyricist if you were forced to call yourself African American: "They say you're too African American / Man I think I'm too African American / Do you think I'm too African American? / I think I'm too African American / I think I'm too African American / I think I'm too Afri-Afri-Afri-African American."

Howard Jones - Everlasting Love (1989)

* (of four)

If you don't remember Howard Jones, he had one good song - it was called "Things Can Only Get Better." You might not know it by its title, though, but by its hook, which went WOAH woah woah-oh-oh whoa-WHOA-whoa-oh-oh.* Anyway, this is not that song, this is "Everlasting Love," which is also not the perennially remade "Everlasting Love" you're thinking of. No, this is a midtempo, third-of-the-way-catchy '80s new wave/pop/British art fag track with a classically cheesy video.

A mummy pops out of an Egyptian sarcophagus on a white soundstage while Jones is wearing an über-loud red/green/yellow/blue/purple suit with bigger-than-average shoulder pads. He tells a love story starring a mummy and his femummy as props placed around Jones shift, one per shot, and we see second-unit shots of the mummy couple walking in the park, sticking Pop Tarts in the toaster, trying on boxer shorts in a mall changing room. The mummy couple even plays racquetball. All the things people do. That's why it's supposed to be fucking funny.

Oh, and if you've never seen a mummy who's holding a briefcase step into the backseat of a cab being driven on the left side of the road, well, watch the VH1 Classic channel a little more in the middle of the night. You're in for a treat, my friend. -AH

* = Not to be confused with the "Life in a Northern Town" hook Hey-oh Ma-ma-ma / Hey-eee-doo-bee-die-yah / Hey-oh-ma-ma-mee / Hey-ay-ay-ie-yo or the Enigma "Return to Innocence" hook Hyiiii-yiii-HIIIII OHHHH-hi-HI-hi / Ohh-oh-oh hiiigh / OH-hi-yo-hi-hi yo-hi-hieee. Different hook.

Cher - If I Could Turn Back Time (1989)

** (of four)

This video has burned out more heterosexual retinas than could ever be measured empirically. Here, Cher's ultimate fantasy is realized - to perform on an aircraft carrier at night, while she's surrounded by dozens of guys fresh out of high school. Cher lip synchs while crouching astride a series of cylindrical heavy-artillery props. All while sporting a fright wig sowed together from the carcasses of seventeen ebony poodles. And while wearing a gauzy black leotard that is completely transparant save a Band-Aid-wide black line running across her nipples and muffin. Which - the muffin - is shaved into the cartoonish shape of Sonny Bono in a drop-top flying into a robust sycamore. I'm telling you, Cher's a sick fucking bitch. Every time she thinks about Sonny's death, she gets off. Hard.