Saturday, February 18, 2006

Santana featuring Steven Tyler - Just Feel Better (2005)

*1/2 (of four)

It's sad when a gimmick wears thin. Santana's big formulaic comeback has jumped the shark. It's not fun anymore, it's a plodding listen that requires effort and rewards little - like the season of "Growing Pains" where they added Leonardo Dicaprio as the homeless adopted kid and every episode suddenly became a Very Special "Growing Pains." Santana has blown through the lighthearted antics of Rob Thomas, Lauryn Hill and Michelle Branch (twice!) and come to a screeching halt with this faux-emotional Steven Tyler ballad.

"Just Feel Better" takes all the old cliches of the Santana comeback video - where Carlos mainly stands in the corner and plays guitar while the storyline centers around actors 35 years younger than him - and crosses it with the cliches of the Aerosmith comeback video. Where Tyler hangs out in high school hallways and jams his tongue down the windpipe of a model who's 35 years younger than him.*

Storyline - younger model's old-lech schoolteacher pats her on the ass after a student-teacher conference and stirs up some long-buried anger issues. She promptly decks the teacher as we flash back to the model as a young girl, hiding behind the staircase while her abusive father runs out on her mom.

Let's see, the model also falls in love with one of her classmates, who's her own age and who wonders why they have to make out to the soundtrack of two musicians whose combined age is 113. And he dies a minute and a half later in a car accident. Like I said, it's a Very Special Santana Video, and Santana is sporting a Very Special Moustache And Stocking Cap throughout.

* = Their makeout scene is downright hot, Tyler and the decades-younger model - they have on the same shade of Revlon Foundation and everything, and Tyler's Peach Passion lip gloss blends just perfectly with the younger model's Wild Watermelon.

Natasha Bedingfield - Unwritten (2005)

**1/2 (of four)

Natasha Bedingfield has been popular in England for months or years or since they took prayer out of schools, some undetermined period of time. But Bedingfield had a hard time smashing through stateside. Until her fluffy white-girl hip-pop song "These Words" crossed over (an uber-guilty pleasure of mine, believe it or not, the kind of track I skip over other songs to get to) last fall. Twice as successful was the follow-up, "Unwritten," even fluffier and white-girl and this time features a big, glowing gospel choir.

So be forewarned - this video will, in a way not seen since "The Wonderful World of Disney" was canceled, attempt to pull a terrorist hijacking on your smile muscles. It's like a four-minute fucking toothpaste commercial, with Bedingfield riding an elevator up and down the same building and observing Real People from the corner. Smilers, laughers, cryers, lovers, families, more smilers, more smilers, more laughers.

Rest assured there's also a sequence with little smiling kids outdoors, playing in the spray of a popped fire hydrant. Eventually, the gospel choir comes marching down the hallway, gunning down innocent bystanders with their contagious happiness, and it's just a goddamned joyous bloodbath. It's all just so cheesy, but between the lines of the obviousness and calculation of the cheer, there's something intangibly appealing about this shit. To me, anyway. And I hardly ever smile.

L.L. Cool J featuring J.Lo - Control Myself (2006)

** (of four)

Hype Williams has used his double-letterbox gimmick - one video in the traditional middle widescreen portion of your TV box and another concurrent one on the top and bottom - for probably twenty videos in a row. Which makes me wonder two things, a) How far is he going to run this format into the ground? and, b) How far behind are the imitators?

So far I haven't seen any double-letterbox clones, aside from Hype's nineteen clones of his own original. Can you copyright or patent a video technique like this? Or did Hype just film and edit a shitload of these all at the same time and no one else has caught up yet? Either way, it's not bad unless you see it over and over and over. Which is starting to happen more frequently, with no relief in sight.

Hype's most recent double-letterbox is "Control Myself." L.L. Cool J is all over "Total Request Live" and VH1, promoting this perfectly bland effort with J. Lo. The Jermaine Dupri track has a Missy-demo feel to it, while L.L.'s rap flow about the girl he wants to jump on ("The afterparty is on my body?" Come on...) is delivered in a decades-old, "It's Tricky" cadence. And, Jenny From the Block, I know you got there first, but now it seems like you're imitating Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas. Which makes your singing career that much sadder.*

The video's some B-minus fluff, too, consisting entirely of fashion-shoot soundstage stuff with L.L., J.Lo, J.D. and a half-dozen other sets of initials mugging and dancing on an underfurnished soundstage. There's the gray-tinted backdrop, the green-tinted backdrop, the blue-tinted backdrop, the white-tinted backdrop, the black spiral-pattern backdrop. Nothing too exciting.

But I do feel L.L.'s pain when he's surrounded by J.Lo and the other hot-ass dancers and laments, over and over, "It's hard to control myself, it's hard to control myself." I've got the same libidinal dilemma when my hand plunges into a full-pound bag of Sour Cream and Cheddar Lay's. Got a hearty lust for grease, I do.

* = Take solace in this, though - Fergie will no doubt imitate you by starting her own movie career, beginning with the Hollywood romantic comedy House-Cleaner in Honolulu.