Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Dixie Chicks - Not Ready To Make Nice (2006)

*1/2 (of four)

Remember like three years back, when Natalie Maines from the Dixie Chicks told a London concert audience that she was ashamed that George W. Bush hailed from her home state of Texas? Remember how that sparked a huge outcry afterward? I laughed my ass off when I saw local karaoke DJ break his Dixie Chicks Soundchoice disc in half, mid-show, and announce that the Chicks were traitors to our country and essentially also sonic terrorists.

Which I thought was absurd. Not the part about destroying Dixie Chicks karaoke discs, but his reasons for doing so. Me, I'd pay top dollar to ensure I'd never again hear six drunk bachelorette party girls giggle their way through "Goodbye Earl." When I saw the karaoke guy shatter his Dixie Chicks CD, I was wishing I could convince him that Meat Loaf, Gloria Gaynor, Bon Jovi and Celine Dion were also a bunch of president-hating, anti-American assholes. Celine's from Canada, for chrissake. They're liberal as hell. Let's get a bonfire going and burn up all this shit. Grease soundtrack, you go get in the pile too! I know you voted Kerry.

Well, now the Dixie Chicks have responded to that whole controversy, at a time when the president has a 32% approval rating and America is still in Iraq with no exit date in sight. This should be easy for Maines and Co., but instead of finding any meaning or true feeling in this song and performance, I'm spending four minutes wondering if Natalie's forehead got bigger. I think the stress of the controversy grew it out about three sizes.

The video? A bunch of quiet, performance-art nonsense. Maines is wearing a white dress, her hands are dirty, and she smears black tar all over the dress. The religious figures and elderly gossips are all standing in the shadows, buzzing with negativity. The other Chicks are trying to hold Maines back from her rage. Then there's a passionate violin... er, fiddle solo, and Maines whips out a boxcutter, hijacks a plane and flies it straight into the house of that jerkoff karaoke DJ.

K.T. Tunstall - Black Horse and the Cherry Tree (2006)

**1/2 (of four)

This video has more uses than any in recent memory of the "She'll only come out at night" camera shot from the beginning of the Hall and Oates video for "Maneater." You know that shot I'm talking about - where the camera is close-up on a right-profile shot of Hall, then he spins his head dramatically toward the camera to convey immediacy and alarm. Well, K.T. Tunstall does this head-swivel at least eight times in "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," and it gets old, well, just before the first time she does it. Otherwise, director Sophie Muller supplies us with plenty of dark-room shots of Tunstall playing an enormous acoustic guitar and bass drum that threatens to swallow her whole. And she beats on a snare drum and a tamborine. She's a one-man band, just like that Sgt. Pepperoni guy who used to wander around Six Flags when I was a kid. I have immense respect for you, K.T. Tunstall.

Jack Johnson - Upside Down (2006)

** (of four)

I like Jack Johnson, I have to state that up front, but "Upside Down" has the unfortunate timing of appearing on my TiVo the day after the David Blaine-in-an-aquatic-bubble media circus finally came to a gaspy, Guess I Can't Hold My Breath For Nine Minutes head. Because after seeing clips for days of Blaine floating around his water bubble and staring out at the world, knowing he was as bored with his stunt as we were, now here's Jack Johnson spending the first half of his video lip synching from underwater with his acoustic guitar at his side, getting warped the crap out of.

Johnson does hold his breath for a good verse or so before the director cuts away to Curious George swimming up to him. Then the real-life ex-surfer singer and the cartoon monkey stare at each other for a few cutesy seconds and Johnson spends the rest of the video sitting Indian style (or is it "Native American style" now?) in front of a blue screen. Lots of cartoon stuff here, and Johnson's in full "Zippidy Doo Dah" mode, so the sap factor is high. If that sounds good to you, well, you probably already have kids at home and a big soft heart and don't want to hear the story of how I pulled the tail off my gerbil when I was twelve.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Dani California (2006)

*** (of four)

It's good to have you back, Chili Peppers. What's it been, six years since your last video? Missed you guys. And here you are, mugging it up in your version of that subgenre of music video known as Impersonate The Greats. You've seen Phil Collins and Phil McCartney put on their Buddy Holly wigs and Eminem do his best Dope Show-era Marilyn Manson. You even probably cracked up when David Lee Roth shoved the Billy Idol impostor into the electric wires in "Just a Gigolo."

So you guys got together and talked about all your favorite rock and funk acts over time, the ones who influenced you, the ones you wished you could have been, the ones who you figured passed the torch on to you. You didn't want to leave anyone out - Elvis, Hendrix, P-Funk, the Stones, Iggy, Bowie, Sex Pistols, Prince, Motley Crue (fucking Motley Crue?!), Nirvana, Green Day. And, let's be honest, you guys all kind of wished you had the cultural relevance of any of the above acts instead of frequently seeming on the novelty or mush-ballad side of music.

But don't get me wrong, you guys are impossible to dislike. I've always been in your corner. And I like "Dani California," the song and the video. Sure, you mug it up hardcore - on an almost cutely fierce level - but it's obvious that, unlike Roth slamming Idol into the electric wires, you guys made this video out of love and reverence. You got to do a lot of wardrobe changes, take a lot of fun pictures and just generally goof off on the same black soundstage all day. The result is a gleeful mess that almost makes me forgive the fact that you put out a double album.

Mariah Carey featuring Pharrell and Snoop Dogg - Say Somethin' (2006)

** (of four)

It's unfathomable to me that Mariah Carey has managed both to nab and sustain this miraculous comeback of hers. I mean, Mariah's been riding the Emancipation of Mimi album for a fucking YEAR now. At this point, she's in Thriller and Rhythm Nation territory, releasing - what is this, the nineth single? Mariah's all over the MTV Jams channel at 4 a.m., slobbering on the ballsacks of Neptunes producer Pharrell Williams and Snoop Dogg, who's been phoning in his guest shots for the last half-decade and still manages to be bankably charming in videos and commercials and on talk shows.

Veteran director Paul Hunter brings us a high-society tale of paparazzi chasing our quasi-interracial celebrity couple (Pharrell and Mariah, who will henceforth be known to tabloids as "Phariah"), who roll around Paris or Venice or, I don't know, America* in the back of their fancy car. Then Mariah writhes in a bikini atop of a bunch of suitcases and Snoop stares through sunglasses at her cameltoe while sitting with his back to a bunch of safe-deposit boxes. The video degenerates from there - Mariah singing sensually into her Razor phone, Pharrell in a wife beater, Snoop looking around frantically for the half-ounce of Maui Wowie he had in his pocket when he arrived at the shoot...

* = Seriously, the peak of my geographical knowledge was ninth grade, when I knew what "mercator projection" meant and could name all the state capitals and continents. Now I can only name four of each, and I sure as hell don't know if Phariah is cruising around Europe or Iowa in this video.

Nappy Roots - Po' Folks (2002)

*** (of four)

About three seconds into this Darren Grant/Rich Newey video, we realize we're deep in rural Kentucky. No Wal-Marts, no traffic lights, but they do have three Starbucks. And everyone gets along, claims the homeless-looking old black man in the prologue. Cue what the closed-captioning guy refers to as "relaxed funk guitar music," as the anthemic sing-along chorus to "Po' Folks" kicks in.

This song is cool as hell. The Nappy Roots crew seemed to have so much promise and appeal here - little did the rest of us know that the album itself was loaded with mediocre, skip-over songs. It's an unassuming group, too. The NR guys hang out in and around a beat-up double-wide trailer home. One dude doesn't even seem to mind that he's using a toilet for an outside-sittin' seat. There's gonna be a lot of whittlin' going on, too, I imagine.

The Roots walk down the streets of their home town en masse, wave to the preacher, sit on hay in a pickup truck, cross the bridge, walk around the woods, go fishin' and pay their respects to relatives buried in the cemetery. Really, these guys give the entire tour of their corner of Kentucky. I spotted four discarded, rusty refrigerators and everything.

Grant and Newey also toss in interview clips between verses, featuring lots of happy black country folk and some of the most tooth-missin'est, Deliverance-looking peckerwood motherfuckers you've ever seen. All of whom proclaim their love for their surroundings, and some of the down-home pride is actually contagious. As a damn poor person myself, I like to see people who can find the joy in life despite not having shit. I know I for one have popped a huge grin every time the electricity has gone out while I was in the middle of taking a shower in a bathroom with no window.