MTV Top 100 of 1996 -- Reviews #100-91

100. Cranberries -- Free to Decide ***

The Cranberries, as far as I'm concerned, outdid themselves with the releases from their third album, To the Faithful Departed. Their two videos this year, "Salvation" and "Free to Decide," are both artistically good representations of good songs that have nothing to do with the IRA. That's the first time such an alignment has taken place, so congratulations Raspberries... er, Cranberries.

The "Free to Decide" video has singer Delores O'Rierdan and the rest of the band out in the desert, playing their instruments in a carefree manner, even though we all know there are no electrical outlets in the middle of the desert. It's okay, though, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief if O'Rierdan will agree to start eating again. My God, she looks anorexic here. When you're a fully-grown adult and your weight is still in the double-digits, there's something wrong. I'm talking to you to, Kate Moss. And yes, I am the best-qualified person to criticize someone's weight.

One notable perk of "Free to Decide" is that the video rewinds itself at the end, showing us a rapid, reverse recap of what we've just seen. In the spirit of the video, I've decided to do the same in this review, giving you the first letter of every third word backwords, in case you've forgotten anything I wrote in these last three paragraphs... ptiybefgidioiwraeitdoottsdsygyageaisiioinktcidooasdtrpattwnsrbtsvdtttoa. A hint to high school and college students -- this memory-enhancer works well with exams too.

99. Fiona Apple -- Shadowboxer **

Fiona Apple, for those of you who aren't completely obsessive about pop music, is a combination folk singer / lounge singer. They liked her over at VH1 this year, thanks to her combination of radio-friendly melodies and beauty. Say what you will about her, but Fiona is straight-up gorgeous. I'd like to take a bite out of that Apple. She's golden delicious! That fills my quota of sexist comments for this countdown, although I may slip from time to time. Forgive me, I'm an 18-year-old male.

The "Shadowboxer" video, easing down a notch to #99 this week (forgive me, I always wanted to be the only person besides Casey Kasem to use that phrase), is so mediocre it hurts. It falls into that genre of black-and-white studio videos in which the artist is seen singing into a microphone for four minutes. The most popular abuser of this genre is Mariah Carey, another golden delicious babe. Told you I'd slip every once in awhile...

98. Babyface featuring L.L. Cool J, Howard Hewett, Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniels -- This is For the Lover in You *1/2

Hard as he tries, it's a sad fact that Babyface can't be cool in a music video. He attempts every couple of years to release his own albums and make his singing as popular as his songwriting, but it never happens. Babyface should just accept the fact that he will go down in history as a very-rich, ultra-successful songwriter and not a singer.

One reason his efforts to palm himself off as a pop singer inevitably fail is because he gives all his good songs away saves filler like this for himself. This is the man who wrote "Red Light Special," "Take a Bow," "I'll Make Love to You," "Breathe Again" and the entire Waiting to Exhale album. He could have saved all those songs and made his own personal greatest hits album, but then he wouldn't have made the millions in royalties that come from all your songs going to #1 for twelve weeks.

"This is For the Lover in You" is the worst song he's written since "Count on Me," despite his all-star cast here... if one can call Jody Watley a star with a straight face. L.L. Cool J is en tow to rap out his usual sex verse and the other two, whom I've never heard of, to add a little soul here and there. The video is your usual collection of quick cut style, with Face in sunglasses and fancy threads in front of a blue screen while guitars fly at the camera. What concept they were going for here is anyone's guess.

And is it just me or does half the solo material Babyface releases have the phrase "For the _____ in You" in the title?

97. Radiohead -- High & Dry *

Everyone's favorite one-hit wonder alternative band from 1993 is back with the comeback I never knew they had. "High & Dry" is a far cry from the screaming "Creep," an adult-contemporary song that sounds like something Take That would record. I have a hunch this song was huge in Europe -- that stuff always goes over well there.

The video is just about as good as the song, taking place entirely in and around a dingy diner the two band members (Radio and Head) walk into. It tries for an "Everybody Hurts" level of poignancy, with various customers lip-synching the lyrics at different times, and only ends up looking ridiculous. I still haven't figured out what these guys have against Hi-Dri paper towels.

96. New Edition -- I'm Still in Love With You *

New Edition - I'm Still In Love With You

Did any of us ask for the reunion of Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant and Bell Biv DeVoe into one crap collage? No, but those six had some money to make, so they and Kiss hit the road this year singing old tunes, new tunes, borrowed tunes and blue tunes that had one thing in common -- they all sucked.

"I'm Still in Love With You" is the kind of mediocre R+B the six members have given us in their worst solo days, a song that doesn't come close to "My Prerogative" or "Poison." The video is a self-indulgent portrait of a bunch of rich guys on a yacht with their babes (Whitney nowhere to be seen). The best part is when one of them falls into the water. Five more and you might have yourself a decent video.
New Edition - I'm Still In Love With You

95. Stabbing Westward -- Shame 1/2

Let me take a stab at this one... Well, you've seen plenty of bad horror movies, haven't you? I sure have, in the theater, on video, on cable, on broadcast TV, I'm used to all the cliches. The "Shame" video, a personification of the word "ambitious," tries to work a horror plot in with the usual shots of long-haired grungers banging their heads to their first video.

The story is laid out in subtitles -- crazy guy calls up pretty girl, all by herself in her new house. He informs her that he broke out of the mental hospital and is coming after her. So she runs, and he finds her, asking "You wouldn't be avoiding me, would you?" No, of course not, but I'd recommend avoiding this video if it ever comes on again, although this may be one case in which the lack of variety on MTV may work out to your favor.

One by one, the Stabbing Westward bandmembers leave their soundstage to sneak into the movie theater and watch the well-worn story of the stalker and the victim. They're entertained by it, but then again they should be; it's their video. As for everyone else, shame be upon thee if you find any value in this video.

94. La Bouche -- Sweet Dreams *1/2

1994 brought us Ace of Base, 1995 brought us Real McCoy, now La Bouche fills the quota of one really bad techno pop group per year. "Sweet Dreams" was their second video of the year, a sound-alike dance tune that features all-synthesized music, a woman singing the chorus and a man rapping out a couple verses, all of which are requirements in this genre of music.

This video features the man and woman doing their thing on the beach while mobs of scantily-clad folks dance around. It's nothing we haven't seen multiple times in one form or another since 1991. The song is about as original as the video; it even rhymes "groovin'" and "movin'." I don't know about you, but I place that rhyme one notch below "fool" and "school."

93. D'Angelo -- Lady **

One of the biggest movie flops of 1996 was Multiplicity, a comedy about cloning. But cloning doesn't seem that far-fetched when you look at the music industry, which every year releases singles and albums by artists that are directly reminiscent of past artists. D'Angelo, smooth teen crooner, is pretty much a combination of every R+B heartthrob of the past ten years.

"Lady" sounds a lot like Babyface's "When Can I See You Again," although D'Angelo looks nothing like BF. His facial hair is out of control and his hair is in those ever-attractive corn rows. This is probably why I've never heard any females talking about how cute he is.

As for the "Lady" video, it looks just like Babyface's "For the Lover in You," which I've already said my piece about. Bunch of sedated young folks lounging around a house while D'Angelo sings his smooth little groove. "Lady" was directed by Hype Williams, a name you'll be seeing a lot of as my reviews of this countdown progress. I love Hype's work, and there was a lot of it in 1996, but this is the worst thing he's done.

92. Soundgarden -- Pretty Noose *1/2

Everyone and his sister liked Soundgarden a couple years ago. Their Superunknown was the best alternative album since Nevermind, but when they released Down on the Upside this year, "never mind" was what most people were apparently thinking. None of the three songs released to MTV sound anywhere near as good as "Spoonman," "Fell on Black Days" or the brilliant "Black Hole Sun." The videos aren't even that good.

"Pretty Noose" is pretty bad, with Chris Cornell and the others performing on a drab stage while various generic psychadelic lighting patterns flash in the background. When Soundgarden is imitating Oasis, you know it's time to hang things up. Remember the song from Superunknown, "the wreck of you is the death of you"? The "Pretty Noose" video is that wreck.

91. Madonna -- You Must Love Me **

Madonna used to have a reputation for making stylish and brilliant music videos, but that's fallen by the wayside these past couple years as she's embraced an attitude of simplicity and maturity. With this single from Evita, she's sitting in a room with a bunch of musicians in between clips from the movie.

That's all there is to it and, while she does look incredibly glamorous, it doesn't compete with the short-attention span people like her have given us over the years. True, a classical ballad like "You Must Love Me" would be destroyed by an over-the-top video. This video does go well with the song, but neither are as good as Madonna's past work.
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Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks / Fatboy Productions