MUSIC VIDEO CRITIC AT LARGE
MTV Top 100 of 1996 -- Reviews #30-21
30. The Tony Rich Project -- Nobody Knows ***
Every two-bit Babyface imitator is allowed his one hit, I guess, and this was Tony's, one of the biggest pop songs of the year. "Nobody Knows" was deserving of its endless rotation, though, because it's about as smooth and catchy as anything Babyface has written and even has a good video to accompany it. Weird how the Babyface clones have smash hits but Babyface himself can never seem to crack the Top 10 with his solo songs.
"Nobody Knows" is another one of those bathroom videos, with shots of Tonyface singing in an empty bathtub (fully-clothed) and frolicking in front of a row of empty urinals. 1996 was the Year of the Urinal in music videos -- hell, even Bryan Adams featured them in his terribly-titled "The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me is You." You think if I make puns that bad I'd get beautiful women and millions of dollars? Probably not, if no one's throwing money at me after that Tonyface thing...
29. Beck -- Where It's At ***1/2
Let's get one thing straight -- I like Beck. Lately, everybody thinks I'm trying to perpetrate a big Beck-hating scheme to ensure he never sells another album as long as he lives, but that just isn't true. This misconception started a couple months ago when the official MTV webpage (www.mtv.com, where else?) quoted my 1994 review of Beck's "Loser" video, which talked about him being a one-hit wonder and other less-flattering comments.
How was I to know he'd come back hard two years later and raise himself above the novelty status of "Loser"? I don't have the all-knowing ability to predict the future; if I did I wouldn't be spending all my time writing this crap. So I made a bad call at the age of 16, why should the almighty MTV hold that against me now? Unless they're trying to perpetrate a big Andrew Hicks-hating scheme to ensure I never sell a book as long as I live.
Let me amend myself for all time -- "Where It's At" is a great song and a great video. There's a reason an MTV Video Music Award was involved last fall. The video is an eclectic collection of images showing Beck in a wide variety of places, from collecting garbage from the side of the highway and singing at a used car lot to wearing a hook arm in the woods and performing in a country music club. Of course, no one's going to quote from this review because it's too nice. Beck sucks.
28. Keith Sweat featuring Kut Klose - Twisted 1/2
I have a simple philosophy in life -- No Sweat. That means I stay away from washed up R+B singers who try to make comebacks every couple years but achieve airplay only in the dead of night on BET between 1-900 psychic commercials. "Twisted" even has the added bonus of including a girl group no one ever heard of, wearing white lipstick no less. It looks pretty... I don't know... twisted.
There is a lot of open stealing of ideas in the music video world, but "Twisted" can't rightfully be enjoyed by anyone who's seen the kickass "Down Low" video. That one had style and a lot of unintentional laughs, making it enjoyable, but Sweat's version is just pathetic, as he finds his wife kidnapped from a ritzy party. It's not a direct ripoff of the R. Kelly epic but features a lot of the same attempts at emotion, including the ending in which the beloved lady bites the dust. I have to say, compared with "Down Low," this one doesn't even kome klose.
27. Butthole Surfers -- Pepper **
Speaking of unwarranted ripoffs, here's a band that's never had a bonafide hit suddenly charting with a song that no one can deny steals the unique style of Beck, the almost-spoken rap lyrics followed by a poorly-sung chorus. When Beck does it, it's cool, when the Butthole Surfers do it... well, they live up to the first word in their name.
The video for "Pepper" is pretty bland in itself, mostly featuring black-and-white shots of criminals getting out of police cars and being swarmed by the media. All that is intercut with cheesy 70's color shots of models in front of a giant gold curtain. I'd have to say "Pepper" represents all that was wrong with the 70's -- after all, it features "CHiPS" star Erik Estrada.
26. Toni Braxton -- You're Makin' Me High ***
Toni was one of those people who took 1995 off but popped back up in '96 with this funky mid-tempo dance track, one of the many last year to utilize the Parliament / Dr. Dre whistle synthesizer sound. Lyrically, "You're Makin' Me High" is a cliched, poorly-written song. One of the lines is "and again and again and again and again," for God's sake. Then she sings it again...
This video is Toni at her finest, lounging around her apartment in a skin-tight white jumpsuit as a procession of buff guys knocks on the door and she turns them down accordingly. Kind of a mixed message there, a woman singing about how horny she is for a man, but then sends each suitor who comes around packing.
"You're Makin' Me High" is further evidence that we will never see Toni's real hair. First she sports this ridiculous-looking layered Jennifer Aniston wig, then she's got the brown-haired perm going and finally the traditional weave. Pick a fake hairdo and go with it, Toni. You're not fooling anyone this way.
She's also not fooling anyone by spending part of the video having masturbatory fantasies about men on Internet chat lines. I know for a fact that women who spend all their time on chat lines don't look like that. In fact, most of them look like me. I'd sooner believe the premise of Vanessa Williams' song "Just For Tonight," where we're supposed to believe one of the most gorgeous women in the world would have to plead for one night of hot, no-strings-attached sex. Well, maybe if she was after a certain diary-writing stud...
25. Red Hot Chili Peppers -- Aeroplane ****
"Aeroplane" starts out with the phrase, "I like pleasure spiked with pain," but this video is all pleasure and no pain. The Peppers, in their traditional bouncy, shirtless manner flock around a giant stage filled with beautiful, overly-madeup women. Some are in gold sequins doing a drill team thing with air-traffic controller paddles, others swing from trapezes, and still more do a synchronized swimming routine in an Olympic sized pool. Music video has seldom given us anything so fine as this freakless (not counting Flea) circus of beautiful women. Too damn cool.
24. Fugees (Refugee Camp) -- Ready or Not ***
Best of the three Fugees videos on the count, "Ready or Not" was the follow-up to "Killing Me Softly" that had people over thirty saying to themselves, "What?! The Fugees rap?" That's right, their album The Score, with the exception of remakes of "Killing Me Softly" and Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry," is all rap-hop music. That's why all you've ever seen of them on VH1 is "Killing Me Softly."
The Fugees are never classified as gangsta rappers, but "Ready or Not" is full of the usual themes. "If I ruled the world, everyone would have a gun," is one of the lines which gets chopped up on MTV. You can't even say "robbery" on there anymore. I don't know when they got grandmotherly-strict about their videos, but whenever I see them show old rap videos from ten years or more ago, there are more cuss words that slide by than today.
Even with the censored verses, the "Ready or Not" video still seems like something out of "COPS," with the three Fugees rapping in a submarine while people close in them over land, sea and air, not to mention earth, wind and fire. Then when the authorities finally reach the Fugee-sub, a "To Be Continued" pops up on the screen. Why are rap videos the only genre that constantly do that to us? It's bad enough Ice Cube gave us the "It Was a Good Day" cliffhanger and 2Pac made us wait to see the other half of "California Love."
23. Nas featuring Lauryn Hill -- If I Ruled the World ***
"If I Ruled the World" is the other Nas video on the countdown, and it's only appropriate for it to pop up right after the Fugees. This song is so much like their music, and even features their vocalist Hill, that this could have been released as a Fugees song and no one would raise an eyebrow.
Like the "Street Dreams" video, Nas has Las Vegas as the video's backdrop, only this time he's rapping from the back of a trailer that's driving around Vegas. This trailer thing is catching on in music videos. Da Brat's big comeback effort and Bjork's "Big Time Sensuality" video both featured this no-longer-innovative gimmick.
The entire video isn't trailer-bound, we also get a few enactments of what would happen if Nas did rule the world. King Nas would free political prisoners, smoke big expensive cigars and buy black diamonds and pearls. That last part was also one of Prince's big wishes.
22. Metallica -- Until it Sleeps *
Dude still sounds like Weird Al and he still looks like Goose Gossage. And I still don't like him or the rest of his band. This time, Goose is struggling with his inner demons, the evil little goslings of the soul. He's tied up, there are snakes involved, a gorilla, a guy in a diaper, another guy in a crown of thorns. This collection of metal cliche is an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of crap.
TOO NEW. Dave Matthews Band -- Crash Into Me
Just in case we missed it the first time...
21. L.L. Cool J featuring Total -- Loungin' (remix) ***
Who would have thought this staple of 80's rap would have a second comeback? He's like John Travolta -- he may produce as much crap as quality material, but people still love him. And he keeps coming back. The wave of L.L.'s comeback this time hinges on the almost-forgotten genre of PG sex rap that titillates the kiddies enough to make them think he's cool and run out and buy his music, but is still harmless enough to keep the dreaded warning stickers off his albums and parents from condemning him.
This remix of "Loungin'" brings in the old staple of the rap artist who can't sing -- the quartet of R+B chicks to perform the chorus four or five times to fade. The video is basically L.L. driving around town to look for more married women to have sex with, at least that's how I interpreted it from the lyrics and visuals. Who knows, he could just be knocking on all those beautiful women's doors to solicit donations to the United Way.
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Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks / Fatboy Productions