Beck – Sexxlaws
     (***½)  Beck never disappoints. His songs are full of rich samples and oddly combined instruments and, in the case of Mutations, stripped-down, surprisingly soulful blues. His videos have obnoxious, non-sequitur imagery and wry, knowing humor. "Sexxlaws" comes to us by way of the new, sex-enlightened Beck. Yeah, after five years in the business, he finally got laid, and he’s writing an album about it. (Don’t laugh; it took Janet Jackson seven years to do her sex album.) "Sexxlaws" is the best and craziest thing to hit MTV since Blur’s "Coffee and TV," which barely hit MTV to begin with. The Fatboy Slim-knockoff intro sees a meeting of the Vision Warrior Men’s Circle ("I want to write a book about angels. I want angel answers.") destroyed by a group of football players. They proceed to the kitchen, where the soup cans are alive, the mixer is floating and the refrigerator is humping the stove from behind. (Yeah.) It gives way to a Beastie Boys-looking motif, with giant robot nurses fighting alien pirates, or at least that’s how I interpreted it. "Sexxlaws" is the kind of video-and-song package I wouldn’t have expected in this dismal year of music, but as it turns out, it’s one more solid late-year, established-artist entry that’s helping salvage our Backstreet-soiled senses. Keep bumpin’, Beck. --AH
      (****)  Ahh, Beck... you really don't give a damn what anybody thinks about you, do you? God, I love the guy for that. Beck's last album Mutations (And yes, it was his last album, don't give me that "It wasn't official" shit. I only use that to piss Jeremy off. He hates that.) showed a more reflective, even dark side of Beck's sound. This one? It's all about the poon tang, baby! This video does a great job of proving that point, with appliances copulating, and horny robots playing "doctor." But no, it doesn't stop there...we have pirates, football players doing the conga, bums playing guitar on broomsticks, which all breaks in on a meeting of a bunch of pansies trying to find their "inner maleness." Thank God. I'm not going to say anything else. You're going to watch for it now. Admit it. I dare you. --James Wallace
Mariah Carey f/Joe and 98º -- Thank God I Found You
     (*)  Even with the hoochie remix of "Heartbreaker" still in the lower reaches of TRL, Mariah has elected to follow her timeworn album release formula. She always puts out her one-word leadoff dance hit in late-summer and releases the ballad followup in mid-fall. "Emotions," "Dreamlover," "Fantasy" and "Honey," they all came out in late summer; "Hero," "One Sweet Day," "Butterfly," all fall releases. "Thank God I Found You" is a standard Mariah ballad, filmed in front of a TRL audience, lots of teenyboppers waving signs. ("Mariah, leave some gangsta dick for the rest of us!" one girl pleads.) It bears strong resemblance to her "I Still Believe" video from earlier this year, which bore strong resemblance to most of her other ballad videos. She never puts effort into them. In this case, it doesn’t matter because, God, she’s teaming up with 98º. They stay on one side of the stage, and Joe stays on the other. See, Joe can sing. I don’t know who he is or where he’s from, but he’s the best thing about this bland Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis effort. Which isn’t saying much. –AH

Macy Gray – I Try
     (**½)  I really want to like Macy Gray, I try, just because I know I should. Because she’s doing something different. Because she has a sultry, Ella Fitzgerald kind of voice. Because she doesn’t succumb to Jungle Hut headdresses from the Erykah Badu Collection. But there’s something off about Gray, something kind of bizarre and unappealing. "Do Something" was a better song, crooner soul mixed with hip-hop; "I Try" is the requisite ballad, anthemic but missing an element of the catchy. I can’t put my finger on it. The video is entirely singular – Gray wakes up in her posh apartment, does her eye makeup, takes the elevator downstairs, has a cup of coffee and grabs a bouquet of flowers. Then she rides the bus… and rides… and rides… before hitting the subway, where she rides… and rides… In a major plot twist, she decides not to give the flowers to the lead singer of Savage Garden. No, as expected, Macy Gray dates a dreadlocked, fashionable, educated man who also has not succumbed to the Jungle Hut. –AH

Donell Jones f/Left Eye Lopez – U Know What’s Up
     (**½)  Yo, yo, yo, on the real, y’all. This the jam of the week! You know Left Eye from TLC, the girl who burn her man house down a few years ago? Aww yeah, she done went solo with Donell "You know that I’m ‘bout it, baby" Jones… Okay, sorry, I was trying to sound like that computer-animated cybersista that introduces videos on BET in the middle of the afternoon, but I just couldn’t keep it up. "U Know What’s Up" sees Left Eye on a Foxy Brown kick, coming harder and sexier than she ever was in TLC. It helps that she’s not wearing too much eye-makeup or a monster hat, and it sets the stage for the inevitable breakoff she’s going to pull from the other girls. (Hey, I read Entertainment Weekly at the laundromat. I know there’s trouble in TLC-land.) As for Donell Jones, who knows? And, for that matter, who cares? He’s this fall’s Montell Jordan. He could be one of the members of Next; I’m not sure. "U Know What’s Up" is a decent entry in the smoove R+B dance pop subgenre, not really distinguishable but certainly not bad. All I can really say about the video is, it comes from that Frank Sinatra Duets school of thought. Jones and Left Eye never actually appear together; he’s always seen on TV screens, she’s always sitting around her house. A wise move on his part, I guess. The fewer bruises you can escape a Left Eye recording session with, the better. –AH

Marilyn Manson – Astonishing Panorama of the End Times
     (*)  Marilyn Manson was raised in an overly religious house where the end of the world was constantly thrust in his face. He no doubt derived this song’s title from some Christian tribulation book. I can appreciate that. The way he coped, well, I can’t really appreciate that. Still, it seems somehow appropriate that, in three years’ time, he’s been reduced to leadoff-single status on the "Celebrity Death Match" album. "Astonishing Panorama," as you’d expect, is done entirely in Claymation, which makes a near-naked Manson a little easier to take. But it’s fucking absurd, from the repeated cries of "Kill your God!" to the shots of Manson on a mechanical spider body, chasing a frightened two-headed monkey. He’s stealing imagery from Wild, Wild West. Put a fork in him; he’s done. –AH

Alanis Morissette – Uninvited
     (**)  Is Alanis singlehandedly trying to bring back the unplugged format? Just what I needed – Alanis stripped of the synthesized production and studio-softening techniques that originally made her easier to take. Still, I have to admit, "Uninvited" is the one song of hers that still gets to me in some fashion. I don’t know what it is about the City of Angels soundtrack – don’t like the Goo Goo Dolls, like "Iris"; don’t like Alanis, like "Uninvited." Hey, I simply wanted an object to crave, and those Bartlett pear thighs do just fine in a pinch. All disgusting imagery aside, there’s something about this song that resonates with me, and I’m not afraid to admit it. It’s just that I can’t handle "MTV Unplugged" performances passed off as videos. The network doesn’t even want their artists to get off the stool. While this cuts back on the usual Alanis epileptic fits and Tourette’s twitches, it doesn’t make things very satisfying visually. So here’s my paradox – I don’t like Alanis videos. They’re full of pretentious tripe on the lowest of levels. I like this song, which doesn’t have an official video. The "Unplugged" video for it doesn’t amount to much, but an actual video would be far worse. So how does two stars sound? –AH

Sisqo f/Make It Hot – Got to Get It
     (**)  I discovered something when I was about 13 – when you listen to headphones and only plug them in halfway, the music takes on dreamy, disconnected proportions. Most of the vocals disappear; what’s left distills itself somewhere in the middle. That’s what this Sisqo track reminds me of; listening to Jodeci with the headphones half unplugged. This bizarre Hype Williams video relies on Chinese New Year imagery and the sight of Sisqo in a white fleece vest to carry it, along with those spooky, barely-there vocals and Timbaland percussion bouncing rapidly from left speaker to right. This shit is spooky but calculatedly so, rendering it almost useless. It’s kind of like the KELIS school of R+B – take something everyone already knows (in her case, TLC and Destiny’s Child, in this case, Dru Hill and Jodeci) and give it one tiny twist (in her case, screaming the chorus at the top of her lungs, in his, manipulating the vocal track halfway). And, you have to realize this, Sisqo is bringing us one step closer to Chris Tucker’s music career. –AH

Will Smith f/K-Ci – Will2K
Will Smith - Will2K
Will Smith - Will2K
     (**)  Time to herald the 1000-year reign of Will Smith. Forget Christ on Earth and shit. As long as Will has a stack of old records to his name, we’ll be hearing from him. This time, Will got ahold of The Clash’s "Rock the Casbah" and teamed up with K-Ci (Sorry, Jo-Jo, no room at the inn.) for the ultimate in self-indulgence, the single "Will2K" from, yes, the album Willennium. At the stroke of midnight, all computer equipment will become infected with the urge to release bad pop-rap. This video, which I guess was supposed to be an epic, starts with Will arriving late to his own party ("I guess he was caught in some wild, wild traffic," Jazzy Jeff speculates.) and sporting his own hand-held time machine. Your tour guide for the party of the ages, Will Smith, who defines the most important eras of time as the mid-30s, where he turns up sporting a Cab Calloway suit and talking about how he wants a little bit of Erica by his side, a little bit of Rita and so on; the mid-70s, with Afros and star-shaped sunglasses; the late-80s, with everyone in LL Cool J-style Adidas; and the distant future, where it is decided, once and for all, that Will don’t want no scrubs. "Will2K," when it comes down to it, is every other Will Smith song you’ve heard, only by now we’ve already heard every other Will Smith song. Talk about a wore-out welcome. –AH
Will Smith - Will2K
Will Smith - Will2K

Static X – Push It
     (*½)  Rob Zombie vocals and Tool visuals delivered by a singer with a two-foot-long rat tail coming out of his chin. I’m sure my younger brother loves this. –AH

Westside Connection – Let it Reign
     (***)  Oh shit, Westside Connection’s back, albeit with a song from the Thicker Than Water soundtrack. Haven’t heard anything about it; can only assume it’s not going to come to Columbia, Mo. "Let It Reign" is genuine gangsta rap, though, and we don’t see too much of that anymore. When’s the last time you saw a video full of rappers tracing their eyeline along quick crane shots? Used to be a Dr. Dre staple. There’s plenty of booty shaking here, too, cars exploding and little kids with wadfuls of hundreds. "Let it Reign" is a welcome injection of reality and, like I said in the Beck review, another late-year entry that’s helping salvage the year. "B Please," Eminem, "Still the D.R.E." – I may not completely write off 1999 for rap after all. –AH

Classic Videos

Poison – Unskinny Bop (1990)
     (**½)  James gave me a strange gift earlier this summer. A ticket to Poison’s reunion tour, along with Ratt, Great White and L.A. Guns. But Poison headlined, naturally, and don’t ask why, but we had a hell of a time. Never underestimate the power of kitsch. Singer Bret Michaels saw fit to tell our audience that the performance was being taped, and that we should keep a lookout for it on "fucking VH1, man!" That’s what these guys have been reduced to. "Unskinny Bop," their last great hair-metal anthem, comes from the pre-grunge wasteland of 1990, when Michael Bolton and Vanilla Ice could actually get on MTV. Aside from the prologue (cab pulls up, Michaels gets out, flanked by two gorgeous woman who are carrying his luggage), "Unskinny Bop" is a standard soundstage video, with Aerosmith scarves hanging from the microphone, Guns N’ Roses bandanas and the requisite banner across the back wall reminding us what band we’re watching, lest we forget. And, you know, I bet this has aired on VH1 sometime this year. –AH

Westside Connection – Bow Down (1996)
     (***)  "The world is mine, fool step back." Ice Cube once again asserts the power of the Pacific coast in his blue Polo, rapping from an actual throne ($799 from the Divinity Catalogue) and sporting the wad of hundreds that helped pay for it. Mack-10 raps from a bunch of classic cars, showing them off prominently before his boss reminds him to get back to washin’ those things. And he wants to see his reflection in there, dammit. The third guy from Westside Connection (sorry, don’t have a press kit) invites us to "Kiss my Converse." The video culminates with a giant, scaffolded party, booty dancers grinding on various levels while Ice Cube holds a computer-animated spinning globe with blue flame licking up the top. Uh, yeah, Steve Miller called. He wants that prop back by seven. –AH

Copyright 1999 Apartment Y Productions