The Artist – The Greatest Romance Ever Sold
     (**½)  I purchased and reviewed Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic more than a month ago. It was the first major-label Artist/Prince release since 1996, and two months after the single was released, I finally caught the video for "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold" on VH1 at 4:30 a.m. Does Prince do a half-assed job or what? I don’t know if MTV is playing this or not, but it’s his best quality single since "7" and a huge step up from the videos he’s put out since the name-change. I saw one video on BET last fall ("Come On") that literally looked like it had been taped on a camcorder, and not even one with a built-in LCD view-screen. (No, if Prince had had one of those, he might have noticed at the time how damn foolish he looked.) "The Greatest Romance" video is filmed in a blue- and red-tinted widescreen format, and Prince is actually kind of cool-looking. It’s not the Versace velvet or the hoop earrings, and it’s certainly not the glitter eye-shadow. It’s some kind of intangible confidence he’s gotten back. Rave reeks of it, and so does the video, which follows the "Most Beautiful Girl in the World" motif from time to time with random shots of beautiful women. One such woman goes from the first to third trimester of pregnancy in 30 seconds. Prince has that power over time and space, I guess. "The Greatest Romance" is a high-quality single with a decent video to match. If the charts were fair and Prince a little less flaky, this would be a hit. –Andrew Hicks

Mary J. Blige – Deep Inside
     (**)  What do you want to bet the "Bennie and the Jets" piano riff took Elton John about ten minutes to think of? Yet it has become one of the catchiest, most enduring songs in the pop music canon. Just ask Mary J. Blige, who’s decided to build her last single around that repetitious piano riff. And, in true Puffy/Sting pocketbook fashion, Mary has actually managed to get Elton to appear in the video. (HER: Eltie, there’s gonna be lots of shirtless b-boys.  HIM: What’s a b-boy, love?) He tickles the ivories – that’s not an obscure gay-sex reference, by the way – for about 20 or 25 seconds worth of screen-time and leaves the rest up to Mary. "Don’t judge me or think I’m bitter for the evil God allows me to see. I’m just Mary, just Mary, just Mary." It’s the same diatribe Lou Grant had to put up with every time Mary Tyler Moore showed up late for work. "Deep Inside" isn’t really much. Mary sings, Elton tickles and the now-cliché unrelated dance interlude doesn’t really salvage this standard New York street video. –AH

D’Angelo – Untitled (How Does It Feel)
     (**)  This is the BET version of Alanis Morissette’s "Head Over Feet." You know, the video where you see the head of Alanis lip synch the entire song in one-take. She falls idle during the instrumental breaks; he falls idle during the breaks. She plays her harmonica; he lets the camera focus on his sweaty, hair-drenched navel for 30 seconds. The difference is, the Alanis song is boring, while "How Does It Feel" keeps up the tradition of the emotional, falsetto Prince ballad. The song’s ‘70s soul roots and smarmy sexuality conjure up the best memories of the Purple One, and D’Angelo’s anguished screams are almost eerily familiar. If they had made a real video instead of oiling the singer up and sticking him in front of the camera in Dirty Mind-era bikini briefs, this could have been a serious MTV hit. –AH

Enrique Iglesias – Rhythm Divine
     (*½)  This song sounds just like "Bailamos," and I don’t mean that in an ignorant-honky, all-you-Mexicans-look-alike kind of way. I’m just having a hard time believing Enrique gets another single. The fucking Wild, Wild West soundtrack made this guy’s career, and he’s the son of Julio Iglesias. If there’s any pedigree that demands one-hit-wonderhood, this is it. As the video for "Rhythm Divine" opens, Enrique is stalking a rented model down an endless hallway. She finally gets out to the crowded street, and he keeps following her. (HIM: I hear you’re putting together the soundtrack for that Nicolas Cage car-thief movie. Just listen to this demo tape.  HER: Leave me alone, you creep.) The entire video is an ode to stalking, minus Enrique’s detour to crowd-surf. Yeah, you heard me; Enrique Iglesias crowd surfs. You know in the real world, that nipple ring would be gone before you could say, "¿Donde está el baño?" In the end, Enrique’s prey runs out of dry land and wades into the ocean, leaving the salsafied stalker with a bewildered look on his face. It isn’t exactly a Usual Suspects plot twist. –AH

Kid Rock – Only God Knows Why
     (**½)  The title is apt, since I hate Kid Rock and – only God knows why – actually kind of like this song. Me and Jeremy both. (JAMES: And then there was one…) The appeal is hard to describe; this is a simple road ballad with catchy vocal effects. Think Cher’s "Believe" crossed with Bon Jovi’s "Wanted Dead or Alive." The whole thing reeks of Everlast – the production and supposed versatility disguises bad singing and mediocre songwriting. In this case, I’m guessing the producer could tell the only way to pass Kid Rock off as a singer was with the Cher production. "Only God Knows Why" is that standard, half-assed-third-single-off-the-album concert effort. It owes a lot to the Poison "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" school of video making. There are plenty of slow-motion shots of Kid Rock walking to and from his limo and to and from the stage and just down the street and to the right. We see his "first-born son" (for Kid Rock so loved the world…) and, hell, even the midget looks wistful. Cher crossed with Bon Jovi crossed with Poison, and if I’d heard this song on the radio not knowing it was Kid Rock, I probably would have liked it across the board. –AH

Kurupt f/Roscoe and Nate Dogg – Girls All Pause
     (**)  There’s just something about Nate Dogg that inherently amuses me. He has a distinctive voice based half on the Marvin Gaye soul-man model and half on West Coast gangsta rap culture. The worlds you hear coming out of his mouth are not the kind of words you would expect someone with actual singing ability to say. Just witness Nate’s opening diatribe in "It Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None)," and his testimony in "Girls All Pause": "I got 10 girls that pay me / Just so they can lay me / And when they come to see me / I just drop my drawls." It spices up an otherwise ordinary song from the sad shell of Death Row records. It’s filmed mostly in a blue-tinted strip club, with a few standard rap-video effects thrown in. This won’t see the light of day on MTV. –AH

Bob Marley and Lauryn Hill – Turn Your Lights Down Low
     (**½)  This single, of course, is from the album Lauryn Hill Sings With All Her Dad’s Dead Old Friends. Actually, it’s from a new Marley tribute album, and it’s pretty good. Lauryn is in Erykah Badu territory in the video, sporting a Jungle Hut headdress and lounging around her house, waiting for her rasta boyfriend to show up. (The technical gimmick? In every shot, the camera slowly pans left to right, creating an odd sense of continuous motion.) By verse two, the video has disintegrated into a studio lip synch video, and it culminates in predictable house-party fare. But the video just seems to have the Marley blessing all over it, for some reason – the integrated vocals of the late Jamaican himself seem to hover over the proceedings. It really makes you wish Marley and Hill could have collaborated together for real. –AH

98º – This Gift
    (*)  Aww, the boys of 98º get their very own Christmas song. Okay, we’re going to make this quick because I have a low tolerance for holiday bullshit and I still have three more Christmas videos to review. What we have here is four guys sitting on stools, looking a lot like living pictures from the Dillard’s circular as fake snow dribbles down on them. Why am I picturing this demented Christmas scenario – Macaulay Culkin attacking the members of 98º with blow torches and paint cans, meting out 24½º of justice to each of them? I don’t think pop music gets more uninteresting than this. What a way to close out a millennium. –AH

Britney Spears – From the Bottom of My Broken Heart
     (*)  Has this bitch really sold ten million records? "From the Bottom" is the fourth single from …Baby One More Time (…baby, no more. Please.) and her equivalent of ‘N Sync’s "I Drive Myself Crazy." We open on Britney sitting on her tire swing, looking remorseful. Next thing we know, she has her suitcase and her good train hat as Mom and Lil’ Sis (sorry, no music career for you, Lil’ Sis Spears) see her off. Britney’s leaving home; bye, bye. But, before she can leave, Britney has to sing from the porch as we watch flashbacks of her wandering around the bedroom, packing some items and staring wistfully at others. Sorry, no flashbacks for you, wistful Britney bedroom items, but there are flashbacks to happier times with her boyfriend. The bastard dumped her, you see, and now she has to leave town. But, before she can leave, we see her singing from the bus stop as an intrusive small-town sign ("Welcome to Cedar Springs, Home of 17-Year-Old Diva-Tramp Britney Spears") looms behind her. The whole affair just proves that Britney, stripped of her sexuality, is just dull and innocuous. As opposed to the sexy, dull and innocuous Britney we’re used to. I don’t think pop music gets more uninteresting than this. What a way to close out a millennium. –AH

2Pac f/The Outlawz – Baby Don’t Cry (Keep Ya Head Up)
     (**)  Is it that already getting to be that time of year when they release another posthumous 2Pac album? I thought we could squeak by another couple of months without one. Nope, it seems he’s in direct competition with Biggie on the weekly Billboard Top 20 Slain Gangsta Rappers charts. This single is basically "Keep Ya Head Up ’99." It’s a tribute to a 1993 2Pac song that was a remake of the ‘70s soul song "Ooh Child," which was also improperly remade for radio in 1993 by a guy named Dino. (Sorry, I’m trying to start this new Six Degrees of Crap game, and it doesn’t seem to be catching on.) The video is full of those now-familiar, "The Artist Is Dead, How the Hell Are We Going To Make a Video" cover-up shots. You know the kind – they usually require either elaborate effort or no effort. (Toss a bootleg concert shot of the Sublime guy into the Old West or stick your ol’ dirty artist’s head on Dolemite’s body.) It seems a sad statement about our culture that we even have a subgenre of videos where you have to disguise the fact that the performer is now dead. This new video integrates clips of 2Pac in the original "Keep Ya Head Up" video, footage of a mom looking after her kids in this troubled world and live-action shots of the Outlawz, at least half of which are still alive. "Baby Don’t Cry" isn’t technically a real video (it’s not technically even a real song), but it’s okay regardless. –AH

Classic Videos

Mariah Carey – Miss You Most (At Christmas Time) (1994)
     (*½)  Mariah sets the scene from the beginning. Outside, carolers are singing, bells are ringing, kids are sledding and Puff Daddy is working on a Toto sample for Mariah’s next album. But inside, Mariah is lonely. Oh so lonely. And only the scruffiest of gangsta rappers will do. Wait, this is from 1994. She was still married to the 50-year-old president of her record company at the time. No wonder she was so lonely. "Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)" is, of course, from Mariah’s Merry Christmas album, which I bought. I was 16, there were pictures of her in a reindeer bunny suit sitting on Santa’s lap; what could I do? It’s sat dormant in my disowned-CDs shoe box ever since, and I’m only reminded of the album’s existence during that week or so every December when VH1 blows the dust off its pair of Merry Christmas videos. There’s this and "All I Want For Christmas Is You," and they both have a lot of the same footage. Basically, when they went to shoot the album art, they took along a cheap camera and got a lot of stock footage of Mariah frolicking in holiday settings. And, in the director’s cut, you get to see her stick a candy cane where the sun don’t shine. Merry fucking Christmas. –AH

Kenny G – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (1994)
     (zero)  If only this Kenny died in a new, gruesome way in every video like the kid from "South Park," I’d look forward to watching his videos. Instead, Kenny G’s tender torso remains unbludgeoned by that alto sax. It’s not only this video that disturbs me – I take issues with the song title itself. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"? It sounds like something the antagonists in Office Space would say. Kenny G does in this video what he does in every other video – he stands around and blows his saxophone. This time, he’s at the corner of the screen in an ornate, empty movie theater. In this movie theater, an old-as-hell Burgess "The Penguin" Meredith sits alone and threads classic Christmas movies for himself to watch. You wonder why he never tosses a popcorn bucket at Kenny and yells, "Hey, down front! Knock off that racket!" In the end, of course, Burgess’ daughter and grandkids show up and lavish him with presents. And you wonder why they never toss the empty gift boxes at Kenny and yell, "Hey, down front! Go back to San Francisco, you horn blowin’ faggot!" Merry fucking Christmas. –AH

Carnie and Wendy Wilson – Hey Santa (1993)
     (*)  I’m going to warn you now, there are probably going to be some cheap shots in this review. You can’t expect me to sit through a Christmas video from two-thirds of Wilson Phillips without taking a few cheap shots. So let me get the explanations out of the way. Carnie and Wendy are the spawn of Beach Boy leader Brian "I Got 16 Personalities And 8 Of Them’s Got To Go" Wilson. They were both, if my photographic tabloid memory serves me, abused at a young age. And Carnie, the one whose love of fatty foods consigned her to the worse-than-death fate of being impersonated on "SNL" by Chris Farley and who had a short-lived comeback as the poor talk show host’s Ricki Lake a few years back. So here they are with "Hey Santa," from their 1993 album Hey Santa. (SAMPLE LYRIC: "Hey Santa, give us another damn hit. Hey Santa, I asked for extra pepperoni on this large pizza. And don’t forget Wendy’s protein shake. Hey Santa, ) Naturally, the Wilson sisters lip synch the song in front of a fake tree while snow falls outside and a fake snowman is decapitated. I wouldn’t make up stuff like that. And, for some reason, there are a shitload of extreme close-ups of Carnie’s bloated face. Real Godzilla-looking shit. I might as well mention, I’m reviewing this courtesy of "Pop-Up Video," which seems to be taking a few cheap shots of its own. I just noticed, during one of the Godzilla close-ups of Carnie, the following list of "pop" boxes: "Wild boar head," "Fatted quail," "Squab pie" and "Suckling pig with garlic orange sauce." And here I was just going for the extra-pepperoni, large pizza cheap shot. They took it to a whole other level. I might as well just forget that "Get in my belly" joke I was formulating. Merry fucking Christmas. –AH

     NOTE: As you might have guessed, the theme for this week’s classic reviews was, "Merry Fucking Christmas." Christmas videos are almost always bad (what can you say about a sub-genre whose best product is Band-Aid’s "Do They Know It’s Christmas"?), but these three are particularly painful. Hopefully, by next year I’ll be able to track down a copy of No Doubt’s "Oi to the World" and exorcise this painful demon.

Copyright 1999 Apartment Y Productions