REVIEWS -- MARCH 10, 2000

                         2gether – Calculus (U+Me=Us)
     (*)  I ignored this during its original MTV promo-reel incarnation, when it was but a mere four-minute commercial for the network’s boy-band movie 2gether. Now the TV movie is two weeks in the grave and MTV is still playing this video, presumably to promote the soundtrack album. (Well, Rolling Stone did give it three-and-a-half stars. Christ.) If you haven’t seen it, “Calculus” is a supposed parody of acts like the Backstreet Boys and *N Sync, but I almost consider it worse than the real shit – I mean, with non-sequitur stuff like LFO out there, how could you make the lyrics more absurd or pitiful if you tried? And this single just isn’t funny (“I don’t give a crap about Robert E. Lee”), taking the care-more-about-love-than-academics approach that’s been around since the days of the Everly Brothers. The video steals the usual motifs – there’s the “at the altar” boy-band ballad motif, the intermittent dance scenes with the boys in form fitting, Dick red, white and blue outfits. Oh, and it’s got Chris Farley’s brother. If you didn’t think veteran video director Nigel Dick stooped low enough with his Backstreet and Britney videos, this is all the proof you should need. –Andrew Hicks

Hanson – This Time Around
     (*½)  There’s nothing quite as quizzically shameful as a teeny-pop group that, scared off by the competition since last they were around, tries to reinvent itself so teens won’t like them. No, Hanson is no longer content to be lumped in with the likes of other teen-pop icons. The new Hanson look is part Gavin Rossdale, part Chris Gaines and part Counting Crows, and none of the TRL crowd is going to give it a second thought. After all, Hanson is so-o-o-o-o 1997. The boys play in a big, gaudy ballroom while Lenny Kravitz heroin models frolic around them. (Back off, Religious Right. The models are tastefully clothed.) It looks like “Fly Away” crossed with “Hangin’ Around,” and it makes me wonder what the boys and the record company that made them over are shooting for here. Do they want to retain the loyalty of the now-college-bound girls who thought them cute in 1997? The VH1 secretaries who want to appear somewhat edgy? Regardless, “This Time Around” is an immediate failure and will, if God has any mercy left for the America we’ve brought on ourselves, pass quickly without notice. –AH
      (**)  Well, well, the boys of Hanson have re-invented themselves, have they? The two eldest Hansons having grown out of “tweenage,” the band has now decided to go a different route. Think Silverchair meets Candlebox meets lame Counting Crows jam riffs, and you have this song. Combine the ballroom antics and heroin models from “Fly Away” with angst-full, bangs-in-a-tizzy Silverchair throatings a la “Ana’s Song,” and you have this video. The main chorus is, “We won’t go down this time,” which suggests they’ve found a new way to get their record contracts renewed. Good for you boys; good for you. Seriously, I didn’t think Hanson would ever darken MTV again, which means there’s a whole can of worms from stuff I hated three years ago just waiting to be opened. I can’t wait. The only consolation is that this effort is doomed. The teeny-boppers have since moved on, and real music fans hate them. I think “this time around,” they’re screwed. –James Wallace

Len – Cryptik Souls Crew
     (*)  This is definitely the follow-up single no one asked for. I admit, somewhere around the 1,200th time I heard “Steal My Sunshine” last summer, I warmed up to the song – and promptly cooled off around airing No. 1,225. But there’s no excuse for “Cryptik Souls Crew,” which tries to pass itself off as 100% genuine hip-hop. In the prologue, the guy from Len (you know, the one who was lying on the grass on Monday morning of last week indulging in his self-defeat) hams it up with a bunch of beat-box spitting MC’s, all of whom take turns rapping with the same inflection as “Rappers Delight.” The song itself samples some old disco track whose identity is on the tip of my tongue but frustratingly elusive. (Sucks when you know the identity of the pilfered track but can’t properly nail it down, doesn’t it?) Anyway, the video is actually trying to do for the dead of winter what “Steal My Sunshine” did for summer. It’s shot at a ski resort (snowboarding stunt doubles abound) and has a vaguely, “Girl I’ve Been Hurt”-era Snow feeling to it. You can’t stop the bum rush, indeed… --AH

The Lox f/Eve – Ryde or Die Chick
     (*½)  I guess the shelf life of The Lox single from three weeks ago, “Wild Out,” wasn’t quite what the record company thought it would be, because the Ruff Ryders label has already pulled out their big guns, Eve. I’ve gotten a few letters from people defending Eve against my constant attacks and insults, so I think I should clarify that I have no problem with Eve. She’s not a bad rapper, and she’s even kind of classy, but she’s only as good as her surroundings. With the Roots (on “You Got Me”) and Prince (on the “Greatest Romance” remix single), she was great. With the nursery-rhyme production on her Ruff Ryders singles and “Ryde or Die Chick,” she’s pretty weak. Even so, and minus her Gucci leopard-skin cowboy hat, she’s the most sophisticated thing about this video – and apparently, she never came into contact with the members of The Lox during the taping. Good move. This is more of the same cheapass headband-and-jersey brand of rap video, and it takes place entirely in a parking lot, where pretty women fight over the gangstas sitting in their expensive, rented cars. (“No, I want to go back to his mama crib and get pregnant with a child he’ll never support!” “No, bitch, I’m going back to his mama crib!”) –AH

M2M – Mirror Mirror
     (*)  This is the group that headlined the Pokemon soundtrack. I assumed M2M was some unknown Japanese teeny-pop group that would never pass minimum immigration requirements. I was wrong. M2M is actually two American girls who play their own instruments and everything. And they sound just like Wilson Phillips, only younger. You know the sound – sappy mid-tempo pop where every vocal is double-sung and double-tracked for maximum VH1 appeal. The video is nondescript, blue-tint TRL product, engineered to make the girls look as cute as possible, yet accessible to other females. The lust factor crossed with the friend-next-door factor, you could say. And listening to this music, it reminds me I used to have an internal Christian music detector. Even without the overt Jesus lyrics, I could tell it wasn’t quite real music. Now, with this adult-contemporary, junior-workday shit like M2M out there, I honestly can’t tell. My Christian music detector is beeping here even though I know it isn’t Christian. It just doesn’t seem real, that’s all. –AH
      (*)  These girls would have you believe they’re above the Britney Spears camp. Why? Well, as you can plainly see in the video, they’re sporting guitars! Yep, I can clearly notice them playing at least three chords at one point! So, what’s the premise of this video? Well, these cute little things have lost their men, and they’re so broken up about it they sing into the mirror, wishing for them back. It’s like a middle aged man’s pornographic fantasy – you’ve got made up little whores prancing around in the dew in clingy, wet t-shirts, and even though they’re ready and willing, they’re also so very innocent. Once, Andrew found this envelope at the movie theater full of letters from teenage girls to each other, along with wallet-sized pictures of all of them. They can honestly be described as brazen little hussies with foul mouths, somewhere around the age of 15. What’s my point? These girls look just like them! –JW

Mos Def – Umi Says 
     (***)  I think it was the title of Mos Def’s last single that served as a red flag for me. When you see something pop up on the godforsaken dawn edition of “MTV Jams,” and it’s called “Ms. Fatbooty,” you don’t usually take it seriously. But its oddly beautiful jazz sample or whatever got to me, and after downloading the song on MP3, it really grew on me. Made me receptive for the musically superior “Umi Says.” (Take note, RIAA – your arch-nemesis Napster site may have caused me to like an artist normal airplay didn’t give a completely fair chance to.) The video for “Umi Says” takes place almost entirely in a dark, brown-tinted studio, as the camera does slow 360-degree pans that catch Mos in different fading, Sixth Sense-like incarnations. The song itself comes from a strict funk/soul foundation and is actually more reggae than gangsta rap. (And, in true reggae fashion, it milks human suffering in several places.) The main charm of "Umi Says" is listening to Mos try to sing rather than rap. He's not afraid to turn in a somewhat flawed vocal performance without studio altering. I mean, he could have gone the Cher/Kid Rock voxbox route, but unlike Puffy, Mos has soul. This is an impassioned performance even if Mos' own vocal abilities can't completely keep up with him. I don’t know – between this guy and D’Angelo and The Roots, we may eventually be rid of most of the no-talent hangers-on of the rap game. –AH

Rage Against the Machine – Sleep Now in the Fire
     (****)  Is it too early to declare “Sleep Now in the Fire” as the best video of 2000? Probably, but I’m almost certain this will go down as the baddest-ass video of the year. Rage, who I pretty much dismissed a few months ago as sounding exactly like they did on their last album, has put together a superior pop-metal masterpiece with The Battle of California, and here they’ve enlisted the expertise of renegade, anti-corporate director Michael Moore. It couldn’t be a better pairing; I think the two should hook up on a permanent basis, storming the halls of big business and government and just kicking ass in general. Maybe I’m more receptive now to a video like this, but look at the other crap (Mos Def excepted) that I’m reviewing this week. This video from Rage is so raw, so genuine that it puts the rest of this record-company product to shame. “Sleep Now” follows in the grand tradition of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” and the Beatles’ rooftop concert by staging a performance in front of Federal Hall in Manhattan – high-energy music, stockbrokers from the AC/DC era shaking their fists unashamedly. Moore also mixes in a hilarious pseudo-quiz show that espouses Rage views (a thumbs-down for MTV for covering the bottom-right corner of the screen – for once, your damned logo is actually blocking something) and an end-of-video raid on the New York Stock Exchange results in security pandemonium. You have to see it to believe it, and I’m almost surprised MTV didn’t bow to corporate pressure and refuse to air the video, especially after the network they treated Neil Young awhile back. Anyway, with the M2M and Jessica Simpson all over MTV, I’m extremely relieved to see shit like this pop up every few months. It makes the vigilance worthwhile. –AH
      (****)  I’ve been waiting for this video ever since I read about it on RATM’s website. It’s directed by Michael Moore, who is famous for Roger and Me and “The Awful Truth.” I’m a big fan of his and Rage, so I could only be the winner when they combined forces to do this video, right? Right! Rage played a concert in front of the New York Stock Exchange after being denied permission by the city of New York, and all hell broke loose. Footage from their illegal (a la U2) concert being encroached on by New York’s finest is spliced with footage of Zach de la Rocha in an expensive Italian suit slinking around like Sinatra, singing in front of scenes of rich indulgence. At the same time, footage from their take on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” asks the contestants questions about America’s wealth disparity and then showers them with money whenever they answer even semi-intelligent questions. In the end, Michael Moore would be arrested, and the NYSE would close early, forcing down its steel barricades. Gary Bauer has the last say in the video, getting Rage’s name wrong and identifying them as “anti-family” and “pro-terrorist.” Anybody who can get under Bauer’s skin like that has my vote. –JW

Jessica Simpson f/Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees – Where You Are
     (*)  “Where You Are” is a ballad in true Diane Warren fashion, “Unbreak My Heart” for the white, under-15 set. Lachey, a clean-cut guy you wouldn’t know was from 98 Degrees unless MTV told you so, joins Jessica for the squeaky-clean duet. (I need to look into the existence of a “7th Heaven” soundtrack and find out if “Where You Are” is on there. There’s a five-dollar bet riding on it.) This video, like the one from 2gether, runs through the standard group of teen-video settings. There’s the park (for cold-weather bonding), the carousel, the diner, etc. This isn’t especially painful, just bad. Having been there, I can also proclaim this as private-school slow-dance music. We had Boyz II Men, this generation has Jessica Simpson. And the students are probably still forbidden to come within six inches of each other. –AH

Staind – Home
     (**)  With this video, Staind continues their drive to sound like a winner from the early 90s.  While their first video was more of an Alice In Chains affair, this one seems to be going for a Bush effect. Here’s an easy game to play, here’s an easy thing to say – 3 Degrees of Nirvana. Staind is ripping off Bush, who stole their gig from Nirvana and Pearl Jam. What do you want to bet there’s a song on Staind’s album a la “Jeremy”? Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re by any means doomed to failure. After all, the Stone Temple Pilots rode that same formula to four platinum albums, and Bush (although they’re now British art-rock) will probably be around for awhile. So I might as well get ready for these guys to open for Pearl Jam or The Smashing Pumpkins sometime this summer. –JW

System of a Down – Spiders
     (**)  Well, at least one of the “new metal” bands is trying to splinter off. Far from being “rap-metal,” this sounds a lot more like bad Megadeth than anything else. There’s something really wrong with the lead singer; he looks like Rob Zombie but sounds like Billy Joe from Green Day singing death metal. This video follows the Tool/Metallica cliché pattern, which I’m sure you’re all familiar with by now – dark, foreboding areas, lots of fuzzy light and smoke in different colors and, of course, the dead rising from the grave. With all the dark forest scenes and the girl lying still in a pool of water, I’d bet this is some sort of take off the Cinderella story. Fortunately, it’s not good enough that I actually have to find out. –JW

Classic Videos

Blackstreet – Money Can’t Buy Me Love (1996)
     (*½)  This is what I get for actually paying attention to the “Golly, We’re Hip” Rolling Stone ads trumpeting the 1,000+ full-length music videos on its site – I’m poking around a little and suddenly I turn up an obscure, fairly new (okay, so it’s from their last album) Blackstreet video with a familiar title. (Then again, it’s probably more familiar to the members of Blackstreet as the teen movie starring Patrick Dempsey than the 1964 Beatles song of the same name.) They changed the chorus a little and made it into a slow jam, but this is definitely the McCartney song of the same name. The video was filmed in merry old England, and there are requisite shots of the members of Blackstreet crossing Abbey Road in between a predictably emotional storyline about one of the poor boys from Blackstreet stealing a rich old man’s wife from him. I’ve always had a theory that you can make any R+B slow jam into a soppy country ballad – but maybe it’s also true that you can also make any Beatles song into a slow jam. For the sake of our children, I hope no one actually puts this to the test. –AH

George Thorogood – I Drink Alone (1989)
     (**)  A simple video from a simple man, and I don’t mean that in the grass-roots, pulse-of-the-people sense. James says George Thorogood looks like a mongoloid; I think he somewhat resembles an odd acquaintance of my roommates who often threatens to “skull fuck” those with which he disagrees. “I Drink Alone” is a black-and-white video that splits between shots of George riding his Harley down an empty highway and shots of him hanging out by himself in a bar, where he… I suppose… drinks alone. The sparse visuals stretch out the proceedings and make the song’s lameass alcohol-pun lyrics (“My buddy Weiser,” “My dear Ol’ Grandad,” etc.) even more noticeable. Then there’s the video’s most unintentionally funny sequence, when George holds up a shot of whiskey, singing to it and contemplating and romanticizing it during the sax solo. (And, for a self-proclaimed alcoholic, there’s a surprising lack of turbulent, Sam-and-Diane chemistry between George and that liquor.) This being VH1, George never actually downs the drink – no, that would give Tipper too much ammo. Actually, never mind that; I’m betting this song is a dark, guilty pleasure for both the Gores on drunken nights. (“The daughters are in bed, honey. Put on the… George Thorogood.”) All told, though, I never noticed how much of a choad Thorogood is. –AH


Copyright 2000 Apartment Y Productions