NOTE: I’ve been spending a lot of time with my music video archive lately, kicking back with a beer and watching stuff I taped when I was 15 and 16. Maybe it’s the cycle of nostalgia or the fear of irrelevancy kicking in – on the way over to type this, I heard Ugly Kid Joe’s “Everything About You” on a fucking oldies/hair-metal station. It’s already been more than five years since I graduated high school, and I think it’s time to reexamine some of the first videos I ever reviewed. So here’s the latest theme week, a collection of clips that were released during my senior year of high school, 1994-95.

Bryan Adams – Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman? (1995)
     (**½)  You’ve got to give it to Bryan – when the fickle gods of fame decided his Canadian number was up, he went down fighting. Namely, with one more hackneyed soundtrack ballad, from Don Juan de Marco. (Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp, together at last!) This Mexican-tinged video features Adams in a leisure suit and Robin mask, while bored senoritas lounge around and occasionally play their castanets. Eventually, in this dive of a nightclub, the lights come up and the Cotillion-dressed chicks dance to their fullest. It’s good to know Bryan can bring out the best in everyone even as his career crashes and burns. –Andrew Hicks

Aerosmith – Blind Man (1994)
     (**)  Aerosmith never recovered from its loss of Alicia Silverstone to rotten-ass sex thrillers and that Clooney Batman sequel. This, the first post-Alicia effort, is the token new song from the band’s Big Ones compilation of comeback hits. (It neatly condenses Permanent Vacation, Pump and Get a Grip into one radio-ready, sound-alike album.) “Blind Man” relies mostly on concert lip-synch footage but also integrates scenes of a blind woman feeling her food at a sidewalk café, a dork reading Playboy in Braille and a late-entry cameo from Pamela Anderson as the naughty nurse who gives a sponge bath to a grateful adolescent in a body cast and literally blows his mind. The camera cuts away before Tommy Lee saunters in and beats the injured boy with a piano leg. –AH

All-4-One – I Swear (1994)
     (*)  I’d like five minutes alone with the person who unleashed this fucking song on the world. Just five minutes. By the moon and the stars in the sky, what a rotten excuse for a video… Perhaps motivated by the success of similar, multi-racial boy group Color Me Badd, MCA Records unleashed All-4-One on the world in 1994. Four guys, all united for one cause – bullshit pop. And the pillar of their success was “I Swear,” a ballad video in brown-and-white splendor that begins with the guys atop an inner-city roof, gazing downward at a bunch of kids kicking around a cardboard box. And then they see Her crossing the street, this angel of Harlem, and decide to follow her around. Their brand of Top 40 harassment just begs for a collective kick to the crotch that will elevate their (already astounding!) vocal ranges another octave or two. DRAMATIC HIGHLIGHT: Watching the smoove black guy look into the camera and shake his head somberly as the whiny white guy sings, “I’ll never break your heart.” –AH

Beastie Boys – Sure Shot (1994)
     (***)  Overshadowed by "Sabotage," the mega-staple video from Ill Communication, this Spike Jonze/Nathaniel Hornblower collaboration nonetheless has a strange charm of its own. The Beasties play to the camera from underwater, from tuxedos and from the inside of a casino, while the video frequently cuts to still shots of people and things referenced in the song, from baseball star Rod Carew to the 1970 thriller The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three. The best moments, though, come when the B-Boys, one by one, hang from the roving camera crane. The confused look on DJ Hurricane’s face when his turn comes alone makes the video worth tracking down. –AH

Beck – Loser (1994)
     (***½)  I’ve caught all kinds of shit for my original review of this video, which pegged Beck for one-hit-wonder status. Can you blame me, though? This song has “novelty” written all over it. It makes me realize, though, it’s been six years and I still don’t have a clue what Beck is wearing on his head at the beginning of the video. MTV has it blurred out. Is it obscene? Phallic? What? It’s killing me. “Loser” takes place in a discontinuous, odd visual universe that opens with Beck walking through a clearing with… that thing on his head, then the director cuts to stop-motion shots of a coffin propelling itself through the woods. Other highlights include brown-and-white camera-negative shots of graveyard aerobic dancers, stock footage of stock cars and a shirtless mariachi player atop a suburban roof. Beck dominates the proceedings through various surrealistic lip-synch footage, and the whole project is united by its kamikaze, low-budget camera tricks. I may never know what that shit is on Beck’s head, but I’ll never forget his first big video. –AH

Boyz II Men – Water Runs Dry (1994)
Boyz II Men - Water Runs Dry
     (***½)  You know, I’ve been riding director Wayne Isham pretty hard lately, seeing as his most recent output has been for *N Sync (twice!), the Backstreet Boys and Bon Jovi, but I didn’t realize the man has been making cheese since 1988. I thought he had integrity to lose, in other words, but his prime includes every hair-metal band you can think of and several Roxette videos. So I guess I should be grateful that I like one of his clips, which is filmed in widescreen entirely on location in White Sands, New Mexico. As it opens, a beauty wanders the desert holding a crystal ball in her hands, and that ball also has shots of White Sands and the Boyz – decked out in all-white Puffy gear and sunglasses actually needed for practical reasons. They mainly roam and lip synch, and I’m not too fond of that, but the girl is gorgeous and so are Isham’s sweeping crane shots of the desert. Besides which, of all the rotten songs Babyface has visited upon us, I think this ballad – with its acoustic guitar and drum cadences – is my favorite. Between Boyz II Men, Babyface and Isham, you wouldn’t expect anything this watchable. –AH
Boyz II Men - Water Runs Dry

Dionne Faris – I Know (1995)
     (**½)  This was one of those Top 40 songs that refused to die. First teenybopper radio got ahold of it, then the adult-contemporary stations started playing it every hour on the hour and, shit, it got old quick. But it is a fairly soulful, energetic pop tune that deserves some kind of place in my retrospective, even if its video only features soundstage lip-synch footage alternated with inexplicable shots of Faris in the men’s room, boogieing in front of a row of urinals. (DIONNE: I know what you’re doing… GUY: Yeah, I’m taking a piss. Get the hell out of here!) The director must have had his reasons for dumping Faris in the loo for half the video – and, by 1996, bathroom videos became a brief trend, so maybe he was on the forefront – but it’s the only excuse for variety in the video. Which I think calls for a courtesy flush. –AH

Offspring – Self Esteem (1994)
     (***)  These guys, like the Sting editorial states on The Onion’s website, used to be kind of cool once, if only because they were such losers. It was a good year for losers, 1994 – hell, even I had a good year. And this Smash hit that forever left its mark on the MTV consciousness has more strobe lights than a bad rave, enough so that you may well have a seizure just fast-forwarding through the clip. The strobes, though, are the only attempt our fearless director makes to disguise the fact that this is nothing more than a labored reconstruction of Beck’s “Loser.” There’s soundstage performance footage, where lead singer Dexter Holland is in dreads and a t-shirt that reads “Germs,” intermingled with black-and-white motorcycle-crash footage and a teenage girl in headgear and her friends, dancing and starting too closely at the camera, which they eventually toss eggs at. “Self Esteem” starts off as merely derivative and gets better as it goes, building visually to a distinctive climax. If you identify at all with the lame-o protagonist, this one will win you over by the end. –AH

Salt-N-Pepa – None of Your Business (1994)
     (***)  The girls’ “Yes, I’m a tramp, thank you very much!” video from Very Necessary sees Salt, Pepa and Spinderella more glammed up than ever inside the lens of photographer/director Matthew Rolston. The girls switch costumes on the plain soundstage set while a Greek chorus of sexual diversity chimes in on the title. Rolston also shows the detractors to this free-swinging lifestyle, two bloated, nasty-looking name-callers who clearly are not comfortable with their sexuality. Tsk tsk. Salt-N-Pepa, on the other hand, are so comfortable that they trot out male strippers and mud wrestle each other at one point. These are people who clearly believe in their art, and I applaud them for that. Now how about jumping back into that mud wrestling tank? Art calls. –AH

Smashing Pumpkins – Rocket (1994)
     (****)  At the time, I hated the Smashing Pumpkins – mainly because people used to tell me I looked like Billy Corgan – and I still only have a marginal, perfunctory appreciation for Siamese Dream, but there’s no getting around the appeal of this unexpectedly magical and childlike video. “Rocket” opens with a hooked-up youngster in a government lab receiving an “interplanetary transmission” on his circular satellite screen. It’s a smoke-machine performance from the Pumpkins (it beats that Hitler footage from Contact, anyway), all wearing silver suits, and it merits a wrist-watch video transmission to a friend. The kid rounds up a gang from within the surreal neighborhood, whose houses all look like they were designed by Dr. Calgari, and together they mull over child-drawn plans to design a space rocket. And, while their disbelieving parents have an all-American barbecue, the kids build this patchwork rocket. And prove the grown-ups wrong. I sound like a pussy saying this, but “Rocket” is a gorgeous, wry and even inspiring clip that fights complacency at every turn. –AH

Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun (1994)
     (****)  As time has marched on, I’ve found myself wishing for even one modern-rock band as reliable as Soundgarden was in its prime. No one is up to the task, especially not front man Chris Cornell, who’s gone on to perkier, solo-career times. But we still have this creepy-ass Superunknown video that brings us a suburban nightmare from Cornell & Co., who play for a menacing, fast-moving cloudscape. Meanwhile, girls tranquilly jump rope, boys set fire to ants with their magnifying glasses, Granny swings and dad slicks his hair back. And every one of these people looks like he or she has been poisoned by the Joker’s Smilex gas. Highlights include a tornado that appears to be comprised of red blood cells, a housewife bathing with her dog and a little girl roasting Barbie on a spit. Although the song itself is highly accessible, alternative rock videos didn’t get much more out there than this. –AH

Snoop Doggy Dogg – Murder Was the Case (1994)
     (***)  This video marked the end of an era for Snoop. He wouldn’t rule the roost again until “Bitch Please” in the summer of 1999. But if you’re going to go out, you might as well go out in a mini-movie from Dr. Dre in a remix that exists only as an excuse for a half-assed Death Row compilation album. (Am I the only person who can only get through the first five tracks of Murder Was the Case before feeling the need to switch the disc?) The clip brings the deal-with-the-devil lyrics of the song to life, as newscasters report the death of the rapper. Those reports turn out to be greatly exaggerated after Satan, a clipped, birdlike honky, makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Life, stardom and the opportunity to watch his boo-boo give birth to his baby. (Every man should be at his boo-boo’s side during such an emotionally charged moment.) But the joke’s on S-N-Double-Oh-P, who ends up back in prison after a convenience-store hold-up and finds out the devil controls all the shanks. Don’t expect any twists worthy of a Rod Serling tale, but this is a cool-ass video. –AH

Weezer – Buddy Holly (1994)
Weezer -- Buddy Holly
     (****)  It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then, I’ll buy an album strictly because it has a kickass video. And the Weezer CD is one of those, missing from my collection for more than three years because a friend borrowed it and I felt no need to ask for it back. “Buddy Holly” is the classic Spike Jonze outing that catapulted Weezer from college-radio obscurity to MTV stardom with its clever integration of clips and sets from the staple sitcom “Happy Days.” The video, “taped before a live studio audience,” begins with intros from a TV announcer, bringing us a “You Wanted to See It” spectacle, and actor Al Molinero of Al’s Diner, who introduces us to the band and begs us to “please try the fish.” Weezer, wearing dad-like Cardigans and ties, take a back seat to the clips, in which “Happy Days” characters swoon, Richie gets jealous and Fonzie cuts a rug on the dance floor. “Buddy Holly” has just the right combination of humor, irony and nostalgia to land itself a time-immemorial place in the music video hall of fame. –AH
Weezer -- Buddy Holly


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