OF THE WEEK
Madonna – What It Feels Like For a Girl
(***½) It wasn’t exactly big
news when MTV and VH1 quietly announced that they’d play this video once
– and once only – then pull it from the airwaves due to content concerns.
And there was barely any advance warning. I consider myself lucky that
I happened to hear about the one-time airing of “What It Feels Like For
a Girl” the night before it happened. Aside from MTV News and a few Internet
entertainment sites, I have a feeling the whole thing passed completely
beneath most people’s radars.
So Tuesday a week ago, promptly at 10:30 p.m.
central time, I warmed up my VCR to capture the latest incarnation of unnecessary
Madonna controversy. (I felt I was entitled to watch this one after missing
those few late-night airings of “Erotica” back in 1992.)
And here was Kurt Loder, announcing in his
ho-hum, stone-faced manner that the video was filled with violent images
of things “no one should do.” But you know MTV, they had to show it once,
in the interest of cultural newsworthiness, before they put it away forever
like the tight-fisted corporate pussies they are. (Whoops, did I say that
Cynical as he is, I’m surprised Loder didn’t
even acknowledge the “What It Feels Like” video as what it is – another
instance of bad-taste indulgence from Madonna, who knows she can get away
with any crazy-assed idea she wants because she’s Madonna. And now she’s
Mr. Guy Ritchie, so I’m sure she pouted for a week and refused to sleep
with him until he agreed to direct her in her very own hip crime-spree
Just picture her, Veruca Salt-style, harassing
poor Guy Ritchie after lights out:
MADONNA: But Gu-uy-y-y… I want to be
a trendy, post-modern Tarantino Brit star too!
GUY: We’ll make you a trendy, post-modern
Brit video first thing in the morning, darling
MADONNA: But I want to make a video
GUY: My name is Guy, honey. I done
told you to knock off that Daddy shit.
Anyway, you might have missed the video –
in fact, I’m betting you probably had better things to do that night –
so I suppose I should describe it. “What It Feels Like” is filmed in the
standard indie flat-lens with the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, naturally, and it
has that custom-stylized Ritchie look to it.
Madonna, who looks surprisingly classy and
down to earth, packs her suitcase, puts on her gloves and rolls off in
a yellow car whose front and back license plates read “Pussy” and “Cat,”
respectively. Then she stops by the Old Kuntz retirement home (would I
make up a name like that?), picks up a catatonic old lady and heads into
A carload of guys ogle The Big M at a stoplight,
she smiles over at them, peels into a 270-degree arc and smashes right
into the driver’s side of their car. The old lady lurches forward, her
glasses fall down to the edge of her nose, and Madonna pushes them up with
a smirk and suddenly becomes my new hero.
Okay, I see through the glitz of this video,
and I realize it’s just another instance of Madonna forcing her bizarre
fantasies on the world at large, but Ritchie did the video with just the
right touch of irony. Madonna herself seems more legitimately badass than
I’ve ever seen her as she commits more random acts of burglary and assault,
from stun-gunning a man at an ATM and snatching his cash to blowing up
a whole damn gas station.
The cinematography and editing are dead on,
and the car chases in this single music video top all of Gone in 60
Seconds, particularly the apparent suicide crash at the end. It may
be the novelty of seeing a video with such blatantly adult images on MTV,
but I’m already thinking of this as Madonna’s best video in years, probably
since “Bedtime Story” in 1995.
Still, I thank God we didn’t have to deal
with a whole movie of this – a hardcore, 120-minute film noir Madonna
caper movie. God, imagine the endurance test that would have been.
American Hi-Fi – Flavor of the Week
(**) The pop-punk wave of parody-diss
videos popularized by Blink 182 continues with American Hi-Fi and this
ode to / loving spoof of mid-’80s hair metal.
In the intro, a TV journalist asks a long-haired
kid who looks like a white-trash version of Chainsaw from Summer School*,
“What is your philosophy on life?”
W.T. Chainsaw grabs the microphone and yells,
“It sucks ass! Heavy metal rules!”
He proceeds to list off his favorite bands
– Motley Crue, Dokken, Scorpions, Judas Priest and, oh yeah, American Hi-Fi.
Oh yeah, like your average Reagan-era metalhead would come within a hundred
yards of this power-pop TRL trash.
Okay, I’m probably being too harsh. “Flavor
of the Week” isn’t a horrible song, it’s just so much modern corporate
radio filler, and unless I’m drunk, I can’t come within a hundred
yards of the stuff without being compelled to vomit for the entire three-minute-eight-second
run of the song.
The second-unit ’80s footage in the video,
most of which takes place outside the stadium where American Hi-Fi is playing,
is a little more tolerable than the song itself. Then director Chris Applebaum
ruins the effect by cutting to the decidedly 21st-century looking band
members, polished and coiffed to perfection by a baker’s dozen chattering
Two stars, though, because it’s kinda catchy,
and you have to at least have moderate-size cojones to call your song “Flavor
of the Week,” thereby flipping the bird to your destined one-hit-wonderhood
* = Remember that one? Come on – Mark Harmon
and Kirstie Alley. You know you’ve seen it 37 times just like me.
Björk – Bachelorette
(****) Björk is an acquired taste,
and she’s one I still haven’t fully acquired. I can handle her dance/alternapop
shit okay, but the only album I’ve ever bought of hers was Debut,
and I was in eleventh grade at the time.
So it’s not like she’s atop my recent priority
list, music-wise, and I’m among that demographic of Americans, hundreds
of millions strong, that didn’t saunter on down to the local indie theater
to catch the camcorder cinematics of Dancer in the Dark during its
three-week “special” engagement.
But, okay, I admit the ex-Sugarcubes singer’s
one-of-a-kind voice, unpolished and grating as it sometimes is, can be
downright hypnotic at times. And, to paraphrase the Magic 8 Ball, it is
decidedly so in the mid-tempo “Bachelorette,” a mix of swirling synth noises,
jungle drums and vocal histrionics from Tha Örk, who also lends the
video a captivating sense of wonder and innocence.
The plot is this – a curious young lady (guess
who) unearths an enormous hardcover book that’s been buried for Lord Knows
How Long and contains her life story in progress. When I say “in progress,”
I mean, when Björk reaches Page 47 or wherever, she sees the black
ink materializing a letter at a time, its pacing just fast enough for her
to keep up with.
The book begins telling the account of its
protagonist getting on a train for “the city, where she follows the narrative
to a book publisher’s office. There, in black-and-white video stills, she
meets the bigwig, sells him her story and promptly falls in love with him.
So it’s a Celine Dion situation, as the boss-husband
makes the Björk character famous, escorts her to the Broadway adaptation
of her life story and then suddenly becomes entangled with foliage. As
does the rest of the Broadway audience, as does the book itself after it
starts acting like a little bitch and unwriting itself.
The book returns to the earth, Björk
returns to the woods, and suddenly I ponder the thought of stealing this
whole premise for a short story or something. I love that whole angle of
finding a book on the street with my face on it and opening it up to a
page that’s in the process of writing itself. Letting this supernatural,
prescient book guide me through life.
I’m lumping “Bachelorette” in with the new
reviews because I have no idea when it came out. It’s new to me, and it’s
downright intriguing, this obscure little Björk video. –AH
Janet Jackson – All For You
(**) I can’t say Janet Jackson has matured
as an artist or anything. In fact, as time has gone by, her wispy vocals
have stayed exactly the same, her lyrics have become even more trite and
superficial, and her producers (Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who came up
with The Time back in the day) have increasingly resorted to half-assed
beat thievery in hopes of relating to the TRL crowd.
And, no, I don’t think Janet Jackson is going
anywhere anytime soon. But I don’t want her to go anywhere, man;
she can still push my guilty-pleasure buttons on occasion with a dance-pop
gem like “Go Deep” or “Doesn’t Really Matter.”
The sad part is, this lead-off effort from
the upcoming album of the same name is a misfire from the word “go.” Janet
is dressed in some kind of black leather, Venetian-blind style horizontal
striped shirt with an ample cleavage take-out window cut open. She looks
downright weird, too airbrushed and made up and – as my friend and video-reviewing
colleague Leon Bracey accurately notes – way too close to the image of
her old dance mentor, Paula Abdul.
The whole package reminds me of Paula’s old,
breezy shit crossed with Jennifer Lopez, topped off with a liberal sample
of some old funk song that sounds a lot like Chic’s “Good Times.” (Which,
as we all know, was a groove that had been done and done again before most
of the TRL crowd was even born.)
“All For You” starts out with Janet riding
a cardboard-looking subway car and scoping out the brother who’s sitting
across from her, noting that he has “a nice package alright.” Then she
joins up with her posse and does some aerobicized, J-Lo fucking dance moves
on the subway platform.
The whole affair is beneath her, and it’s
beneath director David Meyers, the man behind strong, recent efforts from
OutKast and Dave Matthews alike. The thing with Janet videos is, Miss Jackson
is at her best when the environment is borne of her own carefree pop style,
not that of a more recent competitor. (I can say the same of recent Whitney
Houston singles.) The only nod to old-school Janet dance fun is a brief
interlude that samples 1986’s “The Pleasure Principle,” and that’s hella
All in all, “All For You” is watchable, but
I doubt it ends up with any kind of prominent placement among the Janet
Nelly – Ride Wit’ Me
(***) This has been my favorite song
on the Nelly album since I first heard it, and I was hoping the record
company wouldn’t be so stupid as to pass it up for a radio single. “Ride
Wit’ Me” is catchy beyond belief, straddling some kind of Hot Five at 9
netherworld between pop and hip-hop, and its video takes an obnoxious,
Nelly’s posse is stranded in middle America
when they happen upon a roadhouse where an aging cocktail waitress is belting
out an acoustic, country rendition of “Ride Wit’ Me.” (Yes, they’ve heard
of Nelly up in Buttfuck, Montana.) So the posse calls Nelly (“as Nelly
Nell”) to the rescue, and he rolls in on his convertible and reclines in
a hay hammock. Meanwhile, there’s a party in the back of a tractor trailer,
three hayseed fly girls are missing teeth, and Nelly turns a truck stop
parking lot into an episode of the now-defunct Club MTV.
Indeed, some of the snide imagery in the video
could be construed as a slight on the good redneck citizenry of the Bible
Belt, but who’s going to protest? There’s no such thing as the National
Association for the Advancement of Family-Fucking Crackers. –AH
AFTERWORD: The only truly obnoxious
thing about this video is the MTV censorship treatment that’s left a hole
in the chorus where the heart of the phrase, “If you wanna go and get high
with me,” was. Now it’s simply, “If you wanna go ______________ me,” which
may have some uninitiated listeners wondering if Nelly put out the call
for some kinky, obscure sex act in the original song. Remember when MTV
just cut out the offending word and not the entire fucking supporting clause?
U2 – Walk On
(**½) I’ve had All the Pain
Money Can’t Buy on my purchase list for awhile, but I always end up
buying something else. I think that’s because I realize my collection of
classic U2 is sorely lacking and that I’d rather acquire The Joshua
Tree, Rattle and Hum and War before I buy the new shit.
(Don’t get me wrong – I’m pretty damn familiar
with those old U2 albums, but they were always my roommates’ copies. I
have yet to buy any U2 of my own since moving back in with the fam.*)
Because, let’s face it, there’s no way U2
can sound as relevant and purely cool as they were in the mid-’80s, no
matter how good their current song writing and production is. It can’t
disguise the fact that these individuals are past their peak.
Right now, though, we’ll welcome this return
to traditional, real-sounding U2, because it’s good pop, and most of the
rest of our pop is astoundingly bad. If I have a choice between new U2
and the Ricky Martin / Christina Aguilera duet on the Muzak at work, say,
I’ll take Bono and the boys every time. (As if that’s a rousing
The video for “Walk On” is VH1-functional,
as you might expect, with a second-unit cast of male and female models
who are about a generation and a half younger than the Irish lads of U2.
There are a few interconnected story lines, all of which involve people
fleeing their houses and taking to the street, but it all boils down to
one of those Michael Jackson, “Black or White” melting pot concepts, where
the director makes a big deal of superimposing images and faces onto others,
in rapid fashion. Old white ladies, little African-American boys and everything
in between. And every one of them would pick U2 over the Ricky Martin /
Christina Aguilera tag team of doom, I’m sure. –AH
* = I believe this is the first time I’ve
ever used that word. In my life. Guess I just had to wait ten years after
the last person said it. (Who was the last person who thought “fam” was
a happenin’ slang word, you ask? Why, Bill Murray in What About Bob,
OF THE WEEK
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John – Grease Megamix
(**) Seems like forever since that ridiculous
resurgence of Grease fever, doesn’t it? And yet it also seems like
just yesterday that I was hanging out with my friends on karaoke night
and hearing so many beer-buzzed, white-trash people slaughter “You’re the
One That I Want,” “Summer Nights” and other Grease standards that
I just had to get up there and duet with a male friend of mine. He agreed
to play Olivia, thankfully, because that would have been a long, insistent
argument otherwise, and I did a passable Travolta, declaring that “the
power you’re supplying, it’s Travoltifying!” And, for five minutes, the
Grease mania wasn’t so bad.
I used to like the movie, believe it or not,
but by the time the re-release rolled around, I’d started thinking of myself
as too grown-up for that saccharine kitsch-fest. You can blame that partly
on this obnoxious video, which distills three music numbers and a movie’s
worth of clips into one four-minute chunk, designed to be played every
two hours by VH1 for the better part of six months. Unless I’m piss-drunk
or something, these days, all this just comes off as embarrassing and obnoxious
to me. –AH
Bob Marley and The Wailers – Jammin’ (1979)
(***½) One of the things that
makes the Russian roulette game of channel surfing past VH1 Classic worth
all the trouble is coming across the occasional Bob Marley video. Which
happens so rarely, relative to the airing of stuff I don’t want
to see, like primitive performance clips from Styx and .38 Special, that
I consider myself truly lucky when I’m treated to, say, a six-minute live
video for “Jammin’.”
And especially when it happens the night after,
by coincidence, I’ve just bought a package of Bob Marley™ brand incense
that’s called “Jammin’.” So I get to sit back, find out what jammin’
truly smells like, and watch lots and lots of Bob Marley and The Wailers.
As Marley “videos” go, this is no more visually
remarkable than most – I think they pulled most of these quote-unquote
videos from the same concert then added black-and-white stills and documentary
footage of Marley to spice things up.
But it doesn’t matter. The pure charisma of
this man, this genius, this goddamned legend can’t help but shine through
so strong I can smell it. –AH
Queen – Fat Bottomed Girls (1977)
(*½) There’s something downright
disturbing about having to watch Freddie Mercury – wearing nothing but
leather pants, suspenders and a thick-ass lady’s necklace – sing, “I seen
every blue-eyed floozy ’round the way.” Then I start to get a visual of
Freddie’s “red fire light,” and I’m forced to change the channel. –AH