REVIEWS -- APRIL 2, 2001


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 out loud?)
     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 video.
     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 NOW, Daddy!
     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 the city.
     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.

--Andrew Hicks
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 makeup girls.
     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 status. –AH
     * = 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
Janet Jackson
     (**)  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 forced.
     All in all, “All For You” is watchable, but I doubt it ends up with any kind of prominent placement among the Janet canon. –AH
Janet Jackson

Nelly – Ride Wit’ Me
Nelly as Nelly Nell
     (***)  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, backwoods approach.
     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?
Missing teeth

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 endorsement.)
     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 course.)


John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John – Grease Megamix (1996)
     (**)  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


Copyright 2001 Andrew Hicks