REVIEWS -- JUNE 15, 2001

I didn’t intend to shut this site down for a one-month hiatus, but somehow things just happened that way and here I am, just now getting around to posting a batch of reviews for the masses (or, as my sad-sack counter seems to think, dozens). I don’t really have any excuses for the hiatus, other than my brother’s computer being down, me being too busy and MTV offering little in the way of inspiration. But after sitting back on my laurels, I’ve got plenty to catch up on, so this week you can forget about reviews of any old videos or a Gay Video of the Week. It’s all brand new stuff this time around, all 3,500 words of it. Dig in, ya wee bastards…


Tool – Schism
     (***½)  By way of confession, I’m one of those guys who only knows Tool through their music videos. They’ve got quite a few good ones, you know, even though they only pop up with something new every half-decade or so. As such, whenever Tool’s back with a new video, MTV stands up and takes notice. On one six-hour tape of late-night MTV (you know, when they actually show videos), “Schism” showed up three times. I was waiting for them to sneak it onto Jams or something.
     Also by way of confession, I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking at here. This is some monumentally fucked-up shit, but that’s a given when you’re dealing with Tool. All I can really do is describe the seven-minute tableau, which involves a pair of skinless beings (they sorta look like the diagrams of the circulatory system in Anatomy and Physiology class), one of whom pulls the other up out of the floor toward the beginning. They’re in a barren, gloomy house whose contents are empty save one small tree whose branches have no leaves. This doesn’t stop the circulatory twins from doing a too-flexible walk on all fours, with their heads shaking back and forth and their asses thrust up in the air.
     Just when you’ve had about enough of this, one of them pulls the other one’s ear – and a square-block chunk of flesh with it – out of his head. Then we’re treated to a microscopic, inside-the-body shot, which magnifies itself over and over and eventually reveals a brown, stop-motion gremlin running around inside one of their bodies. Eventually, one draws a bunch of veins out of the other’s neck, drops them on the ground and stands back to watch it melt and reconfigure as the little brown gremlin.
     And, as we critics say when we just want to stop describing something, all that is just the beginning… Andrew Hicks


Backstreet Boys – More Than That
     (½)  I haven’t given the bargain-basement half-star rating to a Backstreet Boys video since 1998 (though I did endow a full zero to “Larger Than Life” the next fall), but “More Than That” probes some serious depths of suckitude.
     It’s hard to believe we’ve been dealing with these guys for four years now – the dudes from New Kids on the Block were well on their way to wearing paper Waffle House hats by this point. But every time you think Backstreet’s demise is just around the corner, they give themselves another makeover. In “More Than That,” one of them looks like a cowboy, three of them appear to be stuck in the new Abercrombie summer catalogue, and from his raggedy-ass makeover, I wouldn’t be surprised to encounter the fifth driving my shuttle bus to the airport.
     Here’s how bad “More Than That” is – just after Da Boys rhyme “forever” and “whatever,” there’s a shot of Nick Carter, biting his lower-lip and shaking his head while metronome-swinging his index finger in “no-no” (or, if you prefer, “nuh-uh”) preventative signage. It sends me off my seat every time… yeah, because I’ve watched this video a dozen times already, just to make sure I absolutely, positively hate it.
     The visuals? An uninspired, ass-dull pastiche from the normally reliable Marcus Raboy, who puts them in an airplane hanger (which has nature and driving footage projected on a big-screen backdrop for some reason), in the desert and in front of a bunch of those modern-looking, pointy three-pronged windmill contraptions. I’ve seen those in a music video before, and you know who got there first? Petra, the Christian Aerosmith, about nine years ago. Thanks for nothing, you Backstreet bastards!* –AH
     * = You have to picture me missing most of my teeth and angrily waving a cane for that last line to achieve its full resonance.

Blink 182 – The Rock Show
     (**)  In the time that’s elapsed since Blink 182 first became the kind of TRL stars you could buy machine-vended likeness stickers of on the way into Wal-Mart, I’ve almost forgotten that I once liked the irreverent shit they handed down. The first two Blink videos I reviewed, “Dammit” and “What’s My Age Again,” I gave three stars to, and the ratings went down from there once the videos got less entertaining and I realized that, a) it was the same song every freaking time, and, b) it was like Green Day with one less chord.
     But I almost consider “The Rock Show” a return to form for Mark Hoppus and his streakin’-fool bandmates, even if the song itself is just as one-note insipid as anything the quote-unquote punk band has released. The video’s set-up is almost ’80s-Letterman in its destructive simplicity – you remember the days when Dave and Paul would have fire extinguisher-fueled wheelchair races in the studio and drop watermelons from the roof?
     That’s the kind of financially wasteful shit Blink tries to accomplish here, though their uber-creative brains can only muster stunts like baseball bat-beating a television set, paying citizens to shave their heads and hiring strippers to give Good Samaritan lap dances. When’s the last time Billie Joe Armstrong treated someone to a lap dance, huh? –AH

Bon Jovi – One Wild Night
     (*½)  Why can’t we get rid of this guy? Jon Bon Jovi is starting to remind me of that SNL sketch from the 1992 election, where Ross Perot has decided that his running mate, Admiral Stockdale, is too embarrassing to get him (i.e. Perot) anywhere, so he drives Stockdale out to the country and tries to ditch him. Pulls over to the side of the road, has him get out, and then speeds off – but Stockdale, bolting behind the car like the Terminator, catches up, climbs in and continues his free ride, oblivious to all.
     You might not picture Jon Bon Jovi when you see that sketch, but he and Admiral Stockdale have quite a bit in common. For example, they’d both be about just as much fun to run into at a party. And don’t tell me you’d just stand there and hang out with Jon, because you know and I know you’d be taking your chances that a few minutes of party mingling would bring you someone a lot more interesting to talk to.
     Anyway, Bon Jovi did seem down and out from 1995 through early last year, but his Crush album was a hit of some sort and now the guy is trying to force a live hits collection down late-night cable audiences’ throats. Not just through this music video, which I suppose represents the one new studio song on an otherwise live regurgitation album, but also via commercials that offer the album to consumers who wish to pay $16.99 plus $4.99 shipping and handling to wait for it in the mail for 6-8 weeks instead of just driving up to Best Buy and plunking down thirteen bucks.
     “One Wild Night” sounds like a lot of other Bon Jovi songs, but the chorus chant specifically sounds like that of “It’s My Life,” which just came out last year. (Lord, at least reach back into the vaults like you did when you ripped off one of your old hits and renamed it “Thank You For Loving Me.”) The video tries to depict a concert, though it’s held at a club frequented only by hot women and one roving dork who looks like the kid from Rushmore. He’s a bit flustered, especially when Bon Jovi tosses off a Ricky Martin hip thrust and the girls start going wild.
     Much of the visual style of “One Wild Night” is borrowed directly from your average Ricky fast song, though the women are of slightly higher caliber. They’re the only reason to watch the video if happen to not be among that demographic of women aged 24-46 who think Bon Jovi is positively dreamy and an absolute sex-god hunk. –AH

Nikka Costa – Like a Feather
     (***)  Aside from Tool up there, the only new videos I like this week are from emerging woman singers, Stella Soleil and this red-haired (in this video, at least) chick. Her voice, filtered and processed until it sounds like it’s preserved from about eight decades ago, weaves in and out of the simple but catchy backing track that’s part pop, part vamp, part techno and the tiniest bit hip-hop.
     Speaking of tiny bits, Costa wardrobe selection doesn’t hurt at all. It’s like something Jennifer Lopez would wear to the Grammies, a sheer blue scarf that runs around her neck and barely covers her naked chest and a pair of matching, hip-hugging pants that lets an almost Lopez-esque butt jut out over the horizon. As an old acquaintance would say, “Damn, that ass got its own shadow!”
     Director Paul Hunter keeps the camera perfectly level on Costa performing on one set, then lets the elaborate backdrop lighting and screen-division and kaleidoscope tricks carry the show. Not to mention, Costa (hiding behind sunglasses) has a distinct presence about her, almost like Janis Joplin meets Macy Gray or something. Check it out. –AH

J. Dep, P. Diddy, Black Rob (Three the Hard Way) – Let’s Get It
     (**½)  Did Puffy… er, P. Diddy actually produce this? “Let’s Get It” is one tight groove, with not even a hint of the lily-white auto-pilot samples we’ve come to expect from Biggie’s widow-bitch. The only appropriated element I can regonize in this song is from the obscure disco-funk song “Miss Broadway,” and Señor Diddy surrounds himself with strong rappers, not monotone Uncle Remuses like Mase. Yeah, that 11-year-old kid signed to Diddy’s label (what’s his name, Lil’ Meow Wow?) does pop up and dance from time to time, but the video and song are so unobtrusive that it’s hard to complain.
     “Let’s Get It,” from director Little X, is in black-and-white, with none of the glitz and cash flaunting of the Puffy videos of yore, and tha P-Man himself actually allows himself second billing. He almost hides out in the background through most of the video – guess one has to keep a low profile when one is on probation.
     I didn’t think I’d do this, but I almost have to come out and praise this post-trial incarnation of Sean John. He hasn’t been this tolerable since the “Big Poppa” video. –AH

*N Sync – Pop
     (**)  I think U2 has forever doomed any project entitled “Pop” to embody the most automatically dated, narcissistic elements of mainstream music and entertainment. But you somehow have to step back and admire the audacity of Justin Timberlake and the boys, have to give them at least a modicum of credit for not just resorting to the same autopilot, Diane Warren shit the Backstreet Boys put out album after album.
     The madeover, “keepin’ it real” *N Sync aren’t exactly artists or anything, but at least they’re trying here. Trying to make a statement about the Damned If You Do/Don’t entertainment world they’ve been trapped in since they were comparing pubes in locked trailers between takes on the “New Mickey Mouse Club” set. (JUSTIN: Look, guys, I got lotsa hair!  J.C.: Nuh uh, you colored those on with a marker, you loser!)
     Of course, I can’t tell if it’s necessarily a good thing that these kids who really are – and, come on, just because you realize it and make statements to the contrary doesn’t mean you’re not – just puppets on strings are bent on making an artistic difference. That may simply demonstrate a futile irony and leave the members of *N Sync looking even more pathetic than the Backstreet Boys, who are at least willing to sit up, roll over and do all the other boy-band tricks that will win them doggie biscuits and maybe even some Pupperoni treats if they’re lucky and their new album receives diamond certification.
     But my final prognosis on “Pop,” even though I can’t possibly take it seriously, is that I appreciate the balls on these guys. I like how they can call up Wayne Isham, who’s been making gaudy videos for more than a decade, and demand that Wayne put everything he’s got into making his absolute, queen-bee gaudiest video ever. Gaudier than anything he did for Motley Crue or Bon Jovi.
     I’m talking about a video where the fashions become so obsolete so fast that they have to make a montage of all the wardrobe items the guys ever wore, outfits switching so fast you think Samantha from “Bewitched” must have fallen victim to some facial tick mid-spell. I’m talking about a video with its own name spelled in huge, lit letters, a video with a camera that can’t stay still for even a nanosecond. And a video where Timberlake, whose jeans have more rips in them than the entire Wayne Isham hair metal canon, indulges himself in a Michael Jackson-style percussive mouth-noise interlude and busts moves to match.
     Isham’s visual style during that sequence alone, with dot-matrixed background characters and edits so fast they’re almost a little too Wang Chung, ensures I’ll actually leave this on the next time it comes on. I don’t think I’ve ever said that about any *N Sync video, much less any one as superficially audacious as this. I think this shit has finally brain-damaged me. I kind of feel like lying down for a little while… –AH

Stella Soleil – Kiss Kiss
     (***)  Gwen Stefani, Ani DiFranco and Angelina Jolie have merged into one sexually desirable beauty, and somebody needs to let me know how I can order one over the Internet.
     I’ve been putting “Kiss Kiss” off for a few weeks now because I honestly couldn’t decide how I felt about it. Was I going to side with the “This is more generic shit that’s replacing existing generic shit and will soon be replaced by generic shit yet to be released” argument or the “This girl Stella Soleil has an interesting voice, an interesting presence and an interesting body, and I always find myself hard-pressed to turn off her video” argument? In the end, the latter has won out, though I agree “Kiss Kiss” will indeed give way to some other faceless vamp song in the near future.
     In the meantime, I like what director Hype Morris has done with his assignment – he trots Soleil out to the beach at dusk, gives her some tribal dancers to trot around the blue-tinted campfire with and alternates between flattering close-ups, more-aggressive medium close-ups and footage of nature and the alternate chicks. And, before I move on to the next video here, I have to confess that I’ve become obsessed with the idea that “Stella Soleil” would be the absolute perfect name for a Miss Cleo sidekick. I get the subliminal urge to have my cards read every time it comes on. Cleo and Stella, they have me on my cosmic knees in no time… –AH

Sugar Ray – When It’s Over
     (**½)  I got an e-mail the other day, mostly positive, from a reader asking why I swear so much in my reviews sometimes and use phrases like, “I don’t like this video, fuck it, watching this bullshit is better when I’m fucking drunk.” The letter cracked me up, of course, and to those who question the validity of my right to use dirty swear words, all I have to say is, you try and keep your head full of G-rated thoughts when you have to review your twelfth *N Sync video. Fuuuucccckk….
     But the author of this e-mail had a point – I do sometimes slip into the habit of elevating curse words to Tarantino-type proportions, and I do sometimes remark that a certain song or video might be more tolerable if my blood alcohol was at federally punishable levels. This is a service I perform for those readers who realize, like I do, that certain songs you couldn’t possibly tolerate in a state of sobriety (not even during an all-out mid-traffic jam brain stupor) just happen to sound more pleasant after a gobble or twelve from the old Wild Turkey.
     There’s a whole subgenre of Crap That Sounds Better When Kennedy-Crunk, and that’s where Sugar Ray belongs for me and, I imagine, the populace at large. That’s why the record companies market Mark McGrath and the boys to frat boys and bored office secretaries who drink enough margaritas after work to turn Happy Hour into a week. Though, I admit, there’s the occasional Sugar Ray song, like “Falls Apart,” that I can’t stand even when intoxicated and the occasional song I can listen to in a state of sobriety. That’s what “When It’s Over” is for me right now, a total guilty-pleasure summer song I’ll probably be sick of before the summer’s over.
     This flashy slice of McG cheese hopes to repeat the lightning-strikes-twice summer success of Smash Mouth (in 1997) and Fastball (the next year), though “When It’s Over” is far more cringeworthy than even those two. The concept is to briefly represent every band member’s fantasy of how the video should go. The drummer’s dream world is this classy and boxy green-tinted set, the bassist’s is one full of ’80s cheese (imagine McGrath as the singer from Dead or Alive), and the black guy’s involves Sugar Ray in a tied-off thug bandana. Yeah, not every fantasy is strictly boy-girl on MTV these days… though, in the grand Blink 182 tradition, “When It’s Over” does feature more than a few strippers.
     As for McGrath’s personal fantasy, let’s just say it’s good to know that when the day’s done, Mark McGrath fancies himself a Kabuki warrier. He’s certainly a master of the art of Booshitzu, at least… –AH

U2 – Elevation (remix)
     (**)  Okay, so not every U2 soundtrack video can be “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” but you can tell the band just didn’t give a fuck this time. “Elevation” comes from the Tomb Raider movie and, naturally, features endless clips therein – the twist is, unlike your average video that cuts from performance footage to a movie clip and back again, this one attempts to integrate the two. To the point where The Edge spends much of the video frolicking with Angelina Jolie as her sidekick. Quite unconvincingly, I might add. Director Joseph Kahn, who’s done much better and much worse, can’t seem to decide which one’s taller, The Edge or Jolie. Their proportions to one another change more than Britney’s inconsistent bust size, while Bono and the rest of the band spend the video out in the middle of a street.
     In the only decent sequence of “Elevation,” the world and all its props freeze and only Bono’s lip synching mouth remains mobile. The Edge, wherever he is, pushes the button that turns the world back on, and rescue comes in the form of a riderless motorcycle. Oh, and in the end, everything starts exploding. Ho hum. –AH


Lil’ Romeo – My Baby
     (**)  Look out, Lil’ Bow Wow, this son of Master P is about to get bout it bout it and crunked-up! …anyway, this video has Lil’ Romeo running away from horny pre-pubescent (and some a little older) girls who chase him through malls, airports and a record store. There are scenes from a roller rink, and you have to wonder to yourself, What is a little boy to do?
     “My Baby” samples “ABC” from the Jackson 5, and there’s a pudgy little girl in dire need of a comb who lip synchs the whiny-ass chorus (“Ohhh Romeo, just give me a chance...”). There is also a scene in which a Michael Jackson look-alike watches Lil’ Romeo dancing. Um, okay. And at the end, Lil Romeo is rescued by his father in a No Limit helicopter. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.Leon Bracey


Copyright 2001 Andrew Hicks