REVIEWS -- JULY 16, 2001

                  VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Cake – Short Skirt/Long Jacket
     (***½)  It’s been a few years since the last coming of Cake, and the premise of the “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” video is that the general public still has no idea who the band is. Even though Cake had a pretty big hit in the similar-sounding “Never There.” You don’t even have to be a fan to recognize the band’s sound – wry lyrics, bouncing bass lines and heavy trumpets – but the few dozen test subjects in this video remain clueless.
     The video is this – people on the street, of various ages and ethnic backgrounds, listening to the new Cake single through headphones and commenting on it as they go. So we get the pouty black teenager who pulls off her headphones thirty seconds in (“His voice so scratchy-like”), the retired architect who claims it has no chance of reaching “the top of the pops,” and the bitter, crusty poet who says he’s heard this shit a million times, and it was much better back in the 1940s.
     Some of the reactions are horribly ill-informed, some are amusing and inexplicable (among them another old guy who claims it “sounds like some kind of Supergirl that some feminist would approve of or something”), but they’re all genuine and, to me, fascinating. You always wonder about the mythological test audiences who have the power to decide whether a film’s ending will remain intact or be altered to fit their narrow view. But as these guys all found out, Cake is some one of a kind shit you can’t change. Andrew Hicks


Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal
Alien Ant Farm - Smooth Criminal
     (***)  Even though I have very little respect for Michael Jackson and his utter pissing away of stardom at the hands of unjustifiable reclusivity and gay child molestation*, there are a number of his songs I still consider guilty pleasures of the highest order. On the top tier of those is “Smooth Criminal,” the album-closer on Bad that has Jackson asking “Annie, are you okay?” endlessly. It always makes me think of a bald, chalk-white Michael Jackson as Daddy Warbucks, and that makes me smile.
Alien Ant Farm - Smooth Criminal
     So imagine my curiosity when I heard that not only was there a punkified remake of “Smooth Criminal” but a Jacko-lampooning video to match. It’s taken a few weeks of MTV2 viewing to track down, but I’ve got all the Alien Ant Farm I can handle now and I have to admit, the end result is worth watching.
Alien Ant Farm - Smooth Criminal
     The Michael Jackson in-jokes are used more to atmospheric effect than outright parody, with the three-man band playing from a wrestling ring in someone’s front yard. The entire neighborhood is out getting down to the performance, including one little boy in a surgical mask who manages to duplicate some of the King of Pop’s most difficult and strange dance moves.
Alien Ant Farm - Smooth Criminal
     The video gives nods to the lit sidewalks in “Billie Jean,” the leaning dancers in the original “Smooth Criminal” and the glowing eyes at the conclusion of “Thriller.” But what makes it all worthwhile is the reworking of the sequence in the “Black or White” video that had Jackson grabbing his crotch and busting out car windows. MTV banned the sequence when Jackson did it, but in the hands of Alien Ant Farm, it’s nothing but a green light. –AH
Alien Ant Farm - Smooth Criminal
     * = Alleged gay child molestation, that is. Let’s not forget Michael has not officially been convicted of touching small children. He’s just had the luxury of tossing money at his problems and making them go away, which is the very embodiment of the American dream.

Mariah Carey f/Da Brat and Ludicris – Loverboy (remix)
     (*½)  You know, all the most degrading rap tunes toward women, I bet Mariah Carey loves every last one of them. We already know she has nothing but good things to say about Snoop’s “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)” from her “Heartbreaker” remix video, now “Loverboy” and its remix sport samples from Cameo’s “Candy.” In itself, “Candy” isn’t such a degrading tune, but once 2Pac used it for “All About U,” it couldn’t help but call to mind that song’s Nate Dogg chorus: “Every other city I go / Every other video / No matter where I go / I see the same ho-o-o-o-o.”
     Yes, that ho is Mariah herself, and no matter where we go – MTV, BET, VH1 – there she is, embarrassing herself, wishing herself a happy thirtieth birthday by wearing a top that’s actually just a bandana tied over her tits and a pair of pink hot pants that give her such a wedgie you’d need the headlight from a miner’s helmet to even dream of retrieving them. (After you retrieve them? You take them to the most thorough dry cleaners in town, of course.)
     I never got a chance to review the original “Loverboy” video because I always happened upon the end of it. So my ghetto correspondent Leon Bracey got there first, and now I’m left with a remix video that turns just as much of its time over to Da Brat and Ludicris (and like two or three other unidentified rappers) as to the Queen Ho Bag herself. It’s still the same video though, with ample shots of race cars flying by while Mariah waves her flags suggestively. Oh, and wears a jewel-encrusted American flag bikini top while five Mariahs circle in kaleidoscope motion.
     My only question is, Do the people of the younger generation see through this just as easily as the rest of us do? You’d think those junior high kids who were like three when “Vision of Love” came out would think Mariah was even more tired and pathetic than people my age, but I’m betting this gets voted onto TRL. If just on the basis of its stealing Nelly’s line about making your knees touch your elbows. –AH

D-12 f/Eminem – Purple Hills
     (**)  Eminem’s posse, D-12, uses all the by-the-numbers offensive techniques that Em’s detractors bitch about, yet the guys in the group don’t realize that what makes Eminem appealing to people isn’t simply the taboo subject matter but his one-of-a-kind delivery and intricate rhyme schemes.
     As such, the controversy over the “Purple Hills” video (which MTV will only play in the “safe harbor” hours between midnight and 6 a.m.) renders the finished product not only unnecessary but quite boring. These rappers may aspire to be as demented as their wigga mentor, but there’s nothing that sets them apart from any other new-generation hip-hop act. Aside from their association with said wigga.
     If you don’t already know, the song’s actual non-MTV title is “Purple Pills.” It’s an ode to the uppers, downers, laughers, screamers, etc. that make all of our lives more bearable. Because, hey, who doesn’t ease the pain of a double shift at work with a little amphetamine or barbiturate action? Lord knows those happy pills have gotten our last six presidents through their terms of office scot-free.
     “Purple Hills” is banned from the airwaves 18 hours out of the day, but the video still has half its lyrics cut out. There’s more dead air than a funeral home vent, and the visuals don’t really take up the slack. There’s D-12 driving down an OutKast-looking road that has purple hills in the background, there’s the Crazy Town-looking fields, the mansion set, the cartoon backdrops and the dancing toilet bowl.
     Some of it is amusing, some will make you shake your head, and some will make you ask, “What the hell is that guy doing trying to impersonate Humpty Hump from Digital Underground?” –AH

Janet Jackson f/Jermaine Dupri – Someone to Call My Lover (So So Def remix)
Janet Jackson in da club
     (**½)  Will it never end? The big three divas – Mariah, Whitney and Janet – have been driving the concept of the remix video into the fucking ground these past few years. It started with Ol’ Dirty Bastard popping up in the alternate version of “Fantasy.” Or was it the Heavy D cameo in Janet’s “Alright” video a decade ago?
     No matter, these remix videos are unavoidable, and sometimes they’re in direct competition with their originals for MTV airplay. I haven’t even had a chance to see the regular video for “Someone to Call My Lover” yet, but already here’s Jermaine Dupri’s narrow ass beckoning me into his So So Def universe yet again.
     The video is pretty straightforward – Janet is driving down a desert dirt road in her convertible, it breaks down, she wanders, happens upon a roadhouse, goes in and joins the party. On the side of the road, there’s a baptism, some kids jumping up and down on a mattress and J.D. wearing his best water-closet salesman suit. (Your rural existence isn’t complete without a visit from the water-closet salesman.) The roadhouse club itself, though stylishly ugly, is nothing too interesting.
     Something about this works for me, though. I think it’s the fact that “Someone to Call My Lover,” the song itself, is such a laid-back, likable Janet groove, and the video manages to drip casual summer atmosphere. The only thing I can’t bring myself to endorse is the customary end-of-remix summation from Dupri: “Janet Jackson… J.D…. So So Def, yeah… from the album All For You… Virgin Records, what what… uh uh, ISBN number 1043872919485, yeah…” –AH
Jermaine Dupri

Rehab – It Don’t Matter
     (**½)  I can’t yet determine for myself whether I like or dislike this song. I can tolerate it, even get into it some when I’m in certain mind states – while baked like Mrs. Alison’s precious cookies, say – but I have a feeling there’s a 40% chance “It Don’t Matter” will end up growing on me and a 60% chance it will just disappear without a trace and end up popping up on some Hot Hits Of The Early Zero-Zeros compilation as a wave of embarrassment washes over me for ever having given it a chance.
     If nothing else, though, I like the structure of Jeff Richter’s video, which matches its stylistically schizophrenic source song. “It Don’t Matter” opens with high-pitched, almost Radiohead-esque piano and vocal singing then segues to hip-hop and later sing-song verse from a guy who looks like the unholy offspring of Everlast and the guy from Smash Mouth. Let’s see, then comes a more manic rap verse, some chorus action and an outro.
     All the while, visually, there’s a new setting every thirty seconds or so, until the video settles on a place to focus – a wedding reception they’re gigging at, populated with smiling hayseeds, an overly tattooed bride and an enormous disco ball.
     The video opens on one guy falling from the sky and settles on another sitting behind the driver’s seat of one of the most decrepit ghetto rides y’ever seen. The rapper is bitching about how much his life sucks and how the rainstorm always confines itself to the immediate area above his car and all that, then Everlash Mouth takes over. He crawls into a hot bath (robe on, thankfully), then he’s singing underwater in a pool, then all the guys are at a barbecue where the same pool is drained, then… I forget; I think it involves people being swallowed by a giant whale or something. –AH

Shaggy – Freaky Girl
     (**)  Shaggy’s sent out the call – he’s looking for a girl who’s a bit more unconventional than the missionary-position bitches he’s been banging all his life. He needs someone who’s willing to do something a little kinky, something a little bit sick, but more than that, he needs someone who can understand what the fuck he’s saying.
     SHAGGY: (unintelligible reggae garble)
     MISSIONARY GIRL: What’s that? You want me to make sweet love to your standard poodle?
     SHAGGY: No no no! (more unintelligible reggae garble)
     MISSIONARY GIRL: I’m still only making out the words “fuck” and “poodle” out of all that stuff you’re saying. I’m afraid either I have a selectively dirty mind or we’re just incompatible, Mr. Boombastic.
     SHAGGY: (disappointed, unintelligible reggae garble)
     In the “Freaky Girl” video, Shaggy is trapped in a Plexiglas box at a top secret “research facility” whose walls appear to be made of aluminum foil. The female researchers assess his condition (“For starters, it would seem that shirt he’s wearing would prevent him from ever getting laid”) while Shaggy’s male friend in the leopard print sings the chorus and sounds surprisingly like Michael Jackson – the ultimate freaky girl – while doing so.
     As the video wears on, it’s hard to determine whether the plethora of scantily clad, gyrating girls are all in Shaggy’s head or if they’re actually there, freak dancing in the tin-foil sexual research facility. I’ve spent nearly a half-hour trying to figure out the video for “Freaky Girl,” and the only answer I’m getting is, damn, the video is just as unintelligible as Shaggy’s reggae garble itself. It’s just a lot more silver. –AH

Musiq Soulchild – Girl Next Door
     (***)  Postmodern American culture has been full of girls next door, like Maryann from “Gilligan’s Island” or that snotty little Harriet bitch from “Small Wonder.” (Come to think of it, in retrospect, every single person on “Small Wonder” was a snotty little bitch.) But none are plaguing the current R+B scene so bad as Musiq’s flashback wannabe conquest in this video.
      The emerging R+B star – or at least you’d think he was a star from the way every one of his videos bears an introductory title card with his damn name on it – has cultivated himself quite a ’fro here, and he actually looks cooler with it. I can’t really say the same of his adolescent counterpart from 1989 because, as we all know, you have to grow into your Afro. That’s what I told G.W. Bush in the early ’80s, anyway.
     All bad writing aside, “Girl Next Door” is the most appealing video yet from Mr. Soulchild, tailor-made for the lazy, hotass summer we’re stuck in the middle of right now. It’s all memories of hanging out in neighborhood streets and going to picnics and block parties mixed with the present tense revisiting of those same locales by the grown-up Musiq and his girl next door, who didn’t turn out so bad herself.
     The tone is sentimental but not sappy, and the whole video just hangs there, rosy and faded like those mammoth shades Musiq is wearing… Okay, so I didn’t have all the bad writing out of the way… –AH


Nu Shooz – I Can’t Wait (1987)
     (*)  “I Can’t Wait” is one of those ’80s hits I think of as a skating rink song. Back when I was in summer day camp and used to spend afternoon upon afternoon at the Coachlite rink, we’d hear the same songs over and over. “What Have You Done For Me Lately” by Janet Jackson, “Crush on You” by The Jets, and “I Can’t Wait,” better known as the song with the synthesized woman’s voice going “Ohohoh OH oh ohohoh, oh oh oh OH ohoh.” When I hear these songs, all I can think of is the skating rink and its bizarre sights, sounds and smells. Yes, smells.
     The video is a crudely animated mess that reminds me of Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” minus the ambition. It doesn’t make a lick of sense and, worse, doesn’t seem to want to. We pan through a house where the washing machine lid is popping up and down and the immobile dog is wearing sunglasses, then there’s the female singer (visually, a cross between Belinda Carlisle and Annie Lennox) sitting at her desk, popping open an ash urn and pulling out a fish.
     It’s like they found every backdrop and prop they could think of and then computer animated a few others, from the spinning magnet to the stereo speakers with the dog’s head to… well, something I can’t tell what the fuck it is. You don’t think it would be possible to ruin my happy childhood roller skating memories, particularly when they involve music so unlistenable as “Crush on You,” but the guys from Nu Shooz manage to do it here. This is one pair of shooz that just doesn’t fit. –AH


Blink 182 – Josie (1997)
     (**½)  This was the original coming of Blink 182, from back when they used to wear clothes and wouldn’t be caught dead lampooning the TRL hand that would soon feed them. This is just carefree punk-pop, and though “Dammit” is the better tune, “Josie” is the kind of fun video that may be slight but certainly doesn’t feel forced. Like most of what they’ve done since.
     “Josie” is an ode to the singer’s girlfriend, who’s so cool she drives him home when he’s drunk and stays up late and accepts collect calls when the band is on the road. Speaking of collect calls, the girl looks a lot like Alyssa Milano, though I don’t think it’s actually her. (She was unclasping her bra for that pivotal role in Poison Ivy 2 at the time, I believe.) She’s beautiful, whoever she is, and she spends most of the video in a cheerleader uniform.
     Yes, this is a high school video, with the band playing in the bathroom and passing notes in class – predictably, the paper airplane that folds out to read “I Love You” ends up falling into the hands of the fattest, nastiest loser in the room – and even running track. Not all of it is funny, though some of it is. It’s just a comforting time capsule, to be able to look at a band before they sold out and started tossing fistfuls of cash from the roofs of adult bookstores in their videos. –AH

Sheila E. – The Glamorous Life (1984)
Sheila E. - The Glamorous Life
     (*½)  If this is glamour, bring on the thrift shop. Really, though, you can’t blame Sheila E. – she was just another Prince protégé of the Reagan era, made over in the big hair and doily frills of the then-current Minneapolis ideal. Vanity 6, Appolonia, The Time, The Family, they all worked out of the same tacky-ass wardrobe closet, and none of them looked good. Least of all Prince himself.
     The Purple One is nowhere to be found in “The Glamorous Life,” though Prince and Sheila would duet on “A Love Bizarre” a year or so later. Instead, it’s an empty concert hall where Sheila and the band play their instruments and hold their massive locks in place. Sheila herself is wearing some flashy red shit that would make even Prince say, “Nuh uh, that’s too just plain loud,” and when she’s not singing, she’s banging on her percussive toys.
Sheila E. - The Glamorous Life
     The video’s only flash of true fashion comes during the infrequent black-and-white sequences, which were filmed on some nighttime streetscape and feature everyone dressed up in furs and Mardi Gras excess. Otherwise, it’s all just embarrassing when viewed through this 20/20 hindsight of ours. –AH


Copyright 2001 Andrew Hicks