VIDEO OF THE WEEK

The Crystal Method f/Scott Weiland -- You Know It’s Hard
     (***1/2)  “You Know It’s Hard” has the absolute perfect combination of artistry, humor and irony to make a video memorable. The only reason I’m not doling out the coveted four-star rating is that the video’s plot, involving a living porno blow-up doll, is a tad too ludicrous. You know what they say -- it’s hard to achieve true genius when you make a central character out of a sex toy. Dostoyevsky never brought a dildo to life, for example.
     A quick description of the plot, since it does have plenty of novel moments -- a slightly creepy white guy (I don’t know if it’s an actor or one of the guys from The Crystal Method, since they’re not big enough stars to have penetrated my visual bubble) brings home a blow up doll and proceeds to cook it a romantic dinner. He props it up in the chair across from his at the candlelit dining room table and goes to grab the food.
     When he comes back, she’s gone, and a chase ensues. She takes a cab, they both end up at a club, and... this part I won’t tell you. You’ll just have to turn on your MTV and wish you had MTV2. The ending ties in with the lyrics of the song, which you finally realize have functioned as clues to the plot twist, and you might find yourself rolling your eyes for a second or two. But it’s worth it to find out what the frequently shown red siren lights are all about.
     Marcos Siega directed this video with the same care and effort you’d apply to any good art piece. The photography is crisp and focused, and Siega uses lots of little visual tricks -- splitting the screen into different-sized boxes, briefly reversing the person’s motion and then replaying it, etc. And the video has a few moments of great comic timing, of both the obvious and dry varieties. I mean that in a good way. Check this one out if you can. Andrew Hicks


Bush -- The People That We Love
     (**)  Since the September 11th tragedies, everyone’s been asking themselves, What will our fearless leader, George W. “Gavin” Bush, release for his alternarock band’s next single? It seems kind of silly for him and his guitar-heavy cohorts to be singing about free love and blow in light of this national catastrophe. Will old Gav issue a musical threat to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban? And what rhymes with “anthrax,” anyway?
     The answer we’ve been given is this lavishly obnoxious video from a director billed as “Ulf.” (Memo to the CIA: Do a background check on this person. He could be a foreigner or furry four-foot alien intent on eating the nation’s cats.) Ulf gives us wind machine shots of Gavin, who now looks like a bleach-blond Chris Connelly, sends animated blue pulses around the screen and gives us a set populated with what looks like mutated Fort Knox gold bars. The best of the bunch is a 3D-looking geometric field of planets or something, but even that seems like it was ripped off from an Incubus video. We tend to expect better from our president.
     FACTUAL TIDBIT I’M NOT EVEN INTERESTED IN CRACKING A DISTASTEFUL JOKE ABOUT: After the terrorist attacks, the name of this song was changed from “Speed Kills” to its current, hug-friendly title, “The People That We Love.” --AH

Garbage -- Androgyny
     (***)  I’ll warn you early -- I’m reviewing a lot of sexually charged videos this week, so you’ll have to weather a lusty comment or two. But, while some of the stuff below was fashionably engineered to the “sex sells” approach, when it comes to Garbage making a sexual video, you’ll have to expect everything but the kitchen sink. These guys are some freaks.
     Well, I mean, there are no enemas or scat fetishes or anything, but you’ll see some girl-girl kissing, twosomes and threesomes of people clawing each other in bathroom stalls and Shirley in a butch, Just One of the Guys T-shirt and suspenders outfit that makes her look like she’s trying out for the title role of a Broadway revival of Oliver! Some of director David Cameron’s scenes are mesmerizing and others just some like gratuitous freakdom.
     The sound is distinctly fucked-up, 21st-century pop, switching styles two or three times like most of the other songs on the band’s new album, beautifulgarbage. And, while “Androgyny” isn’t one of the strongest songs from the album, it has a playful quality that makes it impossible to resist. For some reason, the chorus reminds me of Roxette (one of the darkest lumps of horse crap hanging in my Guilty Pleasures closet), and you can do with that information what you will. --AH

Linkin Park -- In the End
     (**)  I don’t like Slipknot or anything, but I busted up when I read their comments on having to tour with Linkin Park for Ozzfest. The way the Slipknot guys tell it, the Linkin Park guys just sit around and drink chocolate milk and suck their thumbs all day. Which doesn’t surprise me at all -- a lot of our more embarrassing, less genuine rock acts have been thumb suckers. Christopher Cross, for example, sucked his thumb ten hours a day, every day, without fail.
     “In the End” is more bland white-boy rap, more a ballad than the previous Linkin Park. That means the screaming of psychoanalytic catchphrases is kept to a minimum, and the monotone rap verses seem to have been aped equally from Limp Bizkit and, um, DC Talk.
     The visual side, though, is pretty watchable. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. They’re out in the desert, manta rays are flying by, and some kind of computer-animated hedge bush is out to get them. Then there’s the performance footage, which occurs on a set that’s supposed to be the inside of some big mystic statue but just reminds me of those times on “I Dream of Jeannie” when Jeannie would shrink herself and hang out inside her bottle.
     “In the End” isn’t bad, but it’s by no means good. --AH

Redman f/Adam F -- Smash Something
     (**1/2)  Lord, it’s a sorry sight when Limp Bizkit gets there first. After their self-indulgent and highly idiotic tune “Break Stuff,” I guess it was only a matter of time before some hip-hop star shot back with a thematic sequel. Rock stars might have been smashing guitars since Woodstock, but no one loves mass destruction quite like Redman. Yet, in this time of national crisis, we can’t really show much in the way of mass destruction -- like everyone said, Hollywood can’t shock or horrify us quite like real life, and disaster movies and all that are going to be moot points.
     So what does flashy-ass director David Meyers do? He centers the video around two redneck caricatures in oversize amusement park get-up. Redman, as a mad scientist with a midget assistant, brings the trailer-trash couple to life at the beginning of the video, and they wreak havoc by -- among other things -- dancing along to Parliament’s “Flash Light.”
     The letterboxed party video covers a range of sets, from the bumping dance club to the diner to the parade of thugs riding scooters down the street. It sounds commonplace, but there are enough visual effects and camera movements to keep things interesting. If anything, the video is too overloaded with distractions, particularly the animated characters that occasionally pop up to run around the screen. When you can’t show mass destruction, I guess you just have to show everything else. --AH

Shakira -- Whenever, Wherever
     (***)  Videos are starting to look a lot more like Maxim photo spreads, which is putting my horny, heterosexual ass in a bind. I want to be an objective critic, though I recognize that term is an inherent oxymoron. No, I want to judge on artistic merit, but let’s face it, you have to cut the music video medium some slack when it comes to eye candy.
     Eye candy is what it’s all about, something that will distract you from the limitations of your physical world and elevate you into something awe-inspiring and magical. Like a surreal cloudscape or a pair of beautifully pert breasts. Unless the song itself is hideous, which disqualifies most of the Britney/Christina/Jessica/Mandy output, I’m tempted to give a thumbs-up to any video that features an absolutely gorgeous girl dancing and posing in a sensual fashion. When the artist’s appeal and energy seem genuine and the video’s visuals actually impress me, it’s icing on the cake.
     “Whenever, Wherever” has Shakira -- a wannabe Latin diva who sounds like an unholy cross between Celine Dion and Nelly Furtado and looks like a hotass centerfold -- lip synching from a dozen or more settings. Some of them, from Shakira dancing in the midst of a horse stampede to Shakira standing atop a very narrow mountain, work. Others look too blue-screen or stock-New Age. Overall, though, it’s a strong video and worth watching once or twice. If just for the full-on Maxim sex angle that keeps me in my horny, heterosexual ass in that aforementioned quandary. --AH

Britney Spears -- I’m a Slave 4 U
     (**)  Okay, what I wrote about Shakira goes double for this Britney Spears video. If you haven’t seen or spanked it to “I’m a Slave 4 U,” you’ve surely at least heard one religious leader condemn the fact that Britney wears a pair of skimpy-ass underwear on the outside of her clothing. The Book of Ephesians clearly states that “neither fornicators nor harlots nor wearers of skimpy-ass underwear on the outside of their clothing will see the kingdom of heaven,” yet Britney’s taken the plunge.
     And somehow she’s made her initial image in the “Baby... One More Time” video seem downright quaint and conservative, even though my male friends and I were drooling over it between bong hits just two and a half years ago. There wasn’t enough weed in the world to have us picturing this girl with her undies outside her general clothing. I mean, it’s like Ephesians says. Fornicators and harlots.
     So our favorite teenage fornicating harlot (at least, she’s been our favorite since Christina slathered on the makeup and hair for the house-of-horrors “Lady Marmalade” video) creeps into a laid-back bungalow party populated with stone-faced Calvin Klein-ad types. She brings them to life, Britney does, and they fall in love with the form of choreographed dance for the first time. So it’s a happy ending for everyone, and it’s actually a better Britney video than average. The direction, from Francis Lawrence, is a little more restrained and erotic than your standard TRL fare.
     “I’m a Slave 4 U,” the song itself, is one of Britney’s best. For once, she’s not milking the same transparent production techniques -- “Slave” sounds more like stoner hip-hop than anything I ever thought I’d hear from Spears. Was it produced by The Neptunes or something? I’ve really got to start doing my homework one of these days, like... uhhh, next week. In the meantime, all I have to say is, God, what a great time it must be to be a fourteen-year-old male vegging out to MTV in this country. The best we had in our day was Chilli from TLC and the Ace of Base chicks. --AH

Usher -- You Got It Bad
Usher & Chilli
     (*1/2)  Speaking of Chilli from TLC, she’s the love interest in the new Usher video, his second from 8701 (hey, it’s a better title than Dawn of the Ushlennium). Well, actually, she’s the camera’s second love interest -- its first is Usher’s chest and abs, both of which it lovingly caresses for far too long at the beginning of the video. I’m still flushing out my eyes.
     “You Got It Bad” is a flowery street ballad that’s half R. Kelly and half Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. In the video, Usher plays either himself or an R+B superstar who looks a lot like himself, while Chilli is a famous model and pop star. They break up, and it’s all over the news -- there’s even some hilarious footage of Usher getting in a public, almost-physical fight with Chilli and later bum rushing the tabloid cameraman who catches the spat on tape.
     So Usher mopes around his mansion for awhile, straps on a Michael Jackson glove and thinks back to the days when she’d slide on top of him and kiss him all over his irresistible red headband. Those were the days, eh Usher? --AH
  Usher & Chilli


Foxy Brown f/Jay-Z -- I’ll Be (1998)
Foxy Brown & Jay-Z
     (***)  I’m not an especially large Foxy Brown fan (in a police lineup, I couldn’t really tell her rack from Lil’ Kim’s or that of, say, Sister Souljah), and anyone who’s read any of the twenty Jay-Z videos I’ve reviewed knows I’m definitely not a large fan of his and definitely couldn’t identify his rack in a police lineup. But, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I’ve always been into this hip-hop dance tune. I dig the beat, the throbbing bass line, even Jay-Z’s chug-along rap verses.
     The video, which manages its stylish share of street cred even though it’s directed by the guy who brought the world Nic Cage as The Family Man*, takes place in a vast, wooden-floored dance club. A DJ segues from Method Man to this tune and Foxy takes off her coat and presides over a batch of scantily clad dancers in shiny black leather. When the Jiggaman is rapping, we’re treated to his posturing before a bunch of male dancers decked out in all-white Puffy gear from the ’98 spring line. And, believe it or not, he looks effortlessly classy for once.
     Okay, so this isn’t exactly a “classic video,” but it’s one of my myriad guilty pleasures of the era. Like Usher’s “My Way” or “Real World” from Matchbox 20. I can’t explain why I like it, I know I probably shouldn’t like it, but I just do. Fuckin’ sue me. --AH
     * = For some reason, knowing this fact has me picturing Jay-Z in Cage’s role as the heartless business tycoon who learns to love changing diapers, waking up to the same wife every day and wiping baby spit-up off his Fubu.
Foxy Brown & Jay-Z & white-clad dancers

R.E.M. -- The One I Love (1987)
     (***)  This was the song that brought R.E.M. from the college rock scene to the realm of Top 40 and paved the way for such cheese as “Stand” and *shudder* “Shiny, Happy People.” But we’re not going to hold that against the video, which is quite elaborate and artistic for a clip from the age of Huey Lewis and George Michael.
     “The One I Love” also looks less dated than most late-Reagan efforts because it’s more preoccupied with showing the quiet side of life -- the somber man with his head buried in his wife’s lap, for example -- than the glamorous side. Nothing about Michael Stipe speaks glamour, as we well know. I’ve never seen the bastard in Prada.
     The video may have humble roots, but the direction is bizarre and the editing often rapid-fire. Whoever put this together was in love with the idea of overlapping vastly different imagery in complementary ways (sparks atop an opening flower, trees moving across Stipe’s face, etc.), and since there are so many different scenarios in the video, the transitions are almost seamless. Some of the hair is big, naturally, but that’s to be expected from a video this damn Southern. --AH


Copyright 2001 Andrew Hicks