Sunday, August 13, 2006
Five Music Videos That Are Much Better Than Their Songs
5. Anna Nalick, "Breathe (2 AM)"

One reason I think I will ultimately fail as a writer is my inability to translate my feelings for Anna Nalick's "Breathe". And had I heard this on the radio before I caught the clip one night on VH1, I'd still be kidding myself that I'm destined to write the Great American Pale Fire. Really, the video is shit, all designed to guss up my fellow Californian as a Serious Artist, one who paints song lyrics on her walls and scratches out bad stanzas with the fury of creation. But - fucking BUT - there's this moment when she's singing the most self-important & dead-signifier lines of the song ("And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd/Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud/And I know that you'll use them, however you want to..."). The music cuts out (which isn't done on the album or on radio), and I'm watching a white screen with Nalick's singing head. And as soon as she finishes those last four words, her head snaps with an involuntary spasm, and there's the start of a sob. A real fucking sob. And it gets me every damn time. I've probably started to cry about ten times just watching a callow soft-rocker get Gilmore Girls on my ass. It pisses me off no end, but you absolutely need to know this about me.

4. Erykah Badu, "Love of My Life"

Witness! The progression of hip-hop, beating "Dani California" by a half-decade. Note! How disco and funk had as much to say as dub. See! Erykah take the Rock Steady Crew to the mat. Laugh! As Badu dons a Kangol and breaks MC Lyte down. Nod! As Badu sheds the dookie rope and salutes the Five Percent machinations. Give dap! When Erykah hops from West (funny + not so funny the moment when Ice Cube gets hip-hop in some criminal-type shit) to Dirty South. Mourn! The signing of contracts, the fulfillment of dreams, adolescence's skin shed. Fucking check out! That lily-white sight gag, true and sad. Try to remember! The song after watching the video ten times.

3. Lee Ann Womack, "Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago"

I was a bit startled when this track got the nod in Stylus' year-end singles list over the stylish throwback "I May Hate Myself in the Morning". As bridges go, I'd take "I know it's wrong/But it ain't easy moving on/So why can't two friends/Remember the good times once again?" over the wishy-washy "Water under the bridge/I guess that's all life really is". Maybe that says more about my satyriasis. Whatever. Anyway, this video debuted about a week after Faith Hill's "Like We Never Loved At All". Both clips pull heavily from Nashville's glorious countrypolitan days, and both are for subpar clips. I give the nod to Womack because for all her magic, Sophie Muller (who deserves her own post on a subject tangential to this) can't avoid Tim McGraw's dumbass hangdog eyes.

"Twenty Years" is decidedly brighter, and populated with sketches that seem familiar: the fedora-clad, cigar-chomping manager (?); Womack's triad of delicately-coiffed belles; the girl with the stunning brown hair who may or may not be Womack's daughter; the young buck with the obscenely large (and obscenely drained) decanter. No asshole lovers to be found, just high tea in a bygone Nashville with Womack poignantly reigning o'er all. There's a part about halfway in where Lee Ann sings "never let somebody get that close," and she's set off against the wood paneling like a porn actress, and some crewcut photog is off her left shoulder, sticking his tongue out as he snaps another one. Fantastic.

2. Frank Sinatra, "Old Man River"

Not a bad song for the Chairman, certainly giving him a vocal showcase toward the end, but the subject matter finds Frankie trying and failing to express solidarity with the plight of the Black sharecropper. But the video - actually the closing scene to the forgettable 1946 feature Till the Clouds Roll By - trumps all. From the first shot, a woman staring off-camera as a man strikes a timpani (both clad totally in white), this clip is the closest thing Earth came to a Stanley Kubrick musical. From there, Ol' Blue Eyes hisself, in an alabaster tuxedo and elevated from the orchestra upon a pillar, becomes our focus. There's a sudden cut outward (I could see this in Stanley's bag of tricks), but we're still trained on the lofted singer, as far from harsh Mississippi labor as a man can be.

But once the singing cessates, the camera pulls back until we see that Frank, orchestra, superfluous girls, and conductor are all on a celestial island, ribbed on the underbelly with a staircase corkscrewing perilously down, offscreen. It's an effect that I daresay sill stuns sixty years later.

1. Mat Kearney, "Nothing Left to Lose"

Why one? Cos it's recent. I think there's a plot at work here: our scruffy slinger works his way cross-country to his heterosexual other. Intervening, though, is America, gorgeous and tired. Within a palette of grey-leaning blues and browns, Kearney slouches across dozen of restaurant booths, parks his Motor City hulker in institutional motels, and hitches through some of the most worn-in country - natural, urban, and semi-urban - you've ever seen. Kearney himself mouths a few words, and we see him jumping in the bed of the odd truck, but director Douglas Avery makes landlocked America the star. Editor Nicholas Wayman-Harris cuts between arresting images (flaming car in a lot, a streetside shop that just ends along a desolate blacktop, traffic on a rain-slick cantilever bridge) in a manner that would be dizzying. But anyone who's made a highway trek from Florida to Indiana by way of the Appalachians, say, knows: this is how you see the sights through a window at 70 mph. Don't linger too long on any one place, or your thoughts are lost forever.

From the other room, my roommate thought Kearny was the Counting Crows. Surely that means something.

Posted by Brad on Sunday, August 13, 2006 at 12:16 AM |

hon, you're from florida. not california... I know they sound the same, but they're different.

also. that sinatra video just blew my mind.

'old man river' is such a classic song i can't really imagine that a single video performance could outdo it. that's like saying there's a video version of 'silent night' that outdoes 'the-song-as-institution'
the sinatra video interpretation is clearly not as majestic as the paul robeson version from showboat

The song is classic, no doubt, but Frank was the wrong man to deliver it. Therefore, the spectacle of a white-clad, sweatless Caucasian surrounded by an orchestra, that most bourgeois of musical combos, belting out a solidarity song literally in the sky completely demolishes his performance.

Showboat has the visuals and the singer to match (although Robeson was like aristocracy), but Sinatra's film does not. However, Sinatra's film does not so incredibly out of left field visually, I felt it worth noting.

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