Neneh Cherry's 'Manchild' Tops Among Music Videos

"I believe in miracles, words in steady doses," proclaims Neneh Cherry in "Manchild," the top video entry in this month's Sound & Vision, and indeed there's something near-miraculous about how her seamless, sexy, mature mix of pop and rap has been captured on film this time out. Rap also figures at the bottom of our roundup--in which music video clips are rated on a 0-100 scale--in the sexist form of LL Cool J, who proves himself in his latest tune more child than man.

CLIPS PICKED TO CLICK:

Neneh Cherry's "Manchild." (Director: Jean-Baptiste Mondino.) Nothing less than one of the most visually arresting video clips ever produced, illustrating one of 1989's truly great singles, an accusatory yet compassionate balladic broadside. In keeping with the theme of the song, which is directed at a full-grown man who has a little more growing up to do, the camera slowly rocks back and forth throughout the clip, as if mounted on a swing set like the one seen in the background on the beachside playground. The camera stops moving only during the portions of the song when Cherry--who is cradling her infant son through much of it--stops singing and starts to rap. Using eye-popping visual trickery in the pursuit of thematically relevant imagery, this is a likely 1990 award winner and a must-see. 94

Concrete Blonde's "Happy Birthday." (D: Jane Simpson.) This cheerful-sounding song, one of the year's catchiest, is really about an un happy birthday, but Johnette Napolitano--writing about spending the night of her own 30th at home alone--is following in the great rock 'n' roll tradition of making feeling bad sound good. It's the best pop birthday song since the Beatles took a crack at it, and a little more substantive, too. The fine video is very much in the same anti-depressant, celebratory spirit, as Napolitano alternately knocks around her Silver Lake apartment in her pj's or kicks balloons around while fronting her ace band, with some clever animation thrown in for good measure. 80

The B-52's' "Love Shack." (D: Adam Bernstein.) On the mindless fluff front, the comeback of new-wave vets the B-52's has been one of the season's more welcome returns, with the ascension of their "Love Shack" up the singles charts certainly good news for the Top 40. This bouncy clip finds the immaculately colorful band rolling down the sunny Georgia highway to set up at the Shaque D'Amour, a wonderfully mythic place where old and young of all shapes and colors (but "no fools allowed") can bump and grind to their hearts' content in the middle of the day. Sharp photography and editing help make it seem like even more of a Shangri-La. Anybody got an address on this place? 79

WORTH A LOOK AND A LISTEN:

U2's "All I Want is You." (D: Meiert Avis.) The four horsemen of U2 make only cameo appearances in this black-and-white tale of a circus dwarf's unrequited love for a trapeze artist. It gets all unnecessarily weird toward the end, a funeral scene in which it's impossible to figure out which character is dead. But this still remains one of U2's more interesting videos, for what is one of the band's most inherently cinematic songs; neither the video nor the single have received much U.S. airplay, however. 69

Exene Cervenka's "Leave Heaven Alone." (Director: Modi.) Cervenka's folkish song is a heartfelt plea for mankind to refrain from filling the heavens with the weapons of destruction, now that the Earth itself has been all mussed up; the video uses obvious but affecting footage of the environment and its spoilage to cement the point. 67

Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation." (D: Dominic Sena.) Somehow, Sound & Vision wonders if Jackson's world-uniting vision of a "nation without geographical boundaries . . . united by music and dance" is the sort of utopia that'll leave out those of us too old, too uncoordinated or too busy being activists to cut a rug. In any case, the baker's dozen of hot hoofers seen in this well-choreographed piece of noir -lit film certainly can. And unlike most directors of dance videos, Sena occasionally lets the camera stay on Jackson and company long enough for us to actually see what kinds of steps they're doing. 67

Tom Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream." (D: Jim Lenahan.) Dreaming Tom returns to a surreal Wonderland, as visited in that great old clip for "Don't Come Around Here No More"--only this time it's animated, in black and white, and he's Alice, not the Mad Hatter. 65

Fine Young Cannibals' "Don't Look Back." (D: Kevin Godley.) Plenty of nifty visual trickery going on here--just enough to distract us for several minutes from the fact that motionless singer Roland Gift is as uncharismatic a performer as he is a handsome man and gifted vocalist. 58

Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." (D: Chris Blum.) The title may be a heavy reference to original sin, or then again it may be as meaningless as the string of unrelated cultural icons of the baby boom era that Joel reels off. The video improves on the song somewhat with an amusing portrait of a nuclear family passing through its kitchen over the decades. But being a distraction there in the corner, looking too cool for school in his shades, is Billy J., acting all tense and pent-up like maybe this audio/visual parade of '50s-'80s touchstones is going to make his sensitive artist's soul explode in spontaneous combustion. To which one might suggest: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. 50

GAMMA RAY ROT:

Donny Osmond's "Sacred Emotion." (Director: Michael Bay.) While grown-up Donny does his very best George Michael under a scorching midday sun, a buncha models--sweaty beefcake and sweet-thang cheesecake alike--build a structure from scratch on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It's like a symbolic modern retelling of the story of the Mormons settling in Utah, as choreographed by Vogue or GQ. 23

Bon Jovi's "Living in Sin." (D: Wayne Isham.) Bon Jovi's paean to secretive teen sex blooms forth in video with a full-scale narrative detailing this underage couple's tryst at a motel, as tragically cut short by the girl's party-pooping parents. Before the interruptus, shots of the groping, love-struck youngsters are intercut with shots of the fat, unhappy parents getting ready to settle into separate beds. If only there were some irony intended there--say, the suggestion that someday these hormonally stricken teens will get married and turn into their parents, as we all know they will--but there can be no such irony in a genre founded on the proudly immoral feeling morally superior to their elders. 1

LL Cool J's "Big Ole Butt." (D: Paris Barclay.) The state of faithfulness has come to this: "Lisa got a big ole butt / I know I told you I'd be true / But Lisa got a big ole butt / So I'm leaving you." Complete, of course, with visual illustrations of the lyrical sentiment from more than one hip-heavy Lisa. The decline of Western civ continues. 0

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