Child-beating has been dealt with before in pop music (Suzanne Vega's "Luka" and 10,000 Maniacs' "What's the Matter Here" come to immediate mind), but child sexual abuse is a more bitter pill to swallow musically. The uncompromising hard-rock band Tool has taken it on, though, in its "Prison Sex" video, which takes no prisoners in exploring the darkest of all possible worlds.
Tool's unnerving clip tops this edition of Sound & Vision, in which recent music videos are reviewed and rated on a 0-100 scale. Incidentally, there's more child abuse--of a sort--happening at the bottom of this round-up as well. In Aerosmith's "Crazy" clip, the message left for the impressionable target audience seems to be that high school girls can (and, perhaps, implicitly, should) use their nubile young bodies to wield sexual power over older men.
The Tool video condemns child abuse; the Aerosmith video virtually practices it. Ironic, or what?
Tool, "Prison Sex." Absolutely the creepiest music video since Metallica's "One," if not creepier. Tool's metallic meditation on the evils of child abuse, told from the point of view of a perpetrator ("My lamb and martyr, this will be over soon; you look so precious"), is accompanied by spooky stop-motion animation that symbolically but graphically illustrates the torment of a sexually abused child.
A small, porcelain-like figure--cracked, broken in two, imprisoned--is fondled at uncomfortable length by the long, sinewy fingers of a tall, black, alien-like figure that could have emerged out of the sinister imagination of H. R. Giger.
At times some of the effects--like a moving, animate eyeball inside an otherwise hard and inanimate figure--recall the avant-garde film work of the Quay brothers. But this clip's director, Tool guitarist Adam Jones--who was trained in filmic special effects--seems to have a style of his own. It's not a style that most MTV viewers will take to, but it does have a point of view, however disturbing. And those who pay close attention to the hard-to-follow lyrics and harder-to-follow video narrative will discover that "Prison Sex" is actually about a cycle of abuse ("Do unto others what has been done to you"), which makes it all the more stomach-turning--and queasily fascinating.
Pavement, "Cut Your Hair." And now for something completely different. This spring's alternative darlings go in for a collective trim, plopping down in the local barber's chair one by one, with successively surreal and unaccountably funny results even as no hair actually gets shorn. One member of the quartet, for example, gets crowned king when he sits in the special chair, but the video cuts to a close-up of a tear rolling down from one eye, a la that old public service announcement with the weeping American Indian. The gags are never what you expect, and the offbeat visual punch lines pull their punches; this is absurdism at its uncut finest.
Janet Jackson, "Anytime, Anyplace." We've heard of navel-gazing, but Jackson's preoccupation with documenting her own belly-button is getting beyond the point of curiousness. Her inverse achievements--the less ample waist, the more ample cleavage--are once again on proudly rampant display in this nicely shot clip, which takes place in one of those mythical apartment buildings that's terribly dingy yet lit in the most beautifully aphrodisiacal hues of red and blue. Jackson spies on a fellow apartment dweller through her keyhole, then sneaks over each night for a steamy series of secret trysts that may or may not be fantasies. Zalman King, eat your soft-core heart out.
Green Day, "Longview." Generation X-ers, arise and attack your couches! That's the message at the finale of this video starring Green Day, a very "new wave" band currently successfully passing for punk. The clothes, the geeky posture, the sneering into a wide-angle lens--these had seemed to go the way of all flesh 15 years ago, but perhaps each new generation of rock youth will get its own reconstitution of disaffection and snideness after all. But is the singer's climactic attack on his own furniture a symbolic assault on couch potato-dom, or just reflection of the fact that even Green Day knows guitar-smashing has already been done to death?
Pink Floyd, "Take It Back." Some sweet apocalyptic day, sings Floyd's David Gilmour, "she will take it back"-- she being the Earth itself, in this instance. Hot lava, angry geysers and other natural phenomena have their way with the man-made world; flowers and fauna rise up through cracks in the pavement. It's "The Revenge of Koyaanisqatsi."
This ironic ecological reclamation might not be such a bad idea for a song and video if (a) another David, Byrne, hadn't already written a much funnier version of the same scenario with Talking Heads' "Nothing but Flowers," and (b) the stock nature footage mixed in with the special effects didn't make this video look much cheaper than it undoubtedly was.
Sarah McLachlan, "Possession." McLachlan seems to be this season's Pre-Raphaelite sex goddess of choice, a slightly ethereal-looking poetess who promises to throw you down on the floor after winning you over with some light verse. She's got a gorgeous voice, but this video is unbecomingly obvious in its come-on, with McLachlan gazing all too seductively into the camera, open-mouthed, less like the artiste she's being positioned as than like a posturing, perfume-selling supermodel.
Worse yet is the silly filming technique: studio performance footage all scratched up and artificially faded in post-production. If premature aging of film stock is meant to subliminally signify classic , it doesn't work. Ironic, that so many filmmakers would be working to preserve the great old movies from wear and tear while artsy music video directors are busy inflicting faux scratches on brand new work.
Ice Cube, "You Know How We Do It." At last, a video that shows gangsta rappers do have traditional values. Here, Cube and his buds make their money the old-fashioned way--by motoring to Vegas and, of course, hitting it big in Glitter Gulch, filmed lovingly from in and around the rapper's shiny, neon-reflecting convertible. American to the core, Cube is, after all. (If only the rapper had thought to sample Albert Brooks in "Lost in America" singing his would-be jingle, The Desert Inn has heart, the Desert Inn has heart, this might be a small masterpiece of pathetic consumerism.)
Mariah Carey, "Without You." It's hard to listen to Harry Nilsson's 1972 hit version of this wrenching ballad and not think of the suicide of the songwriter, Badfinger's Pete Ham. What might otherwise have read as a typical love-song cliche--"I can't live, if living is without you"--seemed scarily literal, given the real-life context.
Carey, God bless her, turns it back into a cliche. Her reading of this suicide note is all friendly high notes and showy melisma, without even the faint comprehending whiff of desperation. The video, a live concert rendering, even has a big backing gospel-type chorus sympathetically joining in on the key lines--when the song so clearly demands that its singer be imagined alone and forlorn beyond consolation. Remember the days when the great crooners used to listen to songs before interpreting them?
Aerosmith, "Crazy." When it comes to providing the nation's youth with beyond-bad role modeling, Aerosmith and director Marty Callner are crazy like a fox. This is their third successive video in which the leading role has been handed over to the same rascally teen-girl heroine, with random footage of the band in concert cut in for good measure. The group and Callner assume--probably astutely--that when marketing a group of nearly-50-year-olds chiefly to not-quite-20-year-olds, 'tis better to have any romantic scenarios doled out to actual thespians closer to the target demographic, and have the band act as mere Greek chorus.
The theme this time: sluttishness rules . The lass from the last two clips crawls out of her parochial school window, ditches her white and plaid duds, and joins an equally Lolita-esque pal in a convertible. Thelma & Louise Jr. stop at a gas station and wiggle so efficiently that the attendants let them shoplift half the store, then go participate in an erotic dancing contest at a bar they're presumably several years too young to get into, then go skinny-dipping with a farm worker. It's the most shameless imaginable video jailbait.