It's the Bon Jovi era on MTV right now--which doesn't mean bon temps for fun viewing unless you're a fan of the Jersey group and sound-alike, look-alike bands. Every other music video these days is a hard-rock clip thatdiffers little from the hard-rock clip that was on five minutes earlier.
Sound & Vision has taken pot-shots at the cliches in these videos before, to no avail. So instead of repeating itself, the column this month will take a look at the current exceptions to the rule. Adventurous videos are there--or somewhere--if you look hard enough for them. Here are some of the best, all earning high grades on the S&V scale: 80-100, don't miss; 60-79, recommended; 40-59, watchable; 20-39, weak; 0-19, wretched.
Fleetwood Mac's "Big Love." Director: Danny Kleinman. If Rene Magritte were alive today and making music videos instead of painting pictures, this is what one of his works might look like. Magritte comes easily to mind because Steve Barron directed a classic, charming tribute to that artist's stunning style in an earlier Mac video ("Hold Me"). Kleinman's "Big Love" is just as good, and more original. It's as if one of the great pull-back shots in Hitchcock's films were extended into a four-minute surreal fantasy. Several effects are used to create a flowing image that's one of the most amazing and entrancing concept/editing tour de forces in music video. 95
Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush's "Don't Give Up." Directors: Jim Brashfield and Melissa Marsland. Videos don't get much simpler than this--or a whole lot better. If you're tired of the frantic, unimaginative razzmatazz of many clips, here's the perfect refreshment. Gabriel and Bush are photographed before an image of the sun, which goes into eclipse and back out as the couple hug each other and sing of anguish (Gabriel) and comfort (Bush). Kate over-emotes a bit (that darned mime training strikes again) but Gabriel's expressive understatement is a wonder to behold, like that sun--a perfect symbol for this truly great song of hope from Gabriel's "So" album. 90
Bad Brains' "I Against I." Director: Paul Rachman. You think Bon Jovi is hard rock? Watch this clip and you'll never make the same mistake again. This is hard rock. The music and visuals are blistering and brilliant. Bad Brains is a Washington black band with Rasta locks that plays a blend of punk, speed-metal, funk and reggae with such ferocity that it shakes off those labels and a good deal else. This ripping, raw black-and-white video perfectly captures the group in action. Not for the weak of heart, and probably not seen on MTV anywhere but that musique nouveau oasis "120 Minutes" (Sundays at 9 p.m.). 88
David Bowie's "Day-In Day-Out." Director: Julien Temple. The director and the supporting star of "Absolute Beginners" unite to make a fascinating video for an absolutely awful song. Temple's images here have as much vitality as those in his movie, but he uses different techniques to startle. The most outstanding comes in the scenes depicting a poor woman's desperate means of staying alive in the big city, shot in a grainy, gritty color. Bowie looks a little silly in his lip-sync scenes, though, and putting him on a skateboard doesn't help. 85
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' "Jammin' Me." Director: Jim Lenahan and Kathy Dougherty. Petty's strong song doesn't mince words--or names--as he describes the particular media stars that he could do without (Eddie Murphy and Vanessa Redgrave among them). Even though Petty reportedly couldn't get permission for a lot of the faces he wanted to use, the video matches the song's accusations blow-by-blow much of the way. The images are often powerful and original--including one where Petty, through video trickery, seems to be reaching right into the TV and pulling out pieces of the static-y picture. No pictures of Murphy and Redgrave and some other Petty "beefs" getting theirs--but you can't have everything. 82
Crowded House's "Something so Strong." Director: Evan English. This clever band is a bright gift to the world pop scene from New Zealand. The group gave us one of the best debut albums of last year, and then came up with what may be the best music video so far this year--the bewitching "Don't Dream It's Over." So what, then, if this follow-up is a lightweight goof-off in comparison, with the guys doing little more significant than throw hay at each other and some friends in a barn? It's a nice little breather of a video, and perhaps just as meaningful a statement of the band's intentions as the earlier one, even if it's not as moving. 70
U2's "With or Without You." Director: Maeirt Avis. Like just about all of the deservedly popular Irish band's videos, "With or Without You" is pleasant to watch but fails to achieve a visual expression worthy of the group's lyrics. It's basically a straightforward lip-sync, but with enough of an oblique approach and superimposed imagery to stand above most such approaches. But it doesn't really grab you the way it should. Part of the problem may be that this is perhaps the least of the material on a great album ("The Joshua Tree"), and a song that repeats its title about 10 times too many for my liking. But beggars can't be choosers--even U2's slight disappointments are more than welcome relief from the current video dominance of Night Ranger, Cinderella, Whitesnake and the rest of the rock-cliche crowd. 60