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'Numb' Can't Send Guitarist Over the Edge

July 25, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN | Chris Willman's Sound & Vision column appears periodically in Calendar

N umbness isn't the easiest quality to visualize in a rock video, even if it's what most of them inevitably produce as a byproduct. But U2 and director Kevin Godley do their Dadaist darndest to deliberately approximate anesthetizing in the video that tops this edition of Sound & Vision, in which recent pop clips of note are rounded up and rated on a 0-100 scale.

But if U2 has a lock on this month's top slot, the spotlighted director this time around is most definitely Michel Gondry, who helmed the videos by the two closest runners-up, Terence Trent D'Arby and Bjork. Do watch for Gondry's name in those MTV credit blocks: It's a guarantee of highly imaginative art direction and unusually seductive special effects.

U2, "Numb." The Irish quartet's uncharacteristic current single, featuring a rare lead vocal by guitarist the Edge, is a monotonic, mechanical-sounding paean to playing dead. (Although it's got a good beat and you can almost dance to it.) The clever video interpretation is a single-shot, no-edit affair in which Edge sits and recites the lines as imperviously as possible while a succession of bandmates, seductresses and wanton strangers torture or try to distract him. It's the rock 'n' roll version of "Make Me Laugh."

Only once does Edge almost lose his composure, when a little girl attempts to slap him silly. Otherwise he's stone-visaged as bassist Adam Clayton blows smoke in his face, two gals clean his ears out with their tongues, fans come up and snap Polaroids, the straps of his tank top are snipped off, women play violent footsie with his cheeks, his face is wrapped up in rope, etc. In some ways this is obviously supposed to represent a few of the desensitizing effects of stardom, but, as a good comedy of humiliation, it has Edge standing in for any of us who might feel our-selves getting a little too thick-skinned in the face of all the bombardments the '90s might offer.

By the way, this video offers one of the riskier gambits we've seen on TV in awhile: a seemingly endless stretch--actually, it's only 20 seconds--during the instrumental bridge in which the Edge and all the other players go off-camera and the screen is completely dark. Maybe that's U2's cheeky way of doing its part in offering an ever-so-brief respite from so much numbing sensory overload. 88

Terence Trent D'Arby, "She Kissed Me," and Bjork, "Human Behaviour." In the pop video world, director Michel Gondry looks to be the new Jean-Baptiste Mondino, judging from these two superlative clips. (He's also responsible for a third video currently airing, Lenny Kravitz's "Believe," which looks equally fine but accompanies such a dopey song it's difficult to sit through.)

In Gondry's scenario for D'Arby's randy rock guitar anthem, "She Kissed Me" is the name of an old-style sexploitation flick, playing in a theater to which a box-office lady has denied a young boy entrance. But that doesn't stop the kid's imagination from running wild as he gapes at the racy lobby cards, which come to life and even interact with one another. The multiple frame-within-a-frame special effects are both funny and dazzling. And the video, rather than seeming unduly lascivious, comes off as a fond tribute to the days when those too young to get into Roger Corman pictures had to stare at the stills and fantasize about just what saucy things might be ensuing on the big screen.

"Human Behaviour" is a much more abstract, atmospheric clip, incredibly spooky in its absurd fashion: Watch it just before bedtime and you'll swear you're already dreaming. While Sugarcube-gone-solo Bjork wails about humanity's animal nature, she's pursued through some highly stylized woods by a giant teddy bear; she ends up swallowed and squatting in the bear's tummy, while in other scenes the bear is seen crouching inside her head. The shots in which the menacing teddy's pursuit is matched with the ominous timpani in the song, and a very pesky housefly's buzz is matched with a burst of distorted guitar, are as fine a marriage of music and weird video as you'll see this season. Both videos: 87

Bryan Ferry, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." When the Shirelles first hit with this Gerry Goffin-Carole King song in 1961, it was the timid query of a young girl desperate for assurance that her virginity wouldn't go down in vain. It's amazing how thoroughly Ferry transforms the tune here into something much more melancholy, growing it up and turning it into--of all things--a sugar daddy's lament.

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