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SOUND & VISION

Portishead Delivers Some Spooky Truths

March 05, 1995|Chris Willman | Chris Willman is a frequent contributor to Calendar

Few bands or directors making music videos seem to have much interest in incorporating narrative anymore. But don't tell that to Portishead, the freshman band whose haunting and hummable "Sour Times (Nobody Loves Me)" is leaving a sweet aftertaste on the pop and alternative charts.

The video clip comes with a demanding story line, the jumpy continuum of which calls for more attention span than Beavis and Butt-head might collectively muster on their verybest day.

Portishead's is one of three unusually wistful videos at the head of the class in this Sound & Vision, our periodic review of current pop clips, rated on a scale of 0 to 100:

*

Portishead, "Sour Times (Nobody Loves Me)." Singer Beth Gibbons has an I-V needle in her arm and mascara running down her face as she's seen habitually watching home movies of a sniper's attempted hit on her former lover. Whodunit? Flashbacks and flash-forwards eventually tell the tale in this British band's part- noir , part-mod vignette of romance, intrigue and assassination, spun in a fractured narrative nearly worthy of Nicolas Roeg.

The final twist involving the hit men isn't terribly surprising, but Portishead's spooky ballad of love spurned and regretted is so effective in conjuring an aura of romantic sabotage and self-loathing that the screen story's violent metaphor seems to ring true enough. 79

*

Green Day, "When I Come Around." Singer Billie Joe's bug-eyed mannerisms of goofy videos past are momentarily supplanted by a more universal and cleareyed voyeurism in this surprisingly sweet, understated clip. This really is the "long view."

The setup is a sort of "Rear Window" times 10, where everyone is distracted from his or her own experience just long enough to spend a moment peeping at and being curious about some stranger's. A kissing couple spies an older man in a wheelchair, who in turn gazes out across a courtyard at a dancer in a ballet class, who in turn . . . and so goes the human cycle of all-too-fleetingly exchanged empathy or wonderment. 78

*

Oasis, "Live Forever." Singer Liam Gallagher waxes rapturous on the subject of immortal bliss, yet his delivery is mortally disaffected. For what's up with the ironic juxtaposition, a clue might be the cutaways to late icons like Hendrix, Bolan, Cobain, et al. Wanting to live forever--through art, or whatever--is a sucker's game, Gallagher's blank expression seems to say. That, or maybe he's just too cool for school.

In any case, the strength of the band's sound is such that the tune remains soaringly romantic in spite of Oasis' best efforts to de-romanticize its context. No need to worry too unduly about immortality, men of Manchester: "Forever" is in the tradition of great disposable pop. 73

*

Black Crowes, "High Head Blues." Another weird winner from director Michel Gondry (the effects specialist behind Bjork's "Human Behavior").

Tiny space aliens invade singer Chris Robinson's home and, after pinning him down, Gulliver-style, literally invade his mind. That's when it gets fun: The viewer gets to look out at the world the way the micro-aliens do, from inside Robinson's body-snatched mind, peering through eye sockets surrounded by gooey body tissue. His girlfriend just doesn't get it, but, per Jack Finney, eventually everyone succumbs. Hey, Chris, why d'ya think they call it dope? 70

*

Van Halen, "Don't Tell Me (What Love Can Do)." Head for the hills: Sammy Hagar, not content with fronting one of the world's most adept party bands, shifts into "message" mode.

So does director Peter Christopherson, whose "anti-violence" video has apparently real-life crime victims baring their scars to the camera, followed by title cards like "Drive-by Shooting Victim" and "Knifing Victim." But if anything, this show-and-tell might have the opposite of the desired effect on kids, reinforcing the notion that wounds perpetrated in urban warfare heal up without mortal consequence.

Alternating with the showing of the scars is a narrative about a teen who gets busted and tossed into the unmerciful clink. This cautionary slammer saga seems to be a well-intended but dreary attempt to divert impressionable MTV-watching teens from a life of crime: Call it "Bored Straight." 48

*

Hootie & the Blowfish, "Hold My Hand." This is the kind of band everyone swore could never make it once video killed the radio star: a group of unphotogenic guys who can't help but look as if they'd really rather be anywhere else. Here the Blowfish bide pleasant time with obligatory lip-sync in the living room, while out-of-doors, the director fills the slack with camera loop-the-loops of requisite Americana scenes.

So really, as an unlikely MTV star in spite of himself, Hootie's victory is our victory too. But (yawn) do we have to watch it? 48

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