Monday, October 3, 2011

A Frank Review of "Retrospective: The Videos of Suzanne Vega" (2005)

The Short Version? One of my best loved singer-songwriters on DVD.
What Is It? Music Video Compilation
Who Is In It? Suzanne Vega
Should I See It? Sure hope you do!

  1. Marlene On the Wall: A solid, visually appealing video for 1985 by Leslie Liebman. As will prove uncommon later, this was the strongest possible single off Vega's eponymous debut. In the commentary track, Vega bitches about creative differences with her replacement director (after the first choice fell through) and her stylist. Yes, stylist.

  2. Left Of Center: This was a soundtrack cut, so I'm surprised there wasn't a version of this featuring scenes from Pretty in Pink. Instead they dolled Vega up like Molly Ringwald, and it actually works. In the commentary, Vega discusses contemporary fashions again, a pattern I hope breaks soon. I expected more poet, less vogue.

  3. Luka: One of Vega's biggest hits, and the one that made her name. Also, a sound video with good commentary.

  4. Solitude Standing: Not a favorite album to begin with, and a terrible choice for a single. "Gypsy" was the most obvious potential follow-up hit on the album. This video was directed by Jonathan Demme, and decent enough thought was put into what is essentially a band playing in a room with a few distractions. Vega questions some choices made by Demme that I think worked, and I'm starting to get a control freak vibe off of her.

  5. Book Of Dreams: Another song I'm not fond of, but I can easily see the logic of releasing it as a single. Those were the days of Wilson Phillips, after all. Very potent visuals from the same art designers used for album materials. Good commentary, too.

  6. Men In A War: I could never resolve the incongruity of lyrics and music with this song, plus the latter kind of has that generic poppy sound of the time. The dissonance continues into the video, which matches the music and completely discounts the subject. Amusingly, Vega explains that the aspect that kept getting swept under the rug was exactly why this was never actually released as a single.

  7. Tired Of Sleeping: This one was directed by Tarsem Singh, so of course it positively drips with pretension. According to Vega, Tarsem got his award-winning "Losing My Religion" gig on the strength of this video, and she dug it. For myself, I found that the word pictures Vega puts in your mind are so vibrant, and could have been so easily visualized, that I'm frustrated by Tarsem's flat art film bullshit. Instead of kids playing in pennies, there's just kids playing in slow-mo sepia tone. Instead of a quilted heart, here's an old man spilling milk on the floor. I will say that it looks fine with Vega's interesting commentary on instead.

  8. Tom's Diner: Vega has lots to say about this video, but skips the most interesting part-- that the English duo DNA had stolen her song, remixed it, and were selling it as a bootleg. Vega got ahold of a copy, and liked it so much that she tracked the guys down and secured it a legal release, resulting in a worldwide hit. I don't think anything more came out of DNA, but they're responsible for my smiling at the bank over hearing the only Vega song still in rotation on overhead speakers and stations across the nation. As for the Gareth Roberts video itself, given that it was quickly cobbled together using recycled Vega footage and somewhat random visuals, it's very energetic and surprisingly evocative of the lyrics.

  9. Blood Makes Noise: Vega's enthusiasm for this video is audible, and it's one of my favorites, as well. It's busy as fuck and oh so much a product of its time that you'd be forgiven for expecting C + C Music Factory to show up, but it sure enough grabs you by the eyeballs. Nico Beyer turns Vega into the intellectual's sexpot, and his propaganda poster come to life perfectly parallels the industrial tune.

  10. In Liverpool: This one was apparently very expensive, and it shows. Almost too literal an interpretation, but it's lovely and it serves one of my favorite songs, so I won't be complaining. Excellent work by director Howard Greenhalgh.

  11. 99.9F°: Nico Beyer again. Awesome again. This one oozes an aloof, taboo sensuality that keeps you watching its entire... length.

  12. When Heroes Go Down: This is something like the third video to feature one of Vega's significant others, but at least this time it was also the producer of her best two albums. Unfortunately, I never much liked the song, and the video is downright irritating. It's one of those "what were they thinking" affairs involving a colonoscope.

  13. Caramel: Lovely, lush song with a video to matchby Charles Wittenmeier. Vega has an atomic age allure to suit the 50s pastiche. She does kind of snub Janeane Garofalo while referencing a film tie-in, though.

  14. No Cheap Thrill: Another wonderful song with a perfect video that continues the retro aesthetic, although the flaring effect is oh so '90s. Props to director David Cameron. Madonna gets mentioned again, which I find an odd point of reference for a folkie.

  15. Book And A Cover: A really nice song hidden on a non-U.S. greatest hits compilation. Vega plays up the creepiness of a shot involving an airplane and the World Trade Center, but the whole thing is rather tame. All the upside-downness wear on the nerves.

  16. Last Year's Troubles: A cute song, but the terrible video was clearly shot for no budget. Nepotism may have played a part, but that aspect is largely critic-proofed thanks to a death in the family. Still, the whole thing looks run through a generic old-timey "film stock" filter that's probably bundled with the Nero suite. While they were in there, they could have just thrown together a slideshow of public domain Victorian photographs and ended up with a better result.

  • Caramel (Alternate Version): There are some great shots in here, but also a lot of placeholding material involving Vega signing to her cat in black and white.
  • Days of Open Hand: A promotional video for the album that runs a bit long at six minutes, but has some good interview material and live performance footage.
  • 99.9F°: Promo spot for the album release. A nice snippet of the video with a bit of TV commercial cheese thrown in.
  • Songs in Red and Gray Promo spot for the album, which is not only an appealing commercial, but offers a bit of representation here for the under-appreciated album.
  • Discography: Could be handy?
  • Rarities: This is neat. Cover art slideshow of singles and oddities.
  • Personal Playlist: A track selection menu to play the videos in any order you'd like. Random, no?
  • Menu: Noteworthy for being unusually well constructed, aside from the redundancy of the Special Features and Audio Options links that both go to the exact same sub-menu.


Anonymous said...

Tarsem got popular by stealing the imagery if the Russian
film director Andrei Tarkovsky. Most notably the images from Sacrifice and The Mirror. Tarsem is a cheat. Sorry.

Diabolu Frank said...

Why apologize? If you read my review of "Tired of Sleeping," I pretty much shit on the guy for an entire paragraph.


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