screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

“Changing”… into what, exactly?

After posting about two massive fatal earthquakes, I am now following up with thoughts about a rock band’s 3:49 video. How incredibly stupid and unimportant in comparison. Yet I’ve been meaning to weigh in on The Airborne Toxic Event‘s official video for their new song, “Changing”. After seeing comments from two L.A. bloggers who have had a profound effect on the music I’ve been listening to since 2008, and then the L.A. Times (all of whom were among the first to introduce this great band to Los Angeles locals, long before anyone else knew about them), I knew the time was now.

Let’s put it this way: I have concerns (though nowhere near the concern I have for “what do I do if my house starts shaking?”).

And it starts… with Daren and Steven riding in a vintage car, turning off “Sometime Around Midnight” as it comes on the radio, and exchanging looks of smug derision. Are they already that jaded? Mick Jagger once said, “If I’m still singing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 40, I’ll kill myself”. But that was in 1972, a full 10 years and a dozen albums after the Rolling Stones first formed. For Airborne to turn their noses up (even in jest) at the song that helped catapult them to worldwide album sales of 300k+ and sold out shows while they’re still a band with just one album out seems… a bit premature. For a lot of fans, that song meant (and still means) a great deal. For better or for worse, it’s why a lot of them are fans.

The video is slick, like – as another blogger pointed out – an alcohol or men’s cologne ad. There’s a self-congratulatory feel to it – back-slapping, handshaking revelry in a bar room party scene that feels strangely out of place with the lyrical content of the song. It’s a generic mainstream rock backdrop for an indie-pop ode to a dysfunctional relationship. A drunken-celebratory tone set against Mikel’s angsty personal introspection. In an interview about the making of the video, Mikel agrees that it “reinterprets the song in a new way”. Well, that’s fine, but is that what you want for a promotional video for your first single off the new album? Kevin Bronson of Buzz Bands addresses (rips into) the video’s imagery, and what follows are comments from people who come off like betrayed lovers. Mouse of Classical Geek Theatre has a more moderate (though equally perplexed) view – and a really sweet photo.

I had said some time ago that I believe the band is the same, but that the scene around them is changing. What I mean is: they’re still talented musicians, Mikel’s lyrics are still poetic (more so, in fact), they still have tremendous chemistry together and they craft beautiful, infectious songs. But now there are more people involved, they’re on a major label, working with a famous producer at a fancy studio. Under such circumstances, with people whom you’ve just met telling you what to play and how to play it, grabbing on to your successful band like parasites to the body of a whale, one must take great pains to ensure that the music – and your vision – doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Mikel once said that he didn’t expect to be able to control everything. I’m thinking he might want to control some things.

My take is that this was seen as a marketing opportunity – a new demographic for the band, and a new demographic for Strikers All-Stars. Fair enough. Though I don’t think either is well-served by this. They’re terrific dancers, no denying that. But if I were their choreographer, I’m not so sure I’d choose “Changing” as the proper music to highlight their talents. Nor does this song need step dancers, drunken revelers, an arm-wrestling match and a girl putting on lipstick (huh?) to get its point across. So what? It’s just a music video. But it’s indicative of new people with input into creative decisions, other than just the band and their manager. And it’s at a crucial time when a lot of people are watching, just ahead of a long-awaited follow-up to their debut. People are standing there, arms folded, waiting to see what they’ll do next. I want to see them as mega-stars. I want to hear their music in movies and in ads. I want to know when in hell we’re going to see a decent feature in Rolling Stone. I just don’t want to see them compromise their integrity to get there.

Having said all that (and as proof that all is most certainly not lost), they’ve also been releasing some absolutely gorgeous acoustic one-take, one-shot videos of songs from the new album. The latest of which is a beautiful tribute Mikel wrote for his parents, lovingly performed as a folksy ballad:

Why on earth can’t something like this be the official video and aired on MTV, VH1 or wherever it needs to be? This is how I see the band – sweet, funny, smart, talented, with music that’s deeply personal and a cut above pretty much everything else out there. So what if it’s not slickly produced with fast edits? What if it has no edits at all? Who the f*ck cares? Is the mainstream rock audience such a docile bunch of sheep that they can’t process something that doesn’t look like a Budwiser ad? (no wait, don’t answer that). This “Bombastic Series” is directed by Jon Danovic, the same man responsible for “Changing”, and also for the beautifully filmed Disney Hall performance. He’s obviously supremely capable of doing anything you want him to do.

So that’s my long-winded opinion of the “Changing” video. And I anxiously await the new album. Not with folded arms, mind you, but with arms outstretched.

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1 Comment

  1. tammy

    Spot on.

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