Wednesday, October 8, 2008

An on-the-spot reaction to Jack White and Alicia Keys' "Another Way to Die"

I finally caved in to curiosity and watched the official video for the cynically novel Alicia Keys-Jack White "Another Way to Die," commissioned for the latest installment in the James Bond franchise:

It was tough for me to watch this. Admittedly, a lot of that has to do with the pedigree of music that has consumed me lately. Look at the video in my previous post. Listen to the song. Listen to those lyrics. Even though the quality of the video is ramshackle by Hollywood standards, it's startlingly real. The camera lens could have been channeling your own pair of eyes, had you been standing in that very spot in the club. The sound may be less than perfect, but booming bass approximates what you would actually feel if you were standing by the club's PA. The music itself is unassailable. And the words work not only as lyrics, but as advice you can carry home with you, or to work, or anywhere, really.

And then the Nina Simone box set I'm digesting, and the Dylan set (reviews of which you'll be reading at Bullz Eye in short order) have been skewing my perspective. I clearly have a bias right now for music that comes from a place of relative purity.

Jack White and Alicia Keys both possess pure talent on their respective instruments, true. But this combination is... less than pure. I mean, it's technically good. They do complement each other sonically. But it's clearly novel seeing and hearing them together. It's a natural draw just contemplating the two of them collaborating. Wow, what must THAT sound like?

Well, it sounds exactly like what you'd expect - two monster talents with huge egos and powerful stage presence putting all their energy into projecting their musical personalities into a song that has little use beyond serving the film that catalyzed its creation, and enhancing the respective images of the stars who made it. Look at how they prance in the video. See how much emphasis is placed on Alicia sitting at the piano, Jack playing guitar, and Jack playing drums (which is another novel feature - look at how many instruments he plays!) in between sweet shots of both singers together at their microphones. See how little emphasis and few visual references are made to the Bond film.

What does this all mean, and why do I have this repulsive, empty feeling and an ache in my head after watching this video twice?

Why do I torture myself so?

I don't even care for Alicia Keys all that much. She possesses chops I can only ever dream of having. My issue is with how she uses them. Same with Jack White. I kind of dig the last Raconteurs album and the White Stripes' Elephant, and thought enough of Icky Thump to place it in my top ten albums of 2007, but just like the whiskey, a little Jack goes a long way. But I was curious, and even felt some sort of responsibility to know what these two pop culture titans were doing together, just like I had to hear what Timbaland did to Chris Cornell. Hearing those clips of the latter again, I suddenly feel a little better about Jack and Alicia...

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