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Category:    Home > Reviews > Music Videos > Rock > Pop > Acoustic > Industrial > Electronic > Retrospective - The Videos Of Suzanne Vega

Retrospective – The Videos Of Suzanne Vega


Picture: C+     Sound: B     Extras: B     Music Videos: B+



You hear all the time how great certain female singer songwriters are lately, but without naming names, it is unfortunately as much hype as substance.  One of the most underrated such women in all of music is Suzanne Vega, an exceptional talent who manages that rare feat of combining socially conscious and important topics with stunning lyrics and exceptional music composition.  Her career has been long ignored, but that has not stopped the support of her fans and other lovers of music, or her occasional hit that really breaks through.  Retrospective – The Videos Of Suzanne Vega is an outstanding collection of her music and the Music Videos produced over the years at her home label of A&M Records by a variety of interesting and often still-unknown directors who need to be hired much more often then they are.


Add the fact that she is an exceptional vocalist and this is one of the best artist-based collections of its kind to date.  The videos are as follows, all 1.33 x 1:


1)     Marlene On The Wall (Directed by Leslie Liebman) – From her self-named 1985 debut album, this nicely stylized stage performance of this song adds projected images and very classy-if-sparse production design about if a woman is an object, a clever observer or both.


2)     Left Of Center (Directed by Ken Ross & Richard Levine) – From the soundtrack to the 1986 hit Pretty In Pink, and at least as good as Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s If You Leave, fans of the film will recognize the not necessarily political song.  It is about an opposition more profound than political.  A stage performance with New Wave-look trappings.


3)     Luka (Directed by Candice Reckinger & Michael Patterson) – From the Solitude Standing album, this is a brilliantly-crafted masterpiece classic about a victim of physical, verbal and psychological abuse, domestic violence that is absolutely domestic terrorism.  The mix of blue monochrome images, whether animated or filmed, is amazing.  The song has a gender ambiguous title character, expressing the pain and denial in tolerating such a nightmare.  The video actually enhances the wide-ranging impact of the already stunning song.  Still her biggest hit and remarkably so.


4)     Solitude Standing (Directed by Jonathan Demme) – The title song to the album of the same name from the director of The Silence Of The Lambs three years prior involves another title character, this time one who is more able-bodied and clever.  Occasionally conjuring his work on Stop Making Sense, it is a live stage performance with a difference.


5)     Book Of Dreams (Directed by Andrew Doucette & Geoff Kern) – Using more visual effects than most of the clips here, the ideas of weightlessness and the absurd are taken into new directions.  The ideas of the body, text and even games and telepathy are visual themes throughout that make for a different clip we can all appreciate.  This is the first of three from her Days Of Open Hand album.


6)     Men In A War (Directed by Paula Grief) – Yes, this is an anti-war song, but not the kind you would expect.  This is also another stage performance with instrument playing, yet its ideas go far beyond military conflict and it is NOT men-bashing by a longshot.  Very interesting.


7)     Tired Of Sleeping (Directed by Tarsem Singh) – The director of the great feature film The Cell and R.E.M.’s Music Video classic Losing My Religion, this sepia-toned clip offers canted angles and images dealing with life and death.  Note how people in his work are often physically composed to the far sides of the frame.  The death images are ironic when you think of the song’s title.


8)     Tom’s Diner (with DNA; Directed by Gareth Roberts) – Borrowing images from the Men In A War clip of Vega, Roberts created one of the best quickly edited videos ever made and the result is that this a capella track from her first album set to a dance beat became a monster international hit.  As for the video, it has cleverly abstract images juxtaposed to the lyrics and only the Under Pressure clip for the Queen/David Bowie hit in which none of them appear comes to mind in its success.


9)     Blood Makes Noise (Directed by Nico Beyer) – The first of four singles from the 99.9F album (1992) is a bold masterwork about AIDS at a time when the stigma and fear were still sky-high.  Vega plays the victim who knows contact with her doctor is futile and failed.  The song’s sound was so new at the time, critics were dubbing it “industrial folk” and like AIDS, the sound is more familiar now.  As for the visuals, Beyer’s brilliant mix of silhouetted images of bodies, gears, machinery and Vega recalls Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926, reviewed elsewhere eon this site) including interesting edits, zooms and negative footage.  A true triumph of style and substance coming together.


10)  In Liverpool (Directed by Howard Greenhaigh) – Orange and green monochrome footage is cut with some color and anamorphically squeezed footage for the tale of a mediation about human encounters and the emotional connections thereof.  The clip adds religious scenery that works, reminding one of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and maybe a few supernatural thrillers.


11)  99.9F [Degrees] (Directed by Nico Beyer) – Beyer’s other remarkable Video uses more color footage and adds mirror images, a sheet of ice and an almost 1960s twirl slowly spinning as Vega sings about the deep effects of AIDS and prejudice.  Another bold song with remarkable visual accompaniment.


12)  When Heroes Go Down (Directed by Peter Care) – The other director famous for his work with R.E.M. gives a live performance that mixes video picture tube images with other images of technology as the song deals with the good dying young or ending their good work before the world needs them to.


13)  Caramel (Directed by Charles Whittenmeier) – Another terrific song, with a mix of vivid color and caramel-monochrome footage.  The first of two songs and clips from the Nine Objects Of Desire (1996) album, her character also sees some of the great lovers of the cinema screen at a surreal drive-in theater, something we can really appreciate at this site.  As for the song, it is about love, lust and connection in the classiest way.  An alternate version of this clip in the extras has her on the TV and drive-in screen, which is pleasant, but not quite as interesting as this final version.


14)  No Cheap Thrill (Directed by David Cameron) – A live performance is mixed with narrative in a song about love as gambling exchange and the potential banality of both.  The quasi-Gangster in retro-style narrative is exceptionally shot, with fine costume and production design. 


15)  Book & A Cover (Directed by Geoff Moore) – From her U.K. Tried & True hits set, this monochrome clip uses upside down shots often, but in ways no one had used in Music Video yet.  Shot in New York, it does feature The World Trade Center Towers and they look great!  The song has clever fun with the old saying the title suggests.


16)  Last Year’s Troubles (Directed by Tim Vega) – A really live performance by Vega’s late brother is the simplest and in some ways most personal of all the clips here, which is why it is such an appropriate ending to the set.  From the 2003 album Songs In Red & Gray.



That is as good an output as any solo artist we can think of, up there with Madonna, Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Pat Benatar, Bjork, Cyndi Lauper, Sade, Gwen Stefani (in and out of No Doubt) and Annie Lennox (in and out of Eurythmics).  Like those great women, the camera just loves Vega, particularly her face, which is remarkably beautiful, knowing and expressive.  Her combination of talent, substance and presence is becoming increasingly rare in the music business and when all was done, I felt it was only the end of the first act in her career.  We can’t wait for more!


The 1.33 X 1 image varies in quality throughout, with some of the older clips showing their age, but color reproduction is consistent on all of them and there is minor noise or grain at the worst.  The sound is even more impressive.  There is a nice PCM 16Bit/44.1kHz 2.0 Stereo track that can go a few rounds with any of her CDs, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is about as good, but then there is the amazing DTS 5.1 mix that is just stunning.  None of her albums were issued in either of the multi-channel ultra-high-definition formats DVD-Audio or Super Audio CD, so this mix is especially revealing of how extremely well engineered, recorded and produced the music has always been.  The great Mitchell Froom (Split Enz, Crowded House) handled just about all the latter half of the songs and was a great artistic match with Vega, which became very personal.  Until a DVD-Audio or Super Audio CD version of this album comes out, this might be the best sonic representation of her music to date.


Extras include promos for her last three studio albums, the alternate Caramel clip, a personal playlist that allows you to play the videos in any order you’d like, discography, a rarities section that shows a collage of memorabilia and audio commentary by Vega on all her videos.  She is great here, shares all kinds of personal, artistic & professional items and is sometimes hilarious like no one since Pat Benatar did her commentaries with her husband Neil Gerardo on her great Choice Cuts DVD collection.  All around, Retrospective – The Videos Of Suzanne Vega is an exceptional collection that audiophiles, Music Video fans, home theater fans and lovers of great music should consider a must-have DVD.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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