Michael Nesmith - Pacific Arts (CD/DVD; Edsel; EDSX 3004)
reviewed by Michael Macomber
During his stint in the Monkees, Michael Nesmith spent a lot of time fighting the good fight for creative control. After leaving the manufactured pop group, he proceeded to demonstrate just how creative he could be, once he had control. Forming his own media company, Pacific Arts, in the 1970s, he released albums, produced films and television, pioneered the concept of music video as an art form, and even sold a pilot to Time Warner that was the basis for the development of MTV. The Edsel label’s new Nesmith CD/DVD compilation, Pacific Arts, features some of the company’s finest output.
The DVD alone is worth the price. All five clips are from Nesmith’s Grammy-winning long form video Elephant Parts. Although the technical aspects of these clips are at times primitive, almost quaint, the visual style is incredibly arresting. Nesmith paints some unforgettable pictures, mixing the surreal and the sublime, the telling and the utterly silly. “Cruisin’” is awash in bright California sunshine, but behind the toothy smiles and the roller skating disco girls, there is a dark, sardonic wit. The retro doo wop pastiche “Magic” is a delightful blend of ‘50s soda shop kitsch and classic cinema references. “Tonite” is a hand-wringing indictment of his years as a Monkee, when he was “living inside of a little glass room, living inside of the tube.” The imagery and the lyrics on this one get progressively freaky and not a little disturbing. The imagery accompanying “Light,” on the other hand, is appropriately beautiful. The visuals sway with the music, building to a marvelous crescendo. The first video Nesmith ever made, “Rio,” also boasts the most hilarious gag in the set, as Nesmith struggles desperately to retrieve his lost shoe on the dance floor.
The CD is an excellent review of Nesmith’s work during the 1970s and ‘80s. Tracks 12 through 17 comprise the basis for Videoranch, a movie musical that was conceived by Nesmith in the ‘80s, but sadly, was never made. Inspired by the bizarre Gene Autry western/sci-fi serial, The Phantom Empire, Videoranch stands as yet another example of Nesmith’s strikingly original artistic vision. The songs are wonderfully weird. “Total Control” is a catchy, smiling declaration of megalomania, as Nesmith gleefully outlines his desire to rule the world with an iron fist. “Formosa Diner” is utterly melodramatic, laden with heavy guitar and foreboding lyrics about wonton and eggrolls. “Tahiti Condo” is a goofy, growling salute to glorious excess, celebrating the joy of owning “five million Tahiti condo(s)” and “six trillion Jacuzzi pools.”
Tracks from the albums Tropical Campfires (1992), The Newer Stuff (1989), From A Radio Engine To A Photon Wing (1977), and The Prison (1974) round out the collection. “Life, The Unsuspecting Captive,” from the high concept book and record set The Prison, is particularly fascinating. Like much of Nesmith’s work, it is operating on a philosophical level that is far beyond most pop music. Musically stunning, lyrically challenging, it speaks again to the great things that can be achieved when a true artist is allowed absolute control of his art.