Break Yo’ TV: The Cardigans and Tom Jones – “Burning Down the House”

placeholder image

    Tom Jones. The Cardigans. Creepy, metallic dancing ladies. The Talking Heads.

    As the song goes, one of these things is not like the other things (one of these things just doesn’t belong).  If you guessed The Cardigans, try again. Give up? The Talking Heads aren’t completely lame! That’s the answer. But, that didn’t keep Jones and the adorable Swedish popsters from combining these ideas into the  most depressing thing you’ll see today (probably).

    To see how we got to this horrible place, let’s first take a look at Mr. Jones. The Welsh singer, best known for the cheesy, yet awkwardly cute, “It’s Not Unusual”, the verging on creepy “What’s New, Pussycat?” (both released in 1965, when Jones was 25) and the undoubtedly creepy “Sex Bomb”. This seems like a semi-logical progression. Cutesy, a little weird, full blown creep. But, to make matters worse, “Sex Bomb” wasn’t released until 1999, revealing Jones a larger, oranger, beard-ier 59-year-old.

    The other half of the musical equation here is Jönköping’s The Cardigans. Finding immediate success in their home-nation (first records Emmerdale and Life went gold) was easy. It took the inclusion of the single “Lovefool” on the Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack to get them international cred, but, the thing is as ubiquitous and ear-wormy as it gets (if the “Love me, love me, say that you love me” chorus isn’t stuck in your head yet, you may not have ears).


    Now, for the middle ground: after years of obscurity, Jones aimed his comeback for September 16, 1999, with the release of Reload, an album full of covers (featuring celebrity backing bands) with a few new tunes sprinkled in. Take, for instance, the Three Dog Night song “Mama Told Me Not To Come” here performed with Stereophonics, or the late 60’s gem “Little Green Bag” backed by Barenaked Ladies. But the real head-smashing-against-the-wall masterpiece is David Byrne’s excellent “Burning Down the House”.

    And then, my friends, they decided to make a music video. It opens with three disparate rooms. The first, black with white +s on every imaginable surface, filled with the aforementioned silver ladies, contorting themselves in weird formations. Next, the room’s color scheme is reversed, but without anyone there. And the so-obviously-Swedish drummer sits at his kit, the room now orange.

    Various permutations of orange, white and black rooms spin around, replacing each other, as Jones, Cardigans vocalist Nina Persson and the robo-ladies funk-dance and the camera spins. It’s almost impossible to tell which of the subjects is most lifeless. Extreme closeup shots of Tom Jones giant, orange face abound. The robots’ moves aren’t even very interesting; there are some weird spins and kicks, to be sure, but what the hell are they doing?


    The song is absolutely butchered, to boot. The clanging, jumpy instrumentation of the original is replaced with a modicum of ultra-smooth, sleazy sounds. Where once there was David Byrne’s paranoiac yelp now is Tom Jones staring directly at the camera, doing his best croon, smirking throughout the entire video. And Persson’s odd Nordic intonations don’t quite fit the bill, either.

    At times, The Cardigans and Jones are shown in their own separate monochromatic rooms, facing each other directly, Jones with a harem of lady-robot protectors, seemingly in an eternal showdown for the title of worst version of “Burning Down the House”. Then, in other cuts, the two are together, singing harmoniously, winking at each other. It’s pure train wreck, nothing more, nothing less; certainly painful enough for one viewing, maybe two. Definitely not three.

    Okay, maybe three.