There is perhaps no better indicator of a television show's massive cross-cultural appeal than when a member of the cast begins a recording career. Used to be that any series that had any impact on the lucrative youth demographic thrust one of their more "idol"-istic actors in front of a microphone and required that he or she sing. Didn't matter if the music was a nutty novelty or a cracked cover of a classic; all that was important was that a 45 was in the stores in time for sweeps. This explains the strange circumstances of Paul Peterson of The Donna Reed Show crooning a saccharine song about his dad or Johnny Crawford's tone-deaf treats songs so shabby that The Rifleman would be want to turn the title weapon on himself. A more recent example of monstrosity would be a tie, between the Tubbs and Crockett crap of all the Miami Vice machines musical nightmares and "Bruno", Bruce Willis Blues-based alter ego, who attempted to capitalize on Moonlighting's success by releasing an LP of bad cover versions. But it was part of the program parameters. John Travolta had Welcome Back, Kotter and "Let Her In". David Soul had Starsky and Hutch and "Don't Give Up on Us". But frankly, there is no possible way of explaining Rex Smith and "You Take My Breath Away".
So when it was announced that Kelly Osbourne, that husky Goth gal kewpie doll with the really bad attitude was going to pursue a music career, based on nothing other than her appearance on the popular MTV reality series named after her family, there wasn't much media surprise. After all, Kelly was only seen as following in her father's footsteps. Dad, of course, is the heavy metal legend Ozzy Osbourne, notoriously non-nitpicky food sampler and castrati with cajones frontman for seminal 70s badasses Black Sabbath. Over the course of decades, this music biz brand name made a massive career, and multi-millions, out of a genuinely enigmatic talent, matched with some very shrewd commerce acumen (thanks to manager/wife, the shrew Sharon). The one time video music channel series success was just further fudgy icing on an already lucrative cake for the Osbourne clan. But somehow, even with all the hackneyed history behind her, Kelly's cry for commercial pop acceptance has been seen as a case of callous coat tailing. An obvious attempt to rehabilitate her fading fame, Kelly Osbourne Live in London is a DVD showcase of this spitfire's supposed stage presence. Perhaps she should take the advice of the title of her debut CD and just "Shut Up".
Recorded at the Electric Ballroom in London during a brief overseas tour in 2003, this 55-minute concert features Kelly Osbourne and her backing band running through nearly every track on her 2002 debut album, as well as two additional covers the hit single version of Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach" and a rather weird take on Cory Hart's "Sunglasses at Night". Osbourne's act consists of singing (?) songs and blathering idiotically to the audience. That's it. There is also some bonus footage, consisting of a pointless 15-minute excursion into sound check land and a 16-minute Q&A that defines the word "vacuous". And as if to add insult to injury, Kelly and her famous benefactor Pappy sing a saggy duet of the old Sabbath song "Changes". Overall, this souvenir of salvage from Sanctuary Records seems less like a memento from a promising up and coming talent and more like a last ditch effort to grab some minor victory out of a 15-minutes of celebrity defeat.
Frankly, is there a more unnecessary music career than that of Kelly Osbourne? It's bad enough that, for the last few years, she's soiled small screens all over the world with her whinny spoiled-skankiness as the lead leech of Ozzy's legacy on The Osbournes. Along with her brother, the human joke Jack and the masterminding matriarch to materialism, momma Sharon, the TV show spawned from this insane family's home version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless has only one lasting legacy: Ozzy Osbourne is the most put-upon man in the history of the world. Here is someone who has basically hollowed himself out via perverting the rock and roll lifestyle in a manner that only Keith Richards could claim superiority over (and Mr. Rolling Stone has had blood changes, for cripes sake). And yet, thanks to the pointless spending and unparalleled greed of his kin, the Oz still has to sell his soul to the bottom line Beelzebub, endlessly touring and promoting himself in an attempt to keep his bank account from keeling over. As he stumbles from show to show, Ozzy is still a walking icon, a symbol of early 70s heavy metal that never seems to change. Onstage, he has that zombie on mescaline madness to his face, a prince of darkness delirium perfectly poured into a mere cipher of a chap. But once he gets home and tries to relax, he has to put up with the pandemonium of unwanted house guests, blatant disrespect for his tireless work ethic, and a family who claims love while simultaneously taking their overworked old man for granted. True, we only witnessed mere micro-moments of this family's life on the TV showcase, but if small sequences indicate overall intentions, the Osbournes are one ungrateful group.
That's why the big push to turn Kelly into a pop star albeit a post-punk poseur type reeks of unrealistic expectations. This is not to say that Kelly is talentless she could be the second coming of Holly Beth Vincent for all anyone knows. But her inner skill whatever it may be has been handed over to a marketing machine, tapping into the parental wallets of the pre- and tween world, hoping these young 'ens will cast aside their American Idol's and accept Kelly as their new angry young role model. She is so new to the musical map that to toss her in among the Avril Lavigne's and Evanescence's (which fits her quite nicely, with their own shunted, stunted skills, mind you) is unfair. Maybe Kelly is the next Enya, ready to embrace her inner Earth mother and shower the planet with plaintive new age music. Maybe she is another Joni Mitchell, armed with a canon of well-crafted calls to feminist independence. Whatever her real ability, it is masked in a flavor of the moment mentality that suggests striking while the iron is warming up, to Hell if it ever gets hot. Add the ancillary information about how she never really wanted to be a star, how her sister Aimee (who wisely avoided the staining spotlight of the series to pursue her own music career ideals) inspired her cover version choice and what you start to understand is that Kelly really has no business behind a microphone not yet at least. And Kelly Osbourne Live in London adds further fuel to that futility fire.
This concert is the law of diminishing returns in a live stage performance patina. When she takes the stage, Kelly is clad in a tight leather coat and a 'couldn't give a f**k' attitude. She rears back, grabs her vocalizations and belts out the basic tunes with a true sense of purpose. But as the set progresses and the singing gets more and more off-key (about when she reaches that ocular oddity from the 80s), she has to resort to showboating and ballyhoo, anything to drum up interest in her fading entertainment skills. By the time "Papa Don't Preach" arrives, Kelly is crooning in a key so foreign to most music lovers that researchers have been called in to trace its origins, all the way back to the diatonic scales of the ancient Greeks if necessary. For a supposed rock and roller, Kelly has very little wind and even less true stage presence. She is constantly out of breath and tired on stage, simply going through the motions whenever she can build up the minimal strength to start the process. The musicians in her band are perfectly professional and perfunctory, capturing the fire of three-chord anthems without any of the spark or synergy required to gel into a great act of audio defiance. This is "nice kids" punk, so far away from The Damned, or even The Go-Gos for that matter, that it would take the gob from a Brixton skinhead several light years to reach the stage. In essence, Kelly Osbourne Live in London is like watching a standard sitcom take on a rock concert (not counting the constant stream of expletives pouring from poor Kelly's maw): it captures the concept of punk and hard rock completely, but doesn't differentiate itself enough from the clichιs and formulas inherent in said ideal.
The sad thing is that no one in the audience seems to care. They are there to bask in the glow of a star, a television image made flesh (and flailing and atonally flat) before them. They sing along and smile with their entertainment substitute, and hope that they may witness something magical - or at least out of the ordinary. And when Kelly pulls out all the stops and drags out her Mom onstage for an intro to the song "More Than Life Itself", the crowd literally goes wild, witnessing another of their ironic icons sashaying in front of their very accepting eyes. Kelly is not the first performer to trade on her multi-media persona to catapult a music career. David Cassidy took The Partridge Family's Tiger Beat bonanza and rode it to a near 35 year run in the business. Long before The Matrix catapulted him into F-You money territory, Keanu Reeves tried to make Dogstar his secondary muse. Even that big assed atrocity J-Lo went from TV to movies to music with a manipulation matching no one other than her Mediterranean matron mate, Madonna. But in Kelly's case, the transition from musician's daughter into musician stinks of that standard psychological circumstance in which a parent, famous for one thing, automatically assumes said career infamy on their children's future. So just like Ozzy fans have been programmed to respond, long after the end of his artistic apex, a new legion of loyals is being positioned to pump up little Kelly. And as long as they can tolerate it, who really cares?
So in essence, there is nothing really "wrong" with this concert DVD. It preaches to its converted crowds and gives you Osbourne by the barrel full. Those people who feel empowered by Kelly's pissed off antics or enjoy her snubbing of the semblances of "normalcy" will find nothing but joy within the Amray case. But this is nothing more than a scrapbook entry in a life of over-privilege, no better or worse than a rich suburban couple giving their child a Hummer or a trip to the plastic surgeon's for graduation. Kelly Osbourne may be an incredible talent, and here's hoping she finds her true calling one day. But the sour Sioxsie and the Banshees bullspit she tries on Live in London just won't fly. She's too pedestrian to be a bad girl and too mollycoddled to call for anarchy. Until she becomes her own person, her legacy will always be that of the brat, the indulged child who always got everything she ever wanted...including a pseudo singing career.
Presented in an anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen transfer, Kelly Osbourne Live in London suffers from some of the worst video flaring and bleeding ever committed to DVD. Almost every color leaves a comet trail behind as the camera moves and the greens and reds radiate with irritating halos even when the image is still. This critic played the DVD on four different TVs, from high quality big screens to inexpensive portables and the picture still shimmered on ice. Other than the obvious obstructions, the picture is actually fairly detailed and vibrant, with looks of inherent energy. The directing may be too MTV-ish, but it does capture the concert well.
The best thing about Kelly Osbourne Live in London is the aural elements. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is magnificent, keeping the crooning casualties that Kelly constantly creates buried deep in a din of proto-pop punk. The bass is solid and shifts among the channels while the buzzsaw guitars have added emphasis. With another singer of substantial skill, the mediocre melodies and fake ferocity would actually be exceptional. But when Kelly's croon collapses near the end, Dolby Digital audio also exposes it's own Achilles Heal: it is so detailed that it can't cover up off-key cacophonies.
The additional elements here raise a couple of questions regarding their inclusion. If Kelly and her band are so sharp, why force us to listen to their sloppy, redundant and tedious sound check? Do we really need to hear them maneuver through the set list again, especially after we heard the full tilt boogie version a few moments before? This feature offers nothing in the way of insight or interest. Same goes for the superfluous puff piece of supposed rock reporting that passes for an interview here. Journalist (?) Jodie Thompson lobs so many softballs at Kelly that she should be a pitcher for the London Lady Swingers. Kelly gets to try and sell herself as an artist bent on spreading her talent to the world as she waxes prosaic about fame, the TV show and the tribulations of being a performer. In reality, she spends most of the time looking off into space with a vacant, 'couldn't care less' look plastered upon her smug mug, using her rote motor skill memory to turn and respond when she senses a lull in the conversation. But perhaps the saddest example of offspring indulgence is the depressing music video for "Changes". Ozzy, looking ever the emblem of evil, does his best Sabbath shriek as Kelly perfects her depressed glam poses on this somber cover song. Together, they are a dichotomy of styles professional vs. pampered, the school of hard knocks vs. the still stuck in her mouth silver spoon syndrome. It caps off this excursion into excuses with the right amount of palpable desperation.
Maybe this critic has Kelly Osbourne Live in London all wrong. Maybe this is not a last parched attempt to grasp some face-saving sympathy before the Wells Fargo wagon of celebrity passes poor Miss Osbourne by. Perhaps this is a re-birth, an attempt through touring (or at least, the visual representation of touring) to rehabilitate a shaky start tailored to a totally terrible idea. But there are better ways of making a name for yourself in the business than merely being a publicity afterthought or a really exceptional birthday gift. Being a performer is all about being yourself, but Kelly Osbourne shows none of this. She's manufactured in the worst of the old corporate rock mannerisms. Out of the whole Osbourne clan, only her father has any manner of individuality. Any other relative that wishes to make it on their own in the music - or any other - business needs to do just that: they should junk the TV show, move out of the mansion, get together a group of non-studio professionals with a passion for playing and spend a few years honing the Hades out of their chops. Then, when Dad is finally resolved to his declining years and the spotlight is now just a jaundiced memory, its time to step out in front of the barroom crowds and play your heart out. Sell the public on your own licks, not your lineage. Make them appreciate you for who you want to be, not who you once were. The end result may not be baskets full of Benjamins or the ability to indulge your every whim, but at least you will have two things that are sadly missing from Kelly Osbourne Live in London: integrity and true talent. For fans of whatever it is Kelly Osbourne is supposed to represent, you will be perfectly pleased with this DVD. But don't mistake this as some manner of musical statement. It's just a spoiled rich kid living out her rock and roll fantasy for the whole world to see.
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