The recent deluge of lip-sync videos hasn't lessened the wow-factor upon seeing the technique used really well. Here we have two professionally made big-time productions that achieve nearly flawless illusions, and give the die-hard music nerd a nice novelty treat (if you know where every shot in the Dylan video comes from I'm looking right at you). But is there more to these visuals than showing off simply awesome editing skills? Maybe...
The most obvious factor that separates the U2 vid from the Dylan one is the use of a wider scope of musical history in the former. I've heard critics comment on the self-congratulatory nature of "Windows in the Skies" in that it reeks of U2 boasting "music's greatest acts are singing our song, we're cool!" Well one expects nothing less from Bono Vox, but let's be fair here, Dylan's video is just as masturbatory in a "I've been great for a really long time" kind of way. But whether or not the respective artists came up with these treatments, they still exist as separate works of art under the guidance of a director. Thus they deserve to be examined independent from the egos of the musicians involved.
"Thunder on the Mountain" is a fairly brilliant song, and features some of Dylan's most depressing lyrics on the modern world yet. It's also filled with wit and a lighthearted smirk, with some truly clever couplets threatening to overshadow the gloom factor. Yet while the music video reveals many sides of Dylan, it doesn't uncover much about the song. Though the majority of the lyrics are obscure and hard to relate, like any Dylan song one can at least attempt an interpretation.
One might argue that in this context the song becomes a reflection on Dylan's entire career, and certainly the opening lines can attest to this possibility, "Thunder on the mountain, and there's fires on the moon/A ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon" could be from any era in the songwriter's long career. But in focusing on the historical picture of Dylan the director partially negates the insight of this song, pulled from 2006's Modern Times, which comments directly on our current state of affairs (even making an Alicia Keys reference). So while it may be a fanboy's wet dream of a video, it lacks any clear assertive point - which clearly isn't what the career of the greatest songwriter is about.
The U2 video, on the other hand, has something definitive to say while using the song as support and amplification for it's message. It's also one hell of a fun video to watch with it's inclusion of both raucous performing and groovy dancing. Central is this concept of performance, which provides the link between the power of the music and the "people" who might be moved by it.
The spreading red veins that take root in the instruments and bodies of the musicians are the vibes of "love" reaching out to the world. In the song Bono's line, "Can't you see what our love has done" takes on both painful and positive connotations. Here director Koepke is exclusively searching for the good that can emerge from music; the undeniable power of ecstatic self-expression. It's important that these are mostly live performances, because it is in the immediacy of the playing, singing and dancing that we find the most joy. We see ourselves in those moments, and we understand something true about the feeling behind the music.
U2 appear at the end of the video as fans themselves, faces in the crowd just out to enjoy the sounds. While one doubts that The Edge gets a chance to see concerts uninhibited very often, the scenes are included to remind one of the connectivity of music through time. Every artist, no matter how large, is also a fan of music him or herself. We can't help but be inspired by others, and that final image of budding flowers includes Sinatra and Jay-Z as much as me or you. Music is truly an infectious thing, and for all their posing one can't deny the effect that artists like Dylan and U2 can truly have on the world. It's for celebrating our collective love of music that "Windows in the Skies" gets a rousing ovation.
Download: My favorite Dylan song (right now) - "Love Minus Zero/No Limit"