MTV Unplugged (Viacom New Media) is beautiful in theory – the idea of making rockers go acoustic so you can really hear (and see) what they’re playing is undeniably appealing. In practice, however, ugly reality often sets in. You find yourself saying, “I never realized how really weak Lenny Kravitz’s voice is,” or “Paul McCartney doesn’t look this old if the camera isn’t creeping up his nose, does he?.”
The best moments of the TV series come when bands that would never be considered talented use the format to prove otherwise. Who would have guessed that Great White could perform “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” with such acumen and finesse? Unfortunately, these moments of epiphany are few and far between, and the rest of the TV series suffered from excessive hype and consistently poor judgment. When Kurt Cobain put everything he had into “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”, a month before committing suicide, the result was better than anything Nirvana had ever done – and MTV Unplugged rolled the credits over it. The CD-ROM displays a similar absence of common sense. If there’s only space for three full-length songs, what’s the point of the disc? Many of the more interesting moments captured over the years are relegated to the 70+ “Artists” section; you can imagine how in-depth they are. Behind-the-scenes tours and audio bites from the producer are interesting, but skimpy. Everything on the disc has been compromised for the sake of quantity. Text blurbs about artists suffer from a deifying tone (are Tesla really “seminal rockers?”) that has very little to do with MTV’s smarmy, rebellious philosophy. But then, Unplugged has always fallen outside of the regular MTV world view; it caters to the responsible member of the workforce in us all. The CD-ROM ends up being as troubled as the series, but with even fewer flashes of inspiration. On television, the forum is refreshingly intimate, which lets you excuse a lot when you’re watching a half-hour episode. In five second digital clips, however, the intimacy fails to come through and, ultimately, that’s all MTV Unplugged has going for it.