For this post I want to take a look at a creative relationship between a band and a director that is a hugely significant one in the history of the pop video, as well as being a big part of my life when I was a teenager. The Cure were always one of the more interesting and inventive groups of the 80’s and indeed were one of the first ‘alternative’ bands to really crossover in to the mainstream. During their heyday they were an ever-present part of the pop scene in the UK and beyond and a large part of their success was due to the fact that their videos were real events.
They were one of the first British bands to really harness the power of MTV and realised that far from being a distraction or a superfluity the video could genuinely add something to the song when done correctly. Their collaboration with Tim Pope spanned the entirety of their most prominent years and what I want to do today is take a look at three in particular that for me capture perfectly how well an audio/visual collaboration can work when the right creative partnership is formed.
Let’s Go To Bed (1982):
This was the first of the videos to be spawned by this partnership and even though they would go on to do better things together I think it is a perfect example of what Pope brought to table. Despite featuring only one room and two people the visuals never rest, and the director squeezes so much out of such relatively simple elements, not least the clever but striking use of seemingly ordinary props. Of course, all of this is helped by the fact that in Robert Smith he had a frontman to work with who perfectly understood how to perform to a camera, and in all three of these videos Smith’s unique charisma really shines through. In this he plays up to the camera and most importantly seems to be genuinely enjoying himself. A lot of pop videos feature bands looking like they’d rather be anywhere else than shooting a bloody video, but not Bob. He clearly loves it, as you would expect from a man for whom the visual element of his band always really mattered. The hair alone is testament to that! With this video and song The Cure began to move away from their ‘depressing bedsit goth’ period and in to something altogether more playful and fun. This is 1982 and most bands are still wrestling with the whole concept of videos being crucial to what they did, whereas here The Cure showed that they fully grasped the creative possibilities on offer, leaving most of their rivals behind.
One of their signature songs and their biggest hit to date, reaching number 7 in the UK charts, this jazz-inflected feline strut of a track needed a suitably styled video to complement it. Pope really came up with the goods providing a deceptively simple film full of arresting moments, making great creative use of lighting and shadows (and cats, of course!) to present something that fully complements and enhances the song without ever getting in the way of it. The feline-strut of that famous bassline drives the rhythm of the video as it does the song, and once again Pope never allows the eye to settle on one image for too long, keeping the viewer constantly entertained and enthralled. Once again, Smith is the real star and those eyes – wide, engaging and lined with black – seem to fill the screen at times. More than anything, this is just great fun and the energy of the song and the video work in perfect unison. By now The Cure were becoming a consummate pop act, and with this song more than any up to this point they placed themselves at the forefront of the music scene in the UK. Put simply, no-one else looked or sounded quite like them.
Ok, so fast forward a few years to the other end of the 80’s, and by now The Cure were beginning to make inroads in to the US market and becoming a truly globally famous act. With their ‘Disintegration’ album, considered by many (including myself) to be their finest work, they had really come of age. At this point they were still a great pop band, but had also fully harnessed their gothic side, making records that contained plenty of light and shade, usually at the same time. Lullaby – a compellingly atmospheric song about childhood nightmares and the overactive power of a young imagination – was maybe their finest single to date, and for it Pope provided the perfect visual foil, artfully capturing the requisite sense of creeping claustrophobia and nocturnal dread. By this time every new Cure video was an eagerly anticipated event, and I can remember clearly seeing this on Top Of The Pops for the first time and being wowed by how complete a package the audio and visual were. When Smith sings ‘the spiderman is having you for dinner tonight’ you can almost believe that he will do just that! By the time he sings ‘and I feel like I’m being eaten by a thousand million shivering furry holes’ you are completely immersed in the sense of paranoia and fright being created. And again, as with all three of these videos, there isn’t any need to resort to lazy technical gimmicks or post-production effects. It is all achieved through great camera work, wonderful use of lighting, props and scenery and Smith’s enchanting central performance.
We here at MVD like to poke fun at the pop video, as our regular readers will know, and the 1980’s was a period when plenty of ludicrous, poorly conceived and laughable promos were made. Quite simply, a lot of bands just didn’t grasp how powerful a tool the video could be when done in the right way. This was an age where the form was still in its infancy, and when MTV was still something more people talked about than actually watched. However, for me The Cure were one of two British bands (the other being Duran Duran – expect a post on their videos sometime soon) who more than most fully understood just how visual pop music was becoming in the MTV age, and how if you had great songs to begin with (they were, besides anything else, a fantastic band) then putting some time and consideration in to the visual presentation meant you could create something of genuine artistic worth, as opposed to a forgettable ‘band performance’ type promo.
These videos, and the others from this period of the band’s history, are stylish, striking and beautifully crafted. More than anything else they are great fun, and stand up today as high watermarks in the history of the video through the sheer power of their individuality. A huge creative force in music at the time, The Cure often seem to be unfairly overlooked when people reappraise the 80’s these days. It’s a shame, because musically and visually they were often streets ahead of the competition. Watching them again will hopefully remind you (if you needed reminding) of just what a vital and original band they really were. And also, just how great Robert Smith’s hair was…