Friday, February 26, 2010

Video Affects - Split Enz: Dirty Creature, 1982

Continuing your host's journey through vividly remembered music with pictures...

I am twelve, or thereabouts, and able to watch Doctor Who, Blake's 7, and pretty much most things I'd care to on the family TV without a censuring pair of eyes from adults. In fact that seems rather a childish thing to admit to given that in less than two tender years my musical tastes will turn to heavy metal, by which time I'll have seen Michael Jackson dance with the undead and turn into a wolf-cat creature. But despite a childhood fascination with myths and legends, pulp Science Fiction and monsters in general my viewing has been sensibly monitored by my parents and there are some areas my developing mind haven't yet ventured into.

Music videos are a pretty new thing - maybe a couple of years old as we know them now, specially-shot, sometimes narrative and in the early 80s style brimming with the latest video effects for added interest (q.v. Doctor Who of the same era). Punk has been and gone shaking up the performance angle of bands - where once it was enough to have musicianship and perhaps a charasmatic front(man) to convey the band image now the music video offers a chance for all those other members to get out from behind their instruments and share the limelight. Or not. Certainly the emphasis now more than ever has been on the visual, the arresting image, the fantastic.

Compared to the young Jackson's transmogrific efforts the following year Dirty Creature is small beer, although locally it does pretty well. The song's extremely catchy and has aged pretty well, driven as it is by co-composer Nigel Griggs' seven-beat rhythm and Noel Crombie's crisp percussion: hi-hats and snare for verses, toms for the chorus with just a touch of crash. There's precious little guitar in this song even though Neil Finn their best player has recently joined them and lent his talents to the composition. Instead it's Eddie Rayner's keyboards and piano that provide the fills, with the odd phaser thrown in. On top of it all is a reliable vocal track from Tim Finn, relating a nervous breakdown episode via the metaphor of treacherous water; a common theme in the song's parent album Time and Tide.

As with Baby It's You the song and video go hand in hand, and to my tweve year old self Dirty Creature is a backyard horror with its stagnant lake, sun-bleached jetty and skeletal drowned forest. Filters render the sky a psychedelic maelstrom and I know that at the end of verse two something that will disturb the bejesus out of me is going to happen. It's not the first time a music video will disturb me (welcome to my nightmares Andy Partridge as a scary New Wave clown in XTC's Making Plans For Nigel) or the last one of the Eighties (Er, Headless Chickens' Slice I'd say*, joined by Fetus Productions' Flicker), but thanks to a watery ninja and Tim Finn's decapitated head my taste of 1980s videos is off to an unforgettable start.

(*to clarify, from 2:35 on and Chris Matthews' rarely-unshaded pupils, although that cleavage at 2:22 is pretty disturbing too)

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