Friday, July 20, 2007

Video Vault: The Cure, Just Like Heaven

Around 1983 or so, Robert Smith must have changed therapists, or found a really effective anti-depressant medication, because after years of pushing the Cure into being yet another third-rate Joy Division clone with bleak fare like Faith and Pornography, he suddenly started writing upbeat, goofy tunes like The Lovecats and The Caterpillar. But these were essentially novelty songs, lithium-filled trial balloons that floated away quickly without pointing out a path for further development.

Soon after, he came up with In Between Days (Without You), a breezy, straight-ahead, mid-tempo rock song. Bob opened it with a typical, and classic, lament, "Yesterday I got so old, I felt like I could die," but instead of mumbling it morosely, he shouted it triumphantly. Or perhaps he had simply been outflanked by the Smiths and decided to call a grinding halt to all the angst-ridden dirges. Anyway, the song was a big hit on what was then called College Radio (sic).

In fact, it was so successful, that a few years later, he basically wrote the whole thing again, this time tweaking the chord sequence and calling it Just Like Heaven. This worked even better. New Order liked it so much that, after years of watching Bob rip them off, they stole it for a track they called All The Way. Just Like Heaven was the biggest of several big hits off of the Cure's shambling double album with the triple name, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, and it became a defining moment in what was then called Alternative Rock (sic).

Lots of people are completely immune to the charms of the Cure, and that's OK. But if you can't dig this song, and particularly the video, well, then I guess there's always Nine Inch Nails or something.

The video shows the new, user-friendly Cure, featuring Bob as a morbid, androgynous Stevie Nicks. By the late 1980s, when this came out, everyone this side of Siouxsie and the Banshees had pretty much given up on all the Goth hair and makeup as a serious fashion statement. Bob responded by growing his hair out to comical proportions, putting on 40 pounds, and throwing on cheap sneakers which he was apparently too fat to reach down and tie. (He doesn't look too bloated in this video because there's some weird vertical stretching going on that elongates all the band members. He would later inflate to a size that would earn him worldwide recognition as the post-punk Elvis.) The effect is playful to the point of being clownish. Whether it was intentional or not, it was pretty smart marketing to attract a legion of teenyboppers who might have been scared away by Skinny Puppy or Nitzer Ebb.

When this song came out, I was working in a nightclub that hosted under-21 dances once or twice a week. I can testify that this song launched a thousand furtive romances among the hipster alterna-kids who patronized (in every sense of the word) the club. Who knows, there may now be a bunch of teenage Robert Smith Somethings running around as a result.

The post-script is that about a year or so later, Bob must've been off his meds again, because he reworked the same basic structure for (at least) the third time, stripping it down to its essential backing track and breaking out the eyeliner and valium and calling it Lovesong. It was their biggest hit to date, one of the standouts on what Kyle Broflovski would later call "the greatest album ever," Disintegration, and a highlight of what was then called Modern Rock (sic).

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