Video Therapy

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Last week, Glen Campbell released his last-ever song, 'I'm Not Gonna Miss You', accompanied by his final video. The record itself is sorely poignant - its lyrics chronicle the fall-out from his Alzheimer's Disease (“I'm still here / but yet I'm gone”), but it is devastating when teamed with the accompanying clip of family home-movies, historic live footage and Campbell's crumpled face singing the words.

Since the medium of music video came into its own as an art form in the 1980s - as a means, of course, of selling more records and gaining increased television exposure - there have been many such instances of audio-visual promo clips enhancing our enjoyment, or even understanding, of a song.

Music videos can do this in a myriad of ways: they can shed new light on an artist or work; they can transform (or reinforce) our perception of a record's narrative; they can capture the dynamic and energy of the live arena; their imagery can invoke something akin to synaesthesia - conveying a visual representation of what we hear (or indeed, influencing how we listen with visual cues). They can get pretty existential, too, by expressing the vagaries of life, the human condition and mortality, via mini-film and song.

The Existential Video

Campbell is not the first to harness the music video as conduit for the latter; to spotlight his mortal decline on-camera as a means to escalate the emotional impact and aural resonance of a record. It's a popular device in country music promos, but the ultimate example remains this stunning, heartbreaking clip for Johnny Cash's 'Hurt'.

If the video for 'Hurt' serves an audio-visual epitaph, thus heightening Cash's mournful spin on a song originally recorded by Nine Inch Nails, then Sinead O'Connor's take on a work by Prince revels not in death but in the pain of life and love - specifically, heartbreak and romantic abandonment - and the intimate video follows suit. It expects us not to breathe throughout its audio-visual close-up; only to listen hard, and hang on every word. It is of course 'Nothing Compares 2 U', and much of the record's commercial success has been attributed to the video's emotional sucker-punch, and the impact it had on our collective, and individual, responses to the song.

The Abstract Video

Bjork's 'Pagan Poetry' is a rather less head-on, but no less intimate, exploration of the human condition - of love and sexuality - and its video is by turns abstract, explicit and enlightening. Its animations of music and evocations of sex (and vice versa) are intimately connected - they play out like anatomical sound-waves - and its naked imagery heightens our sensory experience of an already vivid record.

The Unrelated Video

Of course, a music video can bear little or no thematic relation to the song it portrays and still have a formidable impact on the way we hear it, as evidenced by a classic video by Depeche Mode. Anton Corbijn has directed formative promos for the likes of U2, Nirvana and Arcade Fire, but his long-standing creative relationship with Depeche Mode has engendered some of his most interesting - and expressive - work. At the darker end of this visual collaboration are shadowy, brooding clips for the likes of 'Personal Jesus' and 'Never Let Me Down Again', but perhaps his best-known (and best-loved) work is the video for 1990's 'Enjoy The Silence'.

It does not follow, or attempt to deconstruct, the lyrical narrative of the song, but rather frames an idea in the chorus and places it in a world of its own: one in which singer Dave Gahan is dressed as a king - a man presumably with everything, surveying all atop his kingdom - and a man, it transpires, who wants only one thing: a quiet seat on his deckchair.

The video was inspired in part by the philosophical children's book The Little Prince, and clearly its ability to enhance the sense of melancholy isolation at the heart of the song struck a chord with Corbijn: he revisited the restless king and his deckchair, paid homage to 'Enjoy The Silence', in his clip for Coldplay's 'Viva La Vida'. It doesn't resonate, or impact on the music, to the same degree the second time round - but then, it would be extremely tough to top 'Enjoy The Silence'...

Corbijn's Depeche Mode / Coldplay tribute is far from the only example of popular music video homages. One of the best-known, and effective, examples is the promo for The Verve's 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' which takes its urban sidewalk swagger (and you might argue, its title) from Massive Attack's sonically and visually trailblazing breakthrough hit, 'Unfinished Sympathy'.

That video, which pictured Massive Attack vocalist Shara Nelson walking down an LA street, unaware and uncaring of her surroundings, offered a fairly accurate portrayal of the blind-siding impact the song had on many of us who heard it and, as such, it further compounded the record's sense of epic, sweeping drama.

The Song-enhancing Video

Massive Attack were kings of the song-enhancing video, and never more so than on the truly exceptional, warmly abstract video for 'Teardrop', which reflects, and intensifies the record's womb-like fug; our nigh-umbilical connection with its melodies and textures; the dream-like, otherworldly state we're lulled into by Liz Fraser's lullaby vocals. Even the colours sound like the song (and vice versa): they are all muted, yet vital, shades of lifeblood.

And then there are those videos which dramatise a song's lyrics verbatim; that re-enact its every character, scene and action. This has the effect of enlightening us in terms of themes and poetic content - and indeed of a song's dynamics: its crescendos, tension, rhythms, silence - and one of the greatest, most vivid examples is the video for Kate Bush's weird-science epic 'Cloudbusting', whose theatrical video, starring Bush and Donald Sutherland, says it all...

The Really Bad Video

Given there are so many ways in which a visual clip can enhance a song, the question should perhaps be not what makes a good music video, as what - or indeed, who - makes a bad one?

And the answer to that is Dire Straits.

Which is ironic, given that their clip for 'Money For Nothing', was fairly ground-breaking, and both lampooned and epitomized MTV culture in the 1980s. That video was pioneering in its time - it featured early computer animation - and that would have been well and fine, if they hadn't also made one of history's worst music videos, thanks to 'Romeo and Juliet'.

t's a farcical portrayal of a fragile love song; a borderline ludicrous, sexually obnoxious 80s fashion abomination that undermines every sensitive word, and guitar chime, and chord. It's almost genius, it's so bad. You can only hope they were having a laugh.

And if they weren't?

Well, take a look...

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