Goths! Black. Patchouli oil. Hair crimpers. More black. Dry ice. Being miserable. Yet more black. Ah, it was fun being a goth.
Echo and the Bunnymen – The Killing Moon
The Cure – Close to Me
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Cities in Dust
I was a teenage goth, you know. Well, more like a half-goth. A demi-goth. A part-time goth. I was far too much into The Fall, Cabaret Voltaire and New Order to ever really go down the road of become a full Balaam and the Angel fan – but there was a definite gothic tendency in my mid-80’s listening. Yes, I had a Bauhaus record. And Sisters of Mercy too. More than one, in fact.
Anyway, this bit of the Pitchfork 500 veers from the jangly alt-rock, the goodtime rock, the hardcore-gone-catchy of the last bunch of songs. Whilst the US indie scene vied for a combination of reality and harping back to a mystical past, UK music veered off into strange new places.
First off, Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon”. 25-odd years after first hearing this, I still find it inestimably creepy. There’s a weird oppressive atmosphere over the whole thing, from Ian McCulloch’s just on the edge of hysteria singing to Will Sargeant’s Television-on-bad-acid guitar. It’s also, after 25-odd years, utterly fantastic.
“The Killing Moon” is a desperate wail of a song, underpinned by a sharp sense of drama and a cracking tune. And there’s not many pop songs that go on about the battle between fate and free will, though I’m hoping that The Saturdays will soon release a song about Cartesian duality to even up the mix a bit. Goes on for about a minute too long though, no matter what it says in the book.
Next up, it’s The Cure with “Close to Me”. Again, like Echo, there’s an odd atmosphere, but this time it’s more like the warm fug of a student bedsit with the windows shut against the cold, gas fire on full. The video is also one of the best suited to the song in history:
Isn’t that just great?
Robert Smith always had a way of writing a catchy pop tune which harboured dark, nasty thoughts underneath, and this is no exception. “I’ve waited hours for this/I’ve made myself so sick” isn’t exactly an ideal opening couplet for a sweet and gentle love song really, is it? Whilst I find The Cure’s records more than faintly embarrassing in the cold light of not being a teenager, there’s no denying this song’s haunting catchiness.
Finally, along comes Siouxsie Sioux wailing along with her Banshees. You know what, I don’t think I’ve willingly chosen to listen to a Banshees song for about 20 years. But you know what else? I really quite like “Cities In Dust”. I’d forgotten how modern and shiny the mid-80’s Banshees sounded (you can see exactly where Garbage got all their ideas from), and how striking a singer Siouxsie was.
There aren’t many rocks songs about the destruction of Pompeii in AD79, you know. Being inspired by a visit there, and no doubt with the fear of imminent nuclear destruction1 in the back of her mind, Siouxsie sings portentously about “Hot and burning in your nostrils/
Pouring down your gaping mouth”
Ok, so the video hasn’t aged quite as well as The Cure’s, but few videos from the early-80’s have, frankly. Still, Siouxsie is on imperious form and the video doesn’t leave you in any doubt about the subject matter. Which is nice.
So there we go, three songs from the UK Goth Explosion. Well, a bunch of black-clad miserablists couldn’t ever really cause an explosion, and Echo and the Bunnymen aren’t exactly goths, but you know what I mean. For songs that are, on the surface, really a bit miserable, I’ve rather enjoyed listening to all of them again. I wasn’t expecting that, I can tell you.
Back over the Atlantic for the next Pitchfork, to see what’s been happening in the strange and exciting world of hip-hop and rap.
1 You really had to be there, you know. The early ’80’s were great fun for nuclear paranoia. Honestly, you kids these days with your dirty bombs and bio-weapons; we had 10,000 Russian warheads pointing in our general direction, and an ex-B movie actor in the White House. Much more fearsome, frankly.
The whole Pitchfork 500 series of articles can be found here.