Wednesday, October 14, 2009

There's no love inside the Icehouse...

Mid-Week Music - Icehouse, "Icehouse"
Video directed by Russell Mulcahy

When MTV signed on the airwaves in August of 1981, the M stood for Music (it sure as hell doesn't anymore), but for those who were in the know, it might just as well have stood for Mulcahy - as in Russell Mulcahy, the Aussie video director who did more to shape the look and feel of the new medium than anyone else in those pre-Michael Jackson days. Confronted with miniscule budgets for shoots that were widely viewed as a novelty or an indulgence, Mulcahy concentrated on mood over money, achieving some arresting effects with simple lighting, improvised settings and slow motion. His was the very first video the channel aired ('Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles, but you knew that, right?), and it would not be unusual to have up to half of the videos played during an hour bear his imprint. No one did more to create the concept of "video as dream," or, more frequently, nightmare, as his penchant for dark and disturbing imagery frequently placed him at loggerheads with record labels.

Bands, however, loved him, though they were often confused by his strange requests and bizarre set-ups. Once they saw the finished product, all became clear. (I remember Metal artists at the time complaining that they had to watch Duran Duran videos; Mulcahy's visions were simply too unique and compelling to ignore.) Small wonder that his feature film directorial debut was a horror film - 1984's Razorback - and he went on to direct episode's of HBO's Tales from the Crypt, as well as such feature films as The Shadow, The Real McCoy and, of course, the beloved Highlander.

The Australian ba
nd Icehouse started off with the moniker Flowers, but underwent a name change when label Chrysalis picked them up and intended to break them in America. That took moat of the decade to accomplish, but at the cost of their atmospheric New Wave sound, replete with synth washes and angular, jagged rhythms. The song "Icehouse" still finds them with all feet firmly planted in a Bowie-esque groove; lead singer Iva Davies' vocal mannerisms rendered him virtually indistinguishable from the Thin White Duke by the time of such mid 80s singles as "No Promises." However, compare this song to their Top Ten single "Crazy," and you'll understand why the band had to endure accusations of selling out.

"Icehouse" was one of the first 200 videos that MTV owned at the time of their launch, and it got played at least once every five hours or so. We saw it a lot...and then not at all. After a few months, it was pulled from regular rotation. I have no confirmation to back this up, but I'm suspecting that, when viewers tuned into a music channel, they weren't expecting to see wagons filled with the dead and corpses hanging suspended over innocent little girls, and calls were made.

I thought that would get your attention...enjoy.

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