“Always” by Erasure, a detailed study
The other day I was watching YouTube with a friend, and all of a sudden the video for Always by Erasure came up. “Always” by Erasure is one of those unusual videos from the 90’s synth pop era, that many people haven’t really seen. It was never too big on MTV or the major chains, and back then if it wasn’t on MTV, it didn’t exist.
If you’re one of those post-millennials, you’ve probably never heard of Erasure or and much less seen the “Always” video. If you have the curiosity (and masochistic tendencies) required, you might want to have a look:
Who is Erasure?
Erasure is a 90’s synth pop group that had a couple of good hits back in the day. It’s two guys: Andy Bell and Vince Clarke, both from England. And they really haven’t done that bad: over 25 million albums sold. Just the video for “Always” has over 14 million views on YouTube.
You can tell their sound by the vocalist, Andy Bell is kind of a screechy version of George Michael. And on some songs the sound is a lot like A-Ha, another famous synthpop group from the era.
Then there’s the tempos which are higher than regular pop but not so much as to bring them into techno and higher ranges. And the FM synthesizers, which were used in pretty basic arrangements. If you listen, you can probably identify the classic “synth fart” sound in many of their tunes. In the 90’s Erasure had a classic sounding synth, and some of their biggest hits (A Little Respect, Always, Take a Chance on Me) actually turned down the synths and let Bell’s voice take the main role.
So, what the hell is this I’m watching?
Getting back to the subject at hand, “Always” by Erasure was a song that came out in 1994 as part of the “I Say, I Say, I Say” album. It didn’t get a whole lot of press and didn’t really make it very far in America (it hit #20 on Billboard), but it was actually pretty good. With “Always” Erasure got a bit imaginative and turned the tempo a bit down to do something along the line of a synthpop ballad, with the typical slow and quiet intro that then bursts into the main song.
The song goes by many names, depends on who you ask and whether or not they know Erasure or not. Since most people don’t, you’ll often hear it referred to as “Harmony” (and live in harmony, harmony oh love) or “Hold on to the night” (hold on to the night, there will be no shame). But, the official name of the song is Always.
The video was directed by Jan Kounen, a french filmmaker.
The thing is, when they did the video, they got a little too imaginative and low-budget, and what came out was exactly that thing that made you, as well as my friend, say “what the hell am I watching?”.
But what can I say, when you’re in high school, the peak of CGI available on the market is Terminator 2, and you get your videos from local TV stations that only purchase the rights to 2% of MTV’s repertoire, you’re bound to think a video like that is amazing. Which is pretty much what happened to us back then. Fast forward to 20 years later, when any 5 year old with a cell phone can do CGI, and it’s a whole other ball game.
I can’t help but feel that this video deserves a tribute on the internet. A shrine where B-Film students can gather and laugh at the stuff previous generations took to the top of the music charts. So here’s my tribute to Erasure’s Always, and why it feels so messed up.
The video stars Andy Bell, as some kind of an oriental samurai or something… that for some strange reason has a golden skull cap on. Okay… why? I guess if you wanted to go for that oriental theme, you might want to put on a Gua Pi Mao, but, that’s not a Gua Pi Mao he’s wearing. It’s not even close. The closest thing I can think of to that thing is probably a rugby scrum cap. Why an oriental warrior in dynasty times would wear a rugby cap is beyond me. And that golden color, that’s another one of those things that’s completely unnecessary.
While on the subject of clothing, what the hell is he wearing? It’s like they raided the curtain department at Sears and turned it into a getup. Only Andy Bell could try to pull off something like that.
So, he rescues a frozen asian girl (which if you look closely doesn’t seem to be too asian), and magically builds a garden of white cherry blossoms. Well, at least they seem to have the vegetation somewhat correct.
For the life of me, I’ve tried to find references as to who the girl in the video is, no luck.
After doing several backflips (yeah… he does backflips while gardening), for some reason he takes to combing the girl’s hair with comically big comb. Guess one of those classic hairbrushes was too much to ask for huh?
By the way, put the Youtube video on high definition and go to 1:17. You can see the reflections off the cables holding Andy Bell up while he’s doing the backflips (you have to look closely, you can see white lines jumping up and down to his left). And on the very last flip, look at the way he lands next to the pond. He’s standing up, going into a crouch. But next scene… he tilts up as if he was laying down. It’s those minute screwups that make me just love this video.
The girl has a hardware store plastic watering can in her hand, complete with little white plastic cap and all… where’d they find a Home Depot in the middle of a chinese dynasty, I wonder?
After several creepy serial-killer stares into the camera, the action begins! A monster that looks right out of a Scooby Doo episode enters the scene, and threatens to huff and puff and freeze everyone to death. And I really do mean right out of a Scooby Doo episode, because judging by the fake claws on a human hand, there’s probably a guy hiding under there trying to fool everyone. Why did they not think to pull off his mask… would have solved the mystery and saved us a few minutes of our lives.
I don’t know what’s scarier… the monster or Andy Bell giving you that look.
Of course, Andy is extremely concerned and despite being some kind of an oriental god capable of shifting the universe at whim, runs and hides like a scared idiot upon seeing the monster.
The monster produces a glass sphere, which was obviously ripped off from Jareth in Labyrinth, and decides to freeze everything. And for some strange reason, the sphere turns into a giant snowball a-la Indiana Jones.
So, our hero and his girl are slightly buried in a giant snowball… and still that damn skullcap doesn’t come off. Which is a good thing too, it probably kept the heat from escaping through his head, and that gave him enough power to produce another glass ball out of nowhere and completely knock the monster out of existence. Yeah, no worries, I’m half frozen and the girl is probably dead of hypothermia, I’ll just pull a magic glass ball out of nowhere and fix it all up!
And with the monster dead, and the universe saved from an icy fate, our hero can go back to his comically large comb and day job as a hairdresser. Eventually bored, he flies off sayaying-style and the story ends.
Interesting stuff at the end of “Always” by Erasure
During this modern-day study of Erasure’s train wreck video, there’s two details I hadn’t really paid much attention to before. The first one is the wooden cross with a picture that appears at the end of the video:
What the heck’s that doing there, and how did they produce a photograph in that era? Beyond me, but in case you’re wondering, the guy in the picture is Vince Clarke, composer and keyboardist for Erasure. Guess they had to stick him in somewhere… either that or he was actually the guy in the monster costume playing some kind of prank, and Andy Bell killed him by accident.
I’m pretty sure there’s a touch of sarcasm in the picture’s eyebrows.
And at the very start and end of the video, there’s a scroll painting with 3 chinese characters on it. The chinese writing on the painting in this Erasure video, at the start says “eternal winter”. At the end it says “eternal spring”.
By the looks of it, they must have found those on a wall in a chinese restaurant, and decided to put them into the video.