The first thing we must do is note what Mr Dobbyn is wearing. This time he’s from the future, wearing a black leather trench coat with a black skivvie underneath, and with dark round glasses. His facial hair has been reduced to a goatee, the sort of which is now mostly seen on IT workers.
The song is about the fire of desire, and the video illustrates this with a dancer and flames. The power combo of flames and a naked dancing woman give the video a Bond feel, therefore making Dave Dobbyn the Bond villain (well, he’s already dressed for the part).
Taking a cue from the title, there’s a bit of actual nudity from the dancer. Her nipples can be seen a few times and possibly even some more frontal nudity, though I’m not totally sure about this, due to not wanting to be the sort of person who keeps pausing a Dave Dobbyn video looking for pubes.
But what’s most interesting – Dave and the dancer seem to inhabit totally difference realms. They never appear together.
“Anchor Me” was released two months after “Ngaire” but they were funding-round buddies. And like “Dominion Road”, there was also a UK version of “Anchor Me”.
The UK video sees a leather jacketed Don with his golden curls hair tamed back into a solid rock barnet. He gives the camera video sex-face while the Mutton Birds do their best to break into the lucrative UK music scene. In the foreground, goldfish swim.
Meanwhile, back in 1994, the New Zealand version is totally Don-centric, with the rest of the band absent. Don is dressed as a salty seadog, but then the nautical theme goes overboard (ha!), with blobbing lava lamp action, a boat, a rained upon car, before Don gets totally wet for the chorus.
There’s also a naked swimming lady, with visible nipples. I don’t remember there being any controversy around this video. Perhaps because no one expects there to be boobs in a Mutton Birds video, no one sees it when it happens.
I don’t quite find this video to be satisfying. The UK video make it feel like a Stereosonic song, while the original seems like a student film project.
This is the genius of the Mutton Birds – their lone number one single was a song about a heater. Not in a “baby, my love will keep u warm like a heater”, but literally about a heater, an electric heater (the elements were made of wire and clay).
The video perfectly captures the sinister tone of the lyrics, with Don McGlashan playing the heater-buyer Frank, and stop motion used to bring life to the sentient heater.
Frank takes his newly purchased heater home, where his concerned parents (including Marge from “Shortland Street” as his mum) furrow their brows with concern.
The band’s performance takes second place to the adventures of Frank, perhaps indicative of the larger budget the Mutton Birds had after signing with Virgin for their second album.
Would anyone write a song like this about an energy efficient heat pump?
Best bit: Mum is concerned when Frank doesn’t want an egg.
With all the missing music videos, it’s nice to find a band whose singles are consistently on YouTube. The Mutton Birds third single is noteworthy for several reasons:
1. Throughout the song, there are guitar chord charts along the bottom of the screen so you can play along at home. It’s very satisfying to watch the chord changes correspond with the song.
2. It contains the first instance of a sexy lady in a NZ On Air music video. At one point we see a woman in a yellow swimsuit tied up bed. But because it’s the Mutton Birds, it’s all subversive and she’s kicking the bed apart.
3. Don is wearing a red military jacket with a blue sash, not unlike what Prince William wore at his wedding.
The sexy lady turns out to be the giant friend, called into action to come and keep a small boy company. They play some games, she impresses him with her ball-crushing ability (a squishy toy ball, that is), and generally keeps him company. The video ends with the boy standing alone, outside. Has Don run off with the giant friend?
Best bit: the Alan vs Don game of Paper Scissors Rock (Alan wins).
Don and the lads are back, and Jan also makes an appearance with the Mutton Birds’s second single, “Nature”. A fuller, noisier cover of Fourmyula’s psychedelic ode to the great outdoors, the video takes its cue from the 1960s and utilises all the psychedelic visual effects the ’90s have to offer. So there’s colour tints, swirling animated backgrounds and green screen layering. It’s like a mashup of all the previously viewed green screen vids.
Don lays on a bit of Front Lawn-style comedy with his sideways glances at the little singing people who keep popping up, and there’s the crazy mouth-to-mouth transfer of, uh, nature, not unlike the controversial mouth-to-mouth transfer in Head Like a Hole’s “Fish Across Face” video. Only animated nature power isn’t a public health risk.
The video shows that the band aren’t quite buying into Fourmyula’s original hippy-style nature loving. The Mutton Birds’ version is more like someone who’s got high and suddenly realised that, HEY GUYS NATURE IS REALLY AWESOME!!!! But nature is also scary with those beetles and lizards that suddenly appear.
Best bit: the interpretive dance in the middle, which ends with the dancers in a heartfelt embrace. Such is the power of nature.
There’s a second “Dominion Road” video, the “UK version”. In it, the Mutton Birds play the song in a empty warehouse, filmed with blue filters, flash editing, random out-of-focusness, and Don McGlashan’s wearing sunglasses. It looks like a mid-’90s attempt at turning The Mutton Birds into an antipodean Oasis.
But thankfully we don’t need to concern ourselves with that video. The one we care about is the earlier version promoting what was their debut single.
The original video alternates between black and white footage of the band performing the song in a stark white studio, and the troubled subject of the song walking around Dominion Road.
Don McGlashan looks like Norman Cook with his short back and sides, possibly going for a cleaner look from his curly days with the Front Lawn. Oh, speaking of which – it’s nice to see Don back after his previous appearance with the very first funding round.
The scenes of a worn down inner Auckland suburb may not have the edge of an empty warehouse, but it’s those shots that give the song its context. This is not a love song, but it’s where This Is Not A Love Shop used to be.
The Dominion Road of 1992 feels different to the Dominion Road of today. It’s less multicultural and didn’t have as many posh bits. You’d probably have to get three-quarters of the way down Dominion Road to have the same effect today.
Best bit: Don’s scared-of-heights acting during the “up 10,000 feet” part.
The Front Lawn was a film/theatrical duo (or trio). They wrote really good pop songs and made really good music videos, but they weren’t quite mainstream. If they (or a similar band) were around today, would they get NZ On Air funding? Don McGlashan still does, but he writes serious grown-up songs now.
“The Beautiful Things” is a slightly sinister song, looking at the love of material possessions. It’s set in a manic 1960s television advertising world, where the grinning salesmen attempt to convince viewers to buy things to make all their pain go away.
I say “1960s”, but it’s more that kind of retro ’60s style that was big in the ’90s. And there’s layer upon layer of green screen trickery and cheesy computer graphics. All this stuff must have seemed quite cool and cutting-edge back then. Video editing software was cheaper and more accessible, so you didn’t need to be The Cars or Dire Straits to do rad computer animations in your video.
The Front Lawn made short films as well as their live performance work, and they’ve taken full advantage of the music video medium to make an entertaining video that doesn’t just promote the song, but adds another layer to its message.
It was a pleasure to rediscover this song and the video. It doesn’t quite sound like a song of its era, such was the magic of The Front Lawn.