In May 1989, at the peak of his success, Robert Smith, the iconic leader of The Cure, released his eighth album, the most important of his career: Disintegration. In the albums published just before that the dark mood, which always characterized their style, slowly offered a sound more oriented to pop, much less gothic. Disintegration was the return to their existential restlessness.
The second track of the album is Picture Of You, and the classical interpretation of its meaning spins around the need to lose memory in order to let the past go, avoiding the damage caused by melancholy, or by the demand to still hold what is actually lost forever. Robert Smith, in an interview of that time, admitted that the lyrics are inspired by an essay written by Myra Poleo, The Dark Power of Ritual Pictures: a picture portraying a past moment is a link, a bond, from which it’s hard to escape. It makes you a slave, unable to free yourself. And being slave of a photo means being slave of a memory.
After reading that essay, Robert decided to destroy all his old, personal photos, in a vain attempt to “erase his past”. Smith himself admitted that, after having torn all those photos, he actually felt a strong sense of remorse.
There is also another simpler theory about the meaning of Pictures Of You: in some interviews Smith said that the song is inspired by a fire started in his house. Afterwards, he found his own wallet containing photos of his wife, Mary. The cover of the single shows one of those photos.
The video was shot by Tim Pope in Ballachulish, Scotland, in February 1990. Pope portrayed the band playing during a storm, with an extravagant set of palm trees and the presence of a white bear running free in the set. Everything is covered by a thick blanket of snow, a symbol of purity, as if to represent the reset of the reminiscences and the return to the primordial state, free of memories.
I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they’re real
I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures
Are all I can feel