Perfect as cats
After a series of increasingly dark albums, lineup changes and a weird experimental period, The Cure discovers the pop band within. In 1985, following the weird experiments of The Top and the synth-based pop singles that preceded it, The Cure solidify a new lineup and flesh out their sound significantly. Previous bass player Simon Gallup rejoins the band, as does guitarist Porl Thompson and new drummer Boris Williams, previously having worked with The Thompson Twins. This richer quintet sound and production from David M. Allen help to bring a bigger pop sensibility to the songs, but for his part, Robert Smith makes great strides in developing his songwriting. The Head on the Door isn’t as conceptually dense as Pornography or Faith, but it’s endlessly listenable, having launched two of the band’s most enduring singles “In Between Days” and “Close to Me.” “A Night Like This” was also a single, featuring a fab sax solo no less, though it didn’t have the same reach. All of which is to say every song on The Head on the Door is full of life and energy, not to mention some of the best melodies Smith has put on record. It’s not an outright dismissal of the darkness of before—”The Baby Screams” and “Sinking” retain the moody darkness that The Cure has always done so well—but some of the biggest surprises are in playful moments such as “Six Different Ways” or “Close to Me.” Smith borrows from flamenco on “The Blood” and the band gets abrasively funky in “Screw.” The centerpiece of the record is “Push,” a soaring, dreamy work of blissful post-punk guitar that takes a full two minutes and change before there’s even any vocals. It’s an ambitious and artful moment, and one of the band’s greatest. For how much ground The Head on the Door covers, and how eclectic it is, everything flows perfectly. Perhaps it’s best to think of it as the best mixtape The Cure ever made.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
The Cure’s first album to break the Billboard top 40 in the U.S. is also, not coincidentally, the one that introduced one of their most enduring singles: “Just Like Heaven.” What’s peculiar about that is it was in fact the third single released from the album. (Not necessarily all that strange when you consider it was preceded by “Why Can’t I Be You?”; very weird when you consider the more understated “Catch” was the second single.) Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is more or less a continuation of the approach the band introduced on The Head on the Door, albeit on a much grander scale. Where that album had 10 songs, this one has 17 (18 if you include the vinyl bonus track “Hey You!”). And that much more expansive tracklist amounts to a much broader range of sounds on the album, both embracing and diverting from the pop sound of its predecessor. The intense pulse of the opening track “The Kiss” is one of the most visceral songs the band had release to date at this point, and the fiery “Torture” and “Shiver and Shake” showcase the band just straight-up rocking the fuck out. So that’s pretty fun. The ballads are substantially more gothic, as on the sinister raga of “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” and the dreamily romantic “One More Time.” But there’s a fair amount of experimentation in other realms, as on the acoustic weirdness of “Like Cockatoos” or the driving rhythms and saxophone squeal of “Icing Sugar.” There’s a lot to explore here, and Smith’s level of creativity is off the charts, even if the album itself is just slightly overstuffed. But then again, if you want to skip ahead to “Just Like Heaven,” you always have that option: “Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick…”
Rating: 9.4 out of 10
This is the third album of The Cure’s that I’ve essentially deemed perfect, which is a rare feat for any band to pull off. One perfect album? That’s worth celebrating on its own. But three? That’s a near impossibility. Disintegration is largely regarded as the best Cure album, and with good reason. You won’t find an album in their catalog with as much detail and grandeur, with as much emotion and vulnerability. Where Pornography is the band at their most intense and visceral, and The Head at the Door is their pop wonder, Disintegration is the summary of the band’s strength, orchestrated into a dreamy 70-minute work of undeniable beauty. It begins with “Plainsong,” a huge, affecting dirge of powerful synths and ethereal guitars, setting the stage for a devastating hour and change to follow.
Written in the midst of an early-mid-life crisis in which Robert Smith was depressed about not being able to achieve his artistic potential by age 30, he essentially outdid himself on that front, delivering at age 30 what his twenties suggested was there all along. It’s an album that’s frequently sad and delicate, yet among the most powerful and forceful of anything The Cure has ever released. It has at least four perfect pop songs: the earworm “Love Song,” the eerie “Lullaby,” the touching “Pictures of You” and the driving “Fascination Street.” It’s also fucking epic. The title track are eight of the most immaculate minutes the band’s ever recorded, while “The Same Deep Water As You” explores nine minutes of aching melancholy, and “Prayers for Rain” is simply heavy. Disintegration is both the band’s most cohesive whole and a collection of individual highlights, suggesting that Robert Smith’s own crisis of creativity was exactly the thing that led him to create his best work.
Rating: 10 out of 10
After Disintegration, The Cure’s output began to slow considerably, to a regular pace of one album per presidential election year in the U.S. (up to 2008, which was the last one). So, since the ’90s, that’s added up to five albums in 24 years vs. eight in 10 in the period before that. They’ve also reached a level of success much greater than that of their earliest years, so the necessity of playing bigger shows in bigger venues with bigger productions also assumes a considerable amount of the band’s time. There’s also the benefit of having more time to spend in the studio, and taking more time off when you aren’t. Wish, like Disintegration, is a big album. One of the biggest, in fact, of The Cure’s career, and not just because it contains the mega-hit “Friday I’m In Love.” It’s big in sound, big in scope, and maintains the vast scope of its predecessor. It’s not, however, quite so ethereal or tormented. It’s much more of a rock album, or perhaps more accurately, an alt-rock album. The guitars are louder, the rhythms hit harder—it’s not grunge by any measure, but there’s an edge to it. And yet, it’s remarkably accessible—”High” and “Friday I’m In Love” are two immediate, easy to love Cure songs that essentially avoid the goth-rock moroseness that’s been something of a signature. The highest peaks on the album are those that are signature Cure songs through and through, like the driving rhythms of “Open” or the soaring epic, “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea.” Wish is an album that’s big on both hits and characteristic Cure sound, and perhaps their last truly great album. (Though there has been at least one really good one since then.)
Rating: 9.0 out of 10