[…continued from last post]
After the opening pop salvo of “Inbetween Days” it was time for the band to throw down the gauntlet of eclecticism that would define this album. “Kyoto” song had a lurching, shambolic beat, courtesy of drummer Boris Williams. The song here was co-produced with Howard [Police, Siouxsie + the Banshees] Gray, and his sonic fingerprints were all over this one. The liberal use of rock reverb he favored would mark each of the three songs on this album ha had a hand in. Perhaps it was a bit of a throwback to the band’s gothic roots, but all bets were off when “The Blood” followed it. Here we had double-tracked, acoustic Spanish guitars leaning the way to a foray into flamenco territory. If the trills and yelps of Robert Smith in the none-to-subtle intro weren’t clues enough, the admirable flamenco solo in the songs middle eight underscored the ethnic direction.
Then the music did a volte-face back to the psychedelia of the preceding album, “The Top,” when the uneasy, diffuse intro eventually resolved itself into something more chirpy and Beatlesque. After all, Smith had just done guitar duties on Siouxsie + The Banshee’s “Dear Prudence” immediately prior to this album period, and the synths on “Six Different Ways” were working overtime here to approximate Mellotrons as the song unfurled its playful sonic detail.
In any sensible universe, the all-guns-blazing deepcut “Push” should have been a triumphant hit single. Gray was behind the boards again, and the boomier drums of Williams and the rockist crunch of the guitars duly noted his involvement. The song developed like the best instrumental The Cure had never made with cascading guitar riffs and perfectly contrapuntal drum fills by Williams that moved this one along effortlessly. We were treated to 2:20 of an intro so long, it almost counted as a separate instrumental until the song’s halfway point where Smith finally began singing. If only a clear thinker could have made a 3:30 edit of this, it could have topped the charts on either side of The Atlantic. It was The Cure at the height of their appeal.
While Williams contributed some fine drumming to this album, he wasn’t scared of mechanical competition, as the clattery beatbox accents of “The Baby Screams” surely underscored. The resulting song was was the band blending their Gothic reserve with newly enervated rhythms and a little bit of everything but the kitchen sink as they took delight in coloring outside of the outlines. Never more so than on their surprising hit “Close To Me” which took the driest, most intimate sound possible as rhythmic breathing of Smith, flutelike monosynth, and playful marimba conspired to create the most winsome Cure song ever. The uncredited sax by Ron Howe of Fools Dance was a surprising concession to the mid-80s sax trend that was apparently unstoppable. Credit here for Howe having a commercial tone that he played against with his jazzy phrasing. The usual brilliant Tim Pope video couldn’t have hurt, either.
The band’s US label, Elektra, smelled a promo single in “A Night Like This,” the last of the Howard Grey productions. As if the full-bodied rock of the song weren’t a dead giveaway. If the album only had two facets to it, it might have been obtrusive to listen to the production seesaw back and forth, but this album couldn’t be so easily defined. No two songs were alike and the sonics were gleefully all over the map, so in the end, its inventive eclecticism became its unifying characteristic. As the completely unique penultimate song, “Screw” decisively proved. This one felt like a Stranglers song that had escaped the cage as Simon Gallup’s obtrusive fuzz-bass riff grabbed the listener by the throat and gave them a head-butt for good measure. Like on “Close To Me,” the sound here was as dry and bereft of reverb as a tomb. This song was the last of five on the album [half] that had an abrupt cold ending instead of a fade.
In a program that careened all over the stylistic map, it was left to the morose and doleful “Sinking” to wrap up album number seven with a statement of intent that almost managed to cross the five minute mark. There was another strong bass line courtesy of Gallup but the string synths held the melancholy of this one aloft as Smith crumbled under the strain of it all like black hairspray swirling down the drain.
This was a fantastic, vital album in the way that none of the Cure albums that followed it would ever be for me as far as I traveled with the band. Until 1992, I bought every Cure single and album released as they had their day in the sun, commercially. I thought “Kiss Me, Kiss Ms, Kiss Me” would have been improved had it been shaved down to a 45 minute run time. The ability of bands to fill the allotted space of a CD was beginning to manifest in the late 80s, to the detriment of what used to be a succinct, 40-45 minute album. In this business called “show,” the first rule in my unwritten book is to “always keep them wanting more.” The surfeit of music the band wanted to dispense going forward was taxing to my attention span.
Then, The Cure followed that with another 75 minute opus; featuring Prog-length songs. Every Cure fan loved it, though I was more reserved in my ardor. A third very long album in “Wish” was where I stopped buying. I felt that the succinct pop pleasures of the band were only in the rear-view mirror by that time as the band had moved on. I’ve not heard a note they have released after 1992 except for the tracks [and decidedly weaker ones, at that] in the supa-fine “Connect The Dots” BSOG. Apart from the 1996 tour where we saw them the last time.
It was obvious to me that a precious balance between art and pop had landed only on this album like a delicate butterfly as it encompassed a wide variety of moods and production styles in the service of excellent, memorable Cure songs. From miserable to poppy. It’s hard for me to even remember the music I have on later albums, and I’ve not had the pleasure of getting any earlier Cure albums, apart from “Seventeen Seconds,” which I managed to buy some years back at the High Holy Harvest Basement dollar sale. That one was good so I should probably work my way backward with The Cure.
– 30 –
Excellent review.It is indeed a superb album-my personal faves being Sinking,and Push.
My favourite Cure album has always remained Seventeen Seconds,followed by Kiss Me,which I saw the tour of in Birmingham.They lost me after Disintegration and like you,I have not heard any more than snippets since.
I highly recommend the first album though-tracks like Killing an Arab have been staples on alternative dance floors in the UK ever since.
Gavin – I wish I had been exposed to The Cure in a more substantial way as I feel that I missed so much in ’79-’81. They only got sporadic, one-off contracts with A+M and Sire Records prior to Elektra coming to the rescue in 1985. All of those early US Cure albums were mashup compilations with many track substitutions.
This is indeed my favorite Cure album; none are more consistently engaging than this one. Even headier stuff like ‘the blood’ is catchy and very listenable.
While I’d been reading about the band since ‘80, there albums were never found in my local record stores. My first purchase? The ‘staring at the sea’ compilation. Allowed me to affordably actually hear the band for the first time. (I compare it to my acquisition of the Siouxsie comp ‘Once upon a time’…similar scenario).
Since then I’ve picked up the (American) versions of all their albums. ‘Disintegration’ was my last stop on the bus ride. No regrets.
Love that mid 80s era of the band (ala Head on the door and the Japanese Whispers comp). I wish he would’ve spent more time with the ditzy fun teen pop he obviously excelled at.
Great review, great album. I maintain that the Cure were an amazing singles act, and from Boys Don’t Cry (or Killing An Arab, I forget which came out first) right through to Wrong Number (the one new track on late 90s compilation Galore) they had a most wondrous twenty year run of divine tunes. When it comes to albums, I’m far choosier, and The Head On The Door is the only Cure studio album I return to again and again.
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Taffy – I get it. There something clean and inviting about the songs/production/length of the album. I can play it and want to hear it again by the end. Not so much with “Disintegration.”
I have to agree with you that “The Head on the Door” is the best of the Cure’s pop albums (as opposed to their more arty-gothy albums). I lost interest in them after this one, after seeing the “Kiss Me…” tour live and hearing its related singles and not being impressed.
If you’re going to work your way backward, I rate “The Top” as the best of their less poppy records. It’s got some difficult listening on it, but it’s pretty solid is a sort of Bauhaus way, in that it’s got a few solid singles and then a bunch of arty experimental stuff.
Also don’t miss “Japanese Whispers” which collects four essential (mostly) non-album singles and their very worthy b-sides (including “The Upstairs Room” which shoulda’ been a hit).
Unsurprisingly, “JW”, “The Top”, and “Head” came out in sequence between 1983 – 1985, making this the Cure’s golden era for me; they’d matured past their scrappy lo-fi depressing goth phase (which peaked with “Pornography” in 1982), but hadn’t yet gone down the rabbit hole of endless eight-minute navel gazing tracks that we both disliked on later records.
JT – Yeah, this one just had what it took to engage and not bore me. Simple, really. There were a few good songs on the next one but they were all deep cuts, apart from “Catch” and “Just Like Heaven.” I maintain that if long, weak albums like “Wish” and “Nonesuch” had been edited down, lots of bands I grew tired of [Cure, XTC] before they finished their run would have fared better with me.
JT – Yeah, I always tend to forget about “Japanese Whispers,” even though it has one of my favorites with the loopy “Lovecats.” Memo to self – Buy a copy of that if I ever see it again! It’s been decades since I’ve seen a copy. That was an interesting comparison of “The Top” with Bauhaus. They were also a band with an arty/Gothy/poppy mixture going on and doing whatever they wanted to. Waitaminute. I have 5/8 of that collection on the “Join The Dots” B-side collection. So what I need are only the three A-sides.
Monk! Did I actually catch you “reserving ardor” for Disintegration? I must say I am surprised! While I am of the very small Camp that believes The Top is one of the band’s best albums and The Head On The Door is EVEN BETTER, Disintegration is just a masterpiece to my ears. It is a travelogue through the emotions of a man, a group coming to grips with their age and place in the world. It is hard, defiant, tender and needy. It is a band firing on all cylinders as a unit. It may eschew much of the ‘fun’ and Pop of the previous 2 albums, but it replaces that with a seriousness I feel you can’t escape being impressed by. If Disintegration did anything wrong for me, it made it very hard for The Cure to follow up. 30 years on, they are still working hard on that.
Echorich – I liked “Disintegration” but it wears me down. While a more enjoyable album than “Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me” or especially, “Wish,” I can’t return to it very often. Is it possible to merely “like” what is seen as a classic album? The answer may be in that while I bought every album by The Cure from “The Head On The Door” through “Wish,” with lots of singles in between, I was never a huge Cure fan. Just a casual one.
Saw them touring The Top so have a soft spot for that, but for me they have multiple great albums, in fact I have another soft spot for Bloodflowers but suspect few others have.
Like the really great artists they cover a lot of ground so I could never get bored with their catalogue.
I think it was Nigel Gray who produced the Police and the Banshees?
SimonH – Good call! It was Nigel Gray who produced those Police/Banshees albums. Howard Gray was part of the Apollo 440 sound collective. So I can’t say that the material he produced on “The Head On the Door” had anything in common with the “stadium rave” chops of Apollo 440. Of course, as a Billy MacKenzie fan, I own their “Electro Glide In Blue” CD.
Sorry to be so late to comment on this one. This album has and will always have a special place in my heart. I was 12 when it came out and just discovering my own musical taste. This album played such an integral part of my identity for the next decade. I branched out and moved on to other things/styles/bands but could always come back to this album’s sweet arms.
Last year, when the movie “IT” came out, I was floored to hear “Six Different Ways” being used [somewhat strangely] in a montage scene.
Still one of my Top 20 A/T albums. Great review!
leftymcrighty73 – It’s never too late to reactivate a comment thread at PPM. I never lock them. That really irritates me when I see a thread years later and can’t comment. So we don’t roll that way. There are almost 2000 posts here. Go nuts.
You were lucky! When I was 12 what was I listening to? This: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billboard_Year-End_Hot_100_singles_of_1975
I count 32 crimes against society on that list. Another 5 songs that are okay, and six outstanding songs that I can love as classics today. And the most impactful song of 1975 for me never made this list – “Love Is the Drug” by Roxy Music.
Overall? NOT inspiring.
Just for the heck of it, I looked at the Top 100 songs of 1985 in the USA. I counted 27 crimes against humanity. Another 9 songs that were okay, and five outstanding songs I can count as classic. On the last five, three were Prince proxy material [but not Prince]. So that felt about right. It did feel like a slightly higher standard of mediocrity ten years later on the US pop charts at the time and this bears me out:
The huge qualitative difference was that in 1975 I was unaware of music not in the Top 40! In 1985, my only exposure to Top 40 music was via MTV! Or the seven songs that were on albums I had. So if you were listening to “college rock” like The Cure in 1985, you had it all over me at the tender age of 12!
I have an older, cooler neighbor and a girl to thank for the influence.
1975- CRIMES- 6 (1, 14, 22, 23, 33, 65)
OK- 9 (3,10,17,24,30,35,40,61,92)
GREAT- 3 (8,78,83)
1985- CRIMES- 6 (3,14,20,34,45,88)
OK- 9 (8,27,36,51,54,62,70,71,82)
GREAT- 9 (7,10,11,16,21,41,60,68,100)
leftymcrighty73 – Wow! You took the time to indicate your feelings for those two years. You shame me, sir.
Haha! No shame intended! I did have a longer comment but I was on my phone so my characters were limited.
leftymcrighty73 – You asked for it. From my iPod.
Classic [3, 6-7,27,30,42]
So we agree exactly on two 1975 tunes and seven 1985 tunes. According to us the best US Top 100 song of ’85 was “Sugar Walls.” I’m fine with that.
The Cure is by far one of my most favorite groups of all time. “Disintegration” is their magnum opus, but “the head on the door” is an album I see myself checking out far more than “Disintegration.” However Kyoto, In Between Days, Six Different Ways, & Close to me are the only songs I can play on repeat on this record. I have been attempting to listen to every track Spotify has to offer, and that will take at least a “eon” but one by one, I guess.
_Vance_ – Yeah, one has to be in the mood to invest fully into the 72+ minutes of “Disintegration.” I find that “The Head On The Door” had a much greater diversity of perspective as well as brevity on its behalf. Traits that go a long way with me.