[…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.
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