Masters of the Form: The Cure, 1987 – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

In the first half of the ’80s, the Cure (particularly Robert Smith) was the face of alternative music. Pale skin, black eyeliner and blood red lips became the uniform of those who deemed themselves outside of the mainstream, and the Cure? The Cure was the cool band people would say they listened to when they wanted to prove that they themselves were cool. The Head on the Door made the Cure Masters of the Form and expanded this rather myopic opinion of the band. The Head on the Door had been a visceral musical masterpiece that channeled the Cure’s musical energies in an album length wave of accessible energy. It eliminated the idea that the Cure was nothing more than the face of alternative music. The Cure had openly courted the mainstream without ever actually swimming in it or changing the basics of their sound. In essence, the Cure didn’t seem to care about being cool at all and, naturally this made the band that much cooler. They were no longer simply what alternative music looked like; they were what it sounded like as well.

After The Head on the Door, the band found themselves tasked with following up the most successful production of their musical ideas. So in 1987 The Cure released Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me a sprawling double album filled with virtually every musical idea that Robert Smith and the band could think of. With the release of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me the band that had always seemed too cool for the mainstream, the band that had always been seen as the cool alternative to it, discovered something they’d never experienced before – their first world wide success.

Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, a bigger success than The Head on the Door financially if not musically, is an improvement over its predecessor in many ways – the guitars are bigger, the choruses more lush and the hooks even catchier. However, The Head on the Door is a cohesive album whose songs come together to form one great moment. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is a collection of great moments that made the album hugely popular, but never truly coalesce into one great statement.

Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is often a challenge to listen to. The long intros the Cure had always favored seem to be the rule rather than the exception. The album opens in classic Cure style with “The Kiss” a swirling mosaic of guitars that create violent, passionate pictures for almost four minutes before Smith howls “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me” begging a lover to stop kissing him with a tongue of poison. It’s a perfect opening to a Cure album, great guitars illustrating the Cure version of love, desperate and deadly. “The Kiss” is followed by the sweet pop confection of “Catch”, another great Cure song, about a love that is never consummated due to the narrator’s lack of courage and the girl’s lack of control. It’s a beautiful track and the two songs together make for an excellent opening.

After this opening, the album loses its way. Eleven of its 18 songs have musical introductions that last a minute or longer; five of these don’t have any vocals for over two full minutes. As a consequence Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me sounds like an album full of album openers and too often potentially great song ideas get buried under their musical beginnings. “One More Time” and “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” are both pretty pieces of music, but after their extensive musical build ups neither is a great song. As a song, the first ends too abruptly and the second never really gets started. Similarly, “Like Cockatoos” and “Icing Sugar” sound like experiments in percussion rather than actual songs. The actual songs on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me are magnificent, though.

“The Perfect Girl” skips out of the speakers, breezy and poppy, like the girl referenced in its title, a strange looking girl, who should be turned upside down and who, in the world of the Cure, is the ideal companion. The Cure continues to investigate love in the raw rock of “Torture”, a song that finds the narrator hanging all over a lover that leaves him shattered in pieces, and the more polished arena rock of “All I Want” which tells the story of a love that is equally animalistic but far less sinister. “Hot Hot Hot!!!” is a sex charged bed of funk, smoothed out by drawn strings, that equates great sex with being struck by lightning.

No ideas are better executed than “Why Can’t I Be You” and “Just Like Heaven”. Two twins of pop perfection, they are both perverse love songs – horny and obsessed with a partner that the singer is willing to sacrifice everything for. In “Why Can’t I Be You” the singer is so filled with desire for his lover that he wishes, over a barrage of infectious horns as biting and hungry as he is, to simply be her. The singer of “Just Like Heaven” longs for a lost love, one drowned within the tempest of his own passion, that he used to spend all of his time trying to make glow. “Just Like Heaven” is a storm of emotion, a complete relationship lived and lost in the span of three and a half minutes that proves how amazing a musical unit The Cure can be. It’s the type of great musical moment that makes Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me the great album that it is.

Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is a collection of great moments rather than a great collected moment. At times the band’s reach fails to exceed its grasp, but the band never stops reaching. During those great moments, when they grasp how powerful they can truly be, the Cure proves that they are Masters of the Form. Masters preparing to hit opening time on “Fascination Street”.