3. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
Some of the best double albums in rock history are sprawling quiltworks of wildly divergent styles that allow artists to stretch their creative muscles as they see fit (The Beatles’ White Album and Prince’s Sign o’ The Times are two prime examples). The Cure follows this path with Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, a dizzying collection that ripped the lid off the American market in a major way.
The timing could not have been more perfect. The Head on the Door earned the band much-needed exposure in the US, thanks primarily to college radio. Then came their hits collection Standing on a Beach, which helped get American fans up to date on the Cure’s back catalog. The Cure boldly captured the moment and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was a massive success.
The first single was the zany, amped-up “Why Can’t I Be You”, with Robert Smith delivering a howling, audacious performance over a white-hot groove. “Just Like Heaven”, with its dazzling guitar riff, punchy rhythm, soaring synths and wistful vocals is the Cure at their very finest. It became their first Top 40 hit in America, and the video received substantial MTV airplay.
Kiss Me contains some of the best pop of their career. “Hot Hot Hot!!!” is another ferocious groove, with a kinetic rhythm and funked-out guitar. “Catch” is a loopy little nugget that’s strangely endearing, and “Hey You!” is Robert Smith on loads of caffeine (or… something else?). “How Beautiful You Are” sounds upbeat but actually tells a sad tale about coming to a devastating realization about someone you love. It was planned as a single — a radio mix was created — but eventually the idea was shelved.
There are several hypnotic pieces that explore exotic, otherworldy textures (“The Snakepit”, the stunning “Like Cockatoos”, “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep”). There are powerhouse rockers, including “Torture”, “All I Want”, “Shiver and Shake”, and the dramatic opener “The Kiss”. In contrast to other Cure albums which seem to end on a note of hopelessness, the closer here is the angry and defiant “Fight”, a call not to allow the misery that Smith has been singing about for nearly a decade defeat you.
The outstanding b-sides must be mentioned, particularly the beautifully mournful “A Chain of Flowers”. The band had the makings of a third disc with tracks like “A Japanese Dream”, “To The Sky”, “Sugar Girl”, “Breathe” and “Snow in Summer”. The Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me era may be the Cure’s most prolific period, an embarrassment of riches made possible by Robert Smith’s blazing (and underappreciated) talent as a songwriter.
2. The Head on the Door (1985)
After finally merging Robert Smith’s bipolar impulses for euphoric pop and emotional epics into something close to balance on The Top, full equilibrium is achieved on The Head on the Door. It’s the album where it all comes together for the Cure musically, and it happened at a time when Robert Smith was churning out one great tune after another.
By this point in his career, Smith had emerged as a first-rate songwriter who could pen gleaming pop gems and deeper introspective tracks with equal proficiency. The Head on the Door could have been even better; b-sides like “The Exploding Boy”, “Stop Dead” and “A Few Hours After This” would have sounded fantastic on this album. He was overflowing with good material, and that would only increase in the years ahead.
The Head on the Door is the perfect composite of all the Cure’s components. “Inbetween Days” is the mastery of the guitar-pop that Smith had been toying with ever since the band’s early days. It’s breezy and immediate, a joyous nostalgia ride. “Close to Me” is a quirky slice of pop genius, with Smith delivering a breathless vocal over a jaunty rhythm and bass.
The brooding “A Night Like This” is riveting personal drama, a tense rocker with heavy guitar, a spirited sax solo, and one of Smith’s most convincing vocal performances. “Kyoto Song” is a dense exotic nightmare, sexual and dangerous. “Six Different Ways” is twisty pop candy that easily could have been a single.
The band saves the best for last. “Sinking” is the album’s titanic closer, with a bass line that throbs your soul long after it’s over, and a vocal performance by Smith that transcends anything else on the album. There couldn’t be a better ending for such a tightly compact collection of pop brilliance. The Head on the Door is every bit as enchanting now as it was the day it was released.
1. Disintegration (1989)
Disintegration is the ultimate Cure album. It’s their masterpiece, the album for which they will always be remembered. All of their finest impulses are here. Smith is at his peak as a songwriter and vocalist, and he has the strongest group of musicians in the band’s history to help realize his majestic visions.
“Plainsong” opens the album with faint chimes fading in, then suddenly comes a sweeping rush of orchestral grace built on layers of keyboard. Then a lilting guitar line starts, and finally, 2:36 into the song, Smith’s whispery vocal begins a haunted verse about two broken souls grasping at the edge of the world. “Pictures of You” is steeped in regret and loss. It unfolds slowly over seven minutes but never outstays it’s welcome. The main melodic hook is the shimmery guitar pattern that shines brightly during the long instrumental passages.
“Fascination Street” is a studio creation of extraordinary dexterity and attention to detail. The dynamic interplay between Simon Gallup’s thunderous bass and Boris Williams’ rock-solid groove is the foundation upon which layers of sound are slowly built bit by bit until it becomes a stupendous cacophony. It’s an intricate arrangement, with guitar, keyboard, and sonic effects all wrapping and wriggling around each other as perfect complements.
Smith offers some of his most enigmatic lyrics and a feverish vocal. The song builds to an almost unbearable level of tension and excitement during the guitar solo when all of the numerous instrumental parts are jamming at once, and then Smith comes in for one last powerful verse. “Fascination Street” is breathtaking, the Cure at the height of their creative powers.
“Lovesong” is Robert Smith’s love letter to his wife Mary, but even this expression of devotion manages to sound somewhat mournful. It’s another terrific recording, opening with a bright slash of guitar, before an insistent groove, wildly florid bass, and a forlorn keyboard work in lockstep with clockwork precision. “Lovesong” became by far the Cure’s biggest hit in the US, reaching #2 behind Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much”. It’s rhythmically upbeat and catchy, and the lyrics are romantic, but somehow the whole thing still feels funereal; “I really really love ya, but something bad is gonna happen, right?”
Robert Smith knows instinctively how musical pieces must fit together. “Lullaby” is a perfect example, with its interlocking lines of melody coming from multiple keyboard and guitar parts. It’s a creepily atmospheric piece with Smith ghoulishly half-whispering his s-s-slithery lyrics like he’s dramatizing a horrifying campfire story.
It’s impossible to discuss Disintegration without mentioning the dual epics that anchor the album’s stunning second act. Buffeted by the sounds of thunder and rain, “The Same Deep Water As You” spans over nine languid minutes of naked vulnerability and passion. Smith gives the finest and most deeply nuanced vocal performance of his career, and he’s backed by a stately, water-color musical world that’s evocative of the dark greens of the album’s cover. It’s sublime, fragile, and gorgeous.
Equally powerful but completely different is “Disintegration”, the earthshaking title track. Opening with the sound of shattered glass, “Disintegration” trails the heartrending wreckage of a relationship riven by distrust, lies, and ultimately emptiness, all set to a fierce rock vibe. Smith’s vocals becoming increasingly manic and frantic with each passing verse, until finally in the end he’s just wailing mindlessly.
Disintegration is not a happy album, but it’s a deeply moving one. The melancholy sweep, the vast grandeur cloaked in vulnerability and regret, the sorrow that underlies almost every thought… Disintegration is beloved because it feels so real and envelopes you in a lush world of intense emotion. For fans who were at the right age, the right moment, Disintegration is everything. They know every word, every line of guitar, every twist in Robert Smith’s voice, every ghostly sigh of keyboard. In a career made up of mostly terrific albums, Disintegration stands alone at the pinnacle.
In the album’s liner notes, at the very end, is a simple but very important instruction, all in caps: “THIS MUSIC HAS BEEN MIXED TO BE PLAYED LOUD SO TURN IT UP.” No arguments here.
+ + +
This article was originally published on 27 March 2016.