The Head on the Door (Elektra 60435)
It's really difficult to put the Cure's music into any sort of objective context, as every Cure fan has their own favorite album, and people attach to the albums so intensely. A lot of people will argue that the Cure was best in their initial post-new-wave pop mode, many others will say that you can't beat the glorious desperation of the super-depressed years (Faith, Pornography). To me, the albums up through 1984's The Top were all good but very spotty, and it wasn't until The Head on the Door that the band really hit its stride (which it has been doing a good job of ruining over the past few years). And at risk of being dismissed by those Cure fans who equate mainstream success with "selling out" or whatever, I'd say there was a reason the Cure began to get so popular starting with this album: the songwriting got great, with Robert Smith truly coming into his own as one of the most distinctive pop songwriters of his era. So much of the early stuff seems so full of obvious posturing that even when the songs were incredible ("Boys Don't Cry," "Charlotte Sometimes," etc) they seemed a bit quaint. With The Head on the Door, the Cure really established themselves as a deep (dare I say important? I know that's a Loud Bassoon no-no) band with its own style, and while they would top it with the next two albums (Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and Disintegration), The Head on the Door still stands as one of their huge achievements, an album I would imagine most diehards and non-diehards would respond to as an f'n great album.
It starts off with Boris Williams' instantly recognizable fill and the somewhat melancholic buoyancy of "In Between Days," one of the Cure's classic singles and despite its overkill on "modern rock" radio, still a pretty transcendent pop experience. Makes REM's supposedly "classic" output of the same era seem downright stupid, and easily bests virtually anything else that came out of 1985 (yes, I know "Rock Me Amadeus" was not exactly stiff competition). "Kyoto Song" and "The Blood" continue with the acoustic-driven sound established by "In Between Days," sounding anything but "unplugged" it's almost an arena-sized sound, but not in the REO Speedwagon sense of "extra reverb." The Cure in their prime have an amazingly full sound, but one that always sounds private it's easy to see why millions of people love the band but each think that no one else does, at least "not as much as me!!!!!" Pass the black hair dye!
"Six Different Ways" is Robert Smith at his most flirtatious, in the vein of later charmers like "Catch," and featuring lyrics about how he regularly lies to the press. His cracked falsetto and off-harmonies are in full effect one of my favorite Cure songs, typically oblique and yet accessible. "Push," which follows it, is another favorite a neglected Cure song that would be one of their all-time best B-sides if it were a B-side. There's a lot to be said for a song that has no lead vocals until almost two and a half minutes in, and yet keeps you in total suspense the whole time. A great song, definitely illustrates Smith's genius at making very simple musical ideas seem surprising and vital, and not stupid like, say, punk rock. Hey, quit threatening me, punk! What, no, I'm not a Goth I just dyed my hair for that last paragraph, I swear! Point that diaper pin at someone else!
"The Baby Screams" is probably my least fave track on the album, very 80s sounding (not a compliment) where the rest of the album is very 80s sounding (that was a compliment). It's followed by another great Cure single, "Close to Me," truly a ballsy single for a band that was making its name with aggressively suicdal material just two years earlier. Handclaps, heavy breathing, perhaps the cheesiest synths they've ever used, and the single version even featured a blaring horn section (not present here, though). Truly great. "A Night Like This" follows that, a great dark Cure single in the vein of "Fascination Street," and the album's clearest precursor to the big guitar sound that would come on the next two albums. "Screw" is fuzzy, dancy fun, though a bit 80s (not a compliment) where "A Night Like This" had been a bit 80s (that was a compliment). (I could use that joke a hundred times and never tire of it. What? Oh, no, I don't care about the readers at all, actually. Thanks for asking, though.)
The album closes with "Sinking," the sort of thing most people think of when they think of the Cure layered synth and guitar lines conveying desperation and Smith's vocal awash in delay, voicing the depression. In hindsight, it points directly toward the depressive moments on the schizophrenic Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, while staying in step with the essence of the album, which definitely has its light moments. Overall, The Head on the Door is a great album whether you're new to the Cure, deeply and desperately into the Cure, or nostalgically post-Cure. I think most white kids go through their Cure phase at some point, but this is an album that retains its permanence. I hope the Cure become cool to be into again at some point, because it's really a shame that you never hear about how great their great albums are anymore.
Review by Kojak Crinkman