The next album from the Cure’s back catalogue that dropped into our rural mailbox in the middle of nowhere was Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. We were systematically closing gaps, having been captured years ago with Bloodflowers, various live albums and the concert film Trilogy, and having at that point gradually added Disintegration, The Top, Wild Mood Swings, Join the Dots (4 discs of B-sides, excellent value) and 4:13 Dream to our CD collection.
I started open journalling about the music with Exploring Join the Dots, then decided to continue the process with 4:13 Dream and subsequent new acquisitions in a new open journal, Exploring the Back Catalogue. I initially did both on a forum, but will now curate them on my blog and then continue gradually adding to them here.
The point of sharing this personal work in a public space is to provide sorely needed alternative long-form reading which is not a music review and not unquestioning fan adulation. This open journal is about personal engagement with music, with a critical look at how human relationships are portrayed in popular culture and with regular interweaving of other relevant big-picture stuff including philosophy, biology, astrophysics and human psychology.
As this is primarily a recreational and personal journal written to help me make sense of life and the universe, there are also regular side excursions that depict and reflect on our own life experiences. The audience of this open journal is requested to walk gently in this personal space. I hope you find something to make you smile, and to assist you with your own journey. ♥
June 15, 2020
I have a preliminary report from our first (nearly-)all-the-way-through listen. We didn’t catch the last two tracks because we were starving and dinner was ready, but here goes – first impressions.
Because this is open-journalling (which is like writing anything you want for your own entertainment in a paper journal because you’re that way inclined, except it’s online), I organise things by a sort of overarching topic (this one = listening to the Cure back catalogue), with scenic side trips. And because this writing is a personal record, I want to remember the evening we finally put this album on, months after we had it sitting there making “play me!” noises.
It was a Sunday, and we had a lovely young couple staying with us (we do a farmstay through Airbnb). They were going out again that evening and I was bringing in a bucket of stuff from the garden for constructing dinner: Peas, snowpeas, radishes, lemons, fennel bulbs, celery stalks, and a mass of five-colour silverbeet. The silverbeet got dumped in a sink of cold water to soak – it removes “extra protein” as well as dirt. I was getting some Painted Mountain (multicoloured) corn cobs out of the freezer stash and then started tending to an Ironbark pumpkin that had been pre-roasted in the oven that morning while the apple crumble we had for breakfast was cooking; meanwhile Brett was chopping up an onion (he always views that as his personal job and gets quite irate if I do one ). We were chatting to the young couple who were having cups of tea before heading out again, and when they left, I said, “Hey! We can have loud music now! How about we road-test that ‘new’ album?”
We were both in the right kind of zone for it – and actually, I was tired, and needed something to wake me up again for the upcoming hour of toil. And so we put on the album, and listened to it while making pumpkin soup (which turned out an amazing luminous pale yellow), gozleme (Turkish feta-spinach/silverbeet pockets), and two kinds of salad: Waldorf (from the last of our own apples this season), and orange/fennel/radish – a Moroccan thing, except we dress it differently, just with lemon juice and olive oil – and it looks so pretty with its soft greens, oranges and pinky-reds.
Throughout all this, the music was playing, and we enjoyed the vast majority of it. Excellent album – and the first thing I immediately noticed is that the sound quality is fantastic – a truckload of dynamic range, unlike many contemporary loudness-war CDs, and sadly, unlike 4:13 Dream or our copy of Disintegration. The album opener showcases that brilliantly:
…oh wow, if I’d known back in 1987 that The Cure were making music like that, and not just what was being played on the radio, or what classmate Pauline with the black sticking-up hair played us during our music project for our Year 12 English class (guess which three songs she picked off this album, although I missed the third one because I got ignominiously turfed out of the classroom when I couldn’t stop laughing sarcastically at one of them )…
The Kiss is like all the best B-sides – and Brett was very naughty, because what he said in the short space after that track was, “And all Mary asked him to do was to take out the rubbish!”
We’d heard that one live quite a few times – and Catch actually, and for some reason I was surprised it was on this album – I imagined it came off an earlier one. Catch is a sweet song, I’ve always liked it, and I do prefer it live, like a lot of Cure songs – more immediacy, and also Robert Smith’s singing has evolved over time, and likewise I think the band’s playing has.
Torture hit the spot musically – it’s solid and driving and serious and beautifully played. My ears sort of purr at gorgeous sound constructions like this.
Speaking of, If Only Tonight We Could Sleep is an all-time favourite of ours, and to hear the studio version just made me drool, it’s so fabulous. A song like that is a visceral thing for me – you know how when you’re really hungry and you’re biting into a fabulous piece of chocolate-hazelnut cake in a semi-starved condition, you can get sharp pains in your salivary glands (around your jawline) from the fire-pump hypersecretion they suddenly engage in, at the same time as the flavours are hitting your tongue, and you’ve got this sort of agony/ecstasy thing going on? That kind of thing. Music that makes you feel like you’re one giant tongue and Lindt chocolate is melting into your tastebuds all over, and you’re just going, “Ooooh, aaaah!”
Cue, next, the song that got me into such trouble in my Year 12 English class. I remember sitting on the classroom floor all those years ago, leaning up against the wall with the other kids, unable to stop laughing: OMG, an ADULT is asking that question? Oh Pauline, oh Pauline of the spiky black hair, why, why, why couldn’t you have played us the song immediately before?
These days, of course, I actually like Why Can’t I Be You? – I’m no longer a super-serious cerebral teenager assessing adults for their qualifications to be suitable role models – my parents weren’t, in ways that really mattered, and I wasn’t interested in more examples of adult irresponsibility, and so an adult coming at me with a Playschool demeanour asking a philosophically absurd question didn’t gel well with my then straight-line thinking.
So I had to come out of the aftermath of a dysfunctional upbringing and learn to play as an adult, and once that happened, I was open to stuff like this. Nowadays I love the zaniness of that song, and its childlikeness (because it’s not actually particularly childish), and its hyperactivity and abundant energy.
There’s an interesting pattern to the track listing. It seems you get one or two quite dark, serious songs, and then something shiny and high-energy, rinse and repeat, all the way down the list. It’s like listening to a radio show except it’s all by the same band, and I think this album is a monument to The Cure’s huge musical versatility. It really works. The serious stuff is brought out more by the shiny stuff, and vice versa – the same way that the crunch and juiciness of good celery is a great partner for the salty, creamy solidity of cheddar cheese – each accentuating and drawing attention the other.
Personally, Brett and I both tend to prefer the musically darker, more serious songs to the lighter, shinier stuff – but it’s good to have the contrast, and there’s the whole smorgasbord analogy previously discussed here.
Track 6, How Beautiful You Are, is my least favourite track on the album, for reasons already explained here – I’ve got a large bee making chainsaw noises in my bonnet about the lyrics, and musically it really doesn’t appeal to me either, it feels disjointed and monotone and nothing-much-happening to me. I will say that I prefer the album version to the one I encountered on Join The Dots, and that the keyboards on the album version do a nice job conjuring French street music for me, which is fitting considering Paris is the setting here.
However, I very much enjoy The Snakepit. Like the opening track, and like a lot of my favourite Cure tracks, the instrumental music is given time to weave its magic, and there’s no hurry to get to the sung part – and speaking of, I love the low-register singing here.
Hey You is another change back to lightness and exuberance. I prefer the album version to the one on Join The Dots, and have warmed to it a little. Just Like Heaven, which so many people love, really isn’t my thing – I’ve never really liked that kind of pop music (and yes, that’s the other thing Pauline with the spiky hair played to us back in our Year 12 classroom the year that album came out). I wonder about my reaction and I think it’s more to do with the music than the words, which on their own are a perfectly acceptable piece on romantic love, and I actually think it’s important as an antidote to toxic masculinity to have males write things like this instead of just shredding guitars and channelling anger in hard-rock settings. I think I’d like the song better with the keyboards taken out, and as is so often the case, I don’t have a negative reaction when The Cure play it live.
The music does actually go with the words; there’s no mismatch – it’s whimsical, joyful, playful, breezy. But this is one of the songs I always disliked when I heard it on the radio as a younger person, and because it seemed to be played all the time, it became one of a few dozen pop songs over the years that I just got more and more allergic to (Friday I’m In Love is the other one from this band that always made me run and still does). Tastes change and while I took to both the studio and live versions of Love Cats, Why Can’t I Be You?, Close To You etc as a mature adult, those two I just haven’t come around to.
Some additional thoughts that occured to me later on, which I’ve edited into here: I think the reason I don’t have a negative reaction when I hear this song played live is because then there’s a human being in it, if that makes any sense, and because you can have respect for someone else’s heart for feeling something, at the same time that you have respect for your own heart for not feeling that thing. That’s a principle that has so much application. So in this particular case, it goes from a song that annoys me on the radio, to a song that’s being performed by a person for whom this is a piece of their own heart, and those are different propositions. It might seem like an artificial distinction and perhaps it is, but studio music is “canned” and live music is not, even though of course when I watch a concert film, it’s still canned in its own way, but it’s not as separate from the people performing it.
All I Want is an interesting number and another good discovery to make. Musically is works for me – I love the textures in it, the edginess, the hints of Eastern melody, the playing-like-you-mean-it, the seriousness I suppose. And now I’m interrogating my use of the word serious… because I’m sure Robert Smith is equally serious about the lyrics to Just Like Heaven, so do I have the right word? Am I somehow subscribing to the snobbery that writing about romantic love isn’t a serious thing? I don’t think I am, because I don’t have a problem with the words of Just Like Heaven, and with a whole bunch of songs about romantic love which I consider really well-written, including many on the topic from this band.
But I do have a problem with airheaded songs about romantic love, and wouldn’t classify those as serious: The sorts of songs that are melodramatic and like soap opera and naive and one-dimensional – “And then came the knight in shining armour and solved all my problems” etc. Mills & Boon, versus Pride & Prejudice. Also with obviously dysfunctional ideas and attitudes – with songs that confuse co-dependency for love, or sex for love, or infatuation for love, or need for love, or wanting to own and control someone for love, and thus perpetuate these problems. I don’t know what the solution to that is, because obviously life is a journey, and people write songs all along the various stages of their journeys. Part of the solution, though, is songs about romantic love that are healthy and realistic, and songs that are honest and actually address common pitfalls and problems. And maybe some lessons on the many Greek words to describe many different aspects of love…
All I Want doesn’t set off my alarm bells in any way, but did make us giggle and start a word game. This is because as we were listening on that Sunday night, I was asking Brett, “Do you get what he wants to hold her like? A dog? A doll? A door?” All seemed equally unlikely, and neither of us could tell, so I tried to decipher the lyric sheet. Yeah, hahaha – black on red, low contrast, tiny print, whose idea was that? I couldn’t do it even with glasses on, had to move under a 100W light, and was cursing the misdemeanours of graphic design (nice handwriting for the song titles though). And it really does say “dog”!
So then it was, “OK, do you think she’s the dog or he’s the dog?” and then we were falling about laughing, and trying out other animals:
All I want is to hold you like a hippopotamus
All I want is to hold you like a sea urchin
All I want is to hold you like a lemming
All I want is to hold you like a warthog
And actually, we can’t relate to wanting to hold someone like a dog, except our dog, who happens to like being held – and it’s a vastly different experience to holding each other. Perhaps Robert Smith actually wrote this song for his dog?
But there is one animal that both of us often conjure up when holding one another, so I guess if we’d written that song, we’d have written:
All I want is to hold you like an octopus
It’s like this, you see: You’re snuggling up to your beloved on a horizontal surface, and you’ve got your arms around each other and your bare feet tangling , and you experience a sudden intense wish for a few extra limbs to do things with. So if you were an octopus…
And so we have a game at our place which is called, “If I were an octopus.” It involves telling each other what you would do with the extra tentacles that you would then have at your disposal. If it’s my turn, usually my eighth tentacle will be tickling my husband’s earlobe, or I’ll be sticking it up his nose, just to make a little contrast with the plans I have for the other seven (which he is very agreeable to, but then he’s outraged by what I would do with the very last tentacle ). And don’t forget, octopus tentacles also have suckers, which you could put to interesting uses, like just suctioning the tip of your beloved’s nose, or maybe the pads of his toes (there’s way enough suckers to do all of the toes with just one tentacle).
I have noticed that the mock-exasperation of your spouse increases when you make little squelching noises when you talk about this, bwahahahaha. Or when you touch the tip of his nose and then make a little suctioning sound…
At this point we would like to thank Attenborough’s film crew, who always had this knack of making molluscs look so sexy.
And now, all talk of molluscs must cease. This is a gorgeous song:
This is very like the “watercolour” music I admired on Join The Dots – tracks like This Twilight Garden, A Chain Of Flowers, The Big Hand – really evocative instrumentation, a dreamy sense of floating through space. The instruments on One More Time feel as if they are played by a bunch of flower fairies who are thinking about the sweetness of life yet its fleeting nature. I can actually see them playing their flutes and pipes by a stream deep in the forest. Lyrics and singing are lovely too.
If you like this kind of music, you might enjoy this book:
Another highlight for me:
I really, really like this – the way they’ve built an intro that actually suggests the sounds of cockatoos (we’ve got endangered Black Cockatoos who make sounds very like that in the forest right behind our house), and the bass/drums lines that almost sound like something you’d hear on a heavy metal ballad, or in opera – and the acoustic guitar overlaid onto that, and then the string arrangements over it at the end. It’s beautifully composed, and holds your attention from start to finish.
As this is a first-impressions review, I won’t look at lyrics until later, but I think there’s going to be lots of interesting stuff to ponder.
I’d already met an incarnation of Icing Sugar on Join The Dots and wrote about it briefly on the thread I did for that. The next track, The Perfect Girl, I really like:
It sort of skips hand in hand with Catch, and Caterpillar Girl, and Love Cats, and other Cure tracks like that. The lyrics on this one I caught first time around, which is a bonus, and they’re just perfect for capturing a mood, together with the music.
I also like the music on A Thousand Hours, although the vocal style on this one grates on me a bit:
Perhaps when I look at the lyrics more closely at a later stage, it will become obvious why it’s sung that way and grow on me.
I didn’t really like Shiver And Shake on first impressions; we’ll see how that goes. Fight has me intrigued and its lyrics are worth looking at closely:
The song, and therefore this album, literally goes out with a bang, and that made me laugh because it made me instantly remember the conversation between Salieri and Mozart in the film Amadeus… paraphrasing from memory, “You didn’t even give them a big bang at the end to let them know you’d finished!” and Mozart goes, “Yeah, I should take some lessons from you!” Meow.
While the ratio of songs I like to songs I don’t is about the same on KMKMKM as on 4:13 Dream for me, most of the ones I don’t love I still find worth listening to for both albums – on reflection I think there’s only one or two on either of them I’d skip completely. I think the 1987 album has a richer sound, and that’s partly down to sumptuous instrumentation on much of KMKMKM, and I strongly suspect, also partly to do with the loudness wars causing a decline in the dynamic range of the more contemporary CDs – a most unfortunate thing, and I hope that this isn’t going to be a problem with the upcoming release.
Next post on KMKMKM will be my favourite B-sides from that material, which I think are worth revisiting.
I might come back and edit this post in future just to drop in some live versions of the featured songs as well!
June 20, 2020
…and now, as promised, my three favourite B-sides from the stuff recorded for that album:
I already wrote about these tracks here…
See you next instalment. 💫
A PS for Kirsty Jones, a fellow student way back when we were in Year 12, who once borrowed the personal journal I was writing that year overnight and told me the next day, “Sue, you have to publish this.” I was perplexed – I could see why a friend might enjoy reading your journal, but outside that context, surely this was just the random ramblings of a random person? Thank you, Kirsty, for putting this seed in my mind long ago – and for the Shakespeare anthology. This is for Kirsty, and for all the Kirstys out there! ♥