This episode of the curated open journal is an excerpt of an open journal entry comparing and contrasting Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and The Head On The Door, and selected responses from discussion that ensued. To see the complete discussion, you can go to the original thread here.
August 15, 2020
I’m trying to explain some of my enthusiasm for The Cure to my journal group on my “other forum” and half expecting to get censored and reprimanded by the moderators because I put The Kiss in the playlist there (I couldn’t post And God Said there the other day because that would surely get me banned ?). The people officiating at that place (Brett says “miserable puritans” would be a better choice of words) probably wouldn’t like the lyrics to that (although they may not get through the gloriously noisy four minutes or so that precede them) – it’s funny what offends Americans, and what doesn’t when it so totally should… You can spew hate speech about women and minorities and gibber idiocies all day long and be elected president there, but you can never ever say “fuck” because man, that’s morally bad. (I am disinclined to its use myself, and when people use it for punctuation or to purposely offend I want to vomit, but I’m not opposed to the use of that word when it’s truly appropriate.) You can’t sing, “I wish you were dead!” but you can blow up Japanese civilians with a nuclear bomb, or take out hundreds of non-American civilians to avenge one American death – yeah hey, that makes total sense. ?
I got back to this topic this morning because I was bubbling over with enthusiasm about various tracks off Kiss Me. We’ve been listening to both albums (KMKMKM and The Head On The Door) in the couple of months since they arrived in the mailbox, and KMKMKM, to which our initial response was already overwhelmingly positive, has just continued to grow on us, so that it’s now firmly in my own top three personal favourite Cure albums so far.
Meanwhile, we’re both finding The Head On The Door is not our cup of tea – unlike KMKMKM, it sounds very distinctly 80s, and we’ve never been general fans of distinctly 80s music ourselves. In a way it’s listening to these albums as a pair which is driving down our patience for KMKMKM‘s predecessor. The brilliance of one of them makes the other one pedestrian by comparison. The Head On The Door is not a bad album, it’s just not one I’m dying to listen to.
The other day, we put on one of those “100 songs from the 80s” (about ten seconds of each song, or it would have killed us) compilations on YT, and it made us cringe and produce exclamations of woe, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. After that, I can appreciate The Head On The Door better, because OMG, there was some dreadful music in the 80s.
Now as we figured out with Howard Jones (over here), I can look past that to a degree when there is something useful being said in the lyrics, but I honestly don’t feel that way about anything I’m hearing on The Head On The Door either. I’ll keep looking and listening – sometimes something will grow on me, we’ll see how that goes. But to be honest, I’m running into very similar problems here as I was with CD-1 of Join The Dots. I became a Cure fan because of Bloodflowers, not because of their 80s music or their radio hits. That album has a maturity and a sense of perspective which The Cure’s early albums just don’t have – even when the music is wonderful. If I was 20 now, perhaps I’d feel differently, but I’m not and life is a journey, and OMG I would never want to be 20 again. (35, 40, OK, but not 20… )
Honestly, I also feel that the lyrics on KMKMKM are a vast leap from what’s on offer on its predecessor. I know some of you will be very fond of The Head On The Door because you grew up with it and were the right age for it etc, and if you wish to educate me on any of the lyrics, and why you personally love this album, you will find me a willing listener.
Personally, I was a bit surprised to be reacting with underwhelm, since both of us rather like The Top from a couple of years before that. Lyrically, The Head On The Door seems to be a backwards step from that, and earlier Cure material like Other Voices and a whole bunch of other stuff. It seemed to me like you could write a lyrics algorithm which specifies the inclusion of various suggestively poetic words and phrases, and instructions to mix them in with obscure padding and mumbo-jumbo, and prohibit any daylight from reaching any of that, and you’d have a fair approximation of the lyrics on that album. But as I said, educate me if you think I’m in need remedial lessons.
The opener of that album, In-Between Days, was the first Cure song I remember having a distinctly warm response to as a teenager – it was constantly played during our middle school summer camp in 1985, along with Bryan Adams’ Heaven, and both songs take me back to that memorable summer in the Darling Ranges (end of middle school, hooray), to the Jarrah forest, to the swimming holes, and the golden sun that suffused everything, to the awful sugary packet cereals we all had for breakfast, and to the rumours that one of our teachers had had a serious wardrobe failure with his bathers when swimming with a group of students (the one that always blushed like a beetroot when he was supposed to be giving us sex education lessons as part of the Health curriculum).
Musically I still really like that song, but the lyrics actually annoy me more often than not, and I would prefer it in Swahili I think. The studio version of Push I also like musically, but bleh about the lyrics. I actually love the saxophone part on A Night Like This but I don’t want to think too much about the lyrics in case it’s going to be another This Is A Lie (is it?).
On a positive note, I’ve decided that for all the kudos David Bowie gets, and despite of my academic appreciation of how important he was in influencing other artists etc, I actually get less interested in his music the more I explore it, and have never bought an album by him for that reason (the best-of was a present and I actually like it better than his revered obscure stuff, in which I’ve been getting an education on this forum), while the opposite is true for The Cure. Personally, I think The Cure are way more versatile than Bowie ever was, and are much more cohesive musically as players, and unlike him, actually have a lot of musical warmth (ed. – to me – and not every track of theirs, just in general). Even the Bowie tracks I really like are anything but warm (ed. – to me) – they’re like something off a distant planet, being beamed back to Earth. The Cure, on the other hand, you just know they are flesh and blood, and that they’re on the same planet as the rest of us, and that they (or at least some of them) have hearts without teflon coatings over the top of them.
PS: I have received some information backstage to say that people can experience Bowie’s music as warm. I’m looking forward to hearing more, and it also has me thinking about brain settings all over again – and I’ve put bracketed edits in above that counters the implied presumption that what’s warm or not to me is warm or not, so thank you for the feedback!
August 17, 2020
Next followed an intelligent and courteous exchange with a longtime Cure fan called MAtT who jumped in to comment at this point. MAtT also goes by infovoy and collects and collates for the public rare Cure audio – as well as showing a healthy interest in diverse other music, not to mention the rest of the universe. ?
Hey Sue, I know where you’re coming from with The Head on The Door. I tend to think of it as their most poppy and accessible album, though like you, I didn’t come to it on release, but (for me) a few years later (Kiss Me was their latest LP when I discovered them, and Disintegration their first release post discovery).
It was certainly instrumental in their rise as a popular band here in the UK; the kind of band that got them pieces in poppy teen mags like Smash Hits, as well as in the more serious music press like the NME and Melody Maker, which they’d already had for a while. And the Inbetween Days and Close To Me singles both did well in the charts. The latter’s video was especially popular, so much so that people I knew who didn’t know them well would sometimes later call them ‘that video in the wardrobe band’!
The album itself reflects that shift I think. Unlike The Top before it with Shake Dog and Give Me It, and Kiss Me after with the opening statement of The Kiss and more to follow, there’s nothing I’d really call ‘heavy’ on it. The deepest it gets for me is Sinking, which is its only song I’d really put up there as classic (non-pop) Cure.
The other songs I do like quite a lot are Kyoto Song (something about its sparseness and simplicity gets me, a bit like the later B-Side Sugar Girl), Push (jangly, whimsical) and Six Different Ways (innovative – I like that it’s a 3/4 waltz). But The Baby Screams and Screw I’ve never been fond of, The Blood and A Night Like This are only ‘when-in-the-mood’ pieces for me, and the singles are – well – singles: better than so much else in the charts of course, but nothing special by Cure standards.
For me, in the grand scheme of things, HOTD is a lower tier Cure album. It’s better than the post 2000 offerings and (maybe) WMS, it’s up there with Three Imaginary Boys & Wish, but (just) below The Top. And it’s nowhere near the fantastic, mature diversity of Kiss Me, the mature class of Disintegration and Bloodflowers, or the ultimate raw genius of Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography.
(All subjective I know!)
That’s really interesting, @MAtT – thanks for the comparisons. Yeah, it’s all very subjective, and I keep thinking about my all-time favourite classical piece (Tabula rasa, part one), which to me is awe and joy and the ultimate musical thunderstorm, and to a good friend is depression and anguish and torture and she can’t bear to listen to it.
Also it’s funny how the way we use vocabulary depends on how we think. I double took when you said that HOTD was “accessible” because I guess I live in an upside-down universe (and the southern hemisphere ) and what’s accessible for me is the opposite of what’s accessible in the “general world” – to me personally, Fear of Ghosts was instantly accessible – as was If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, The Kiss, Plainsong, Disintegration, Lullaby, Jupiter Crash, Chain of Flowers, lots of stuff like that – and all of Bloodflowers – my brain just went “click” with these, from the first listen. Perhaps “accessible” isn’t the best way to describe that (for me) – clearly I’m drawn to complex stuff and therefore come at things in an inverted way. I’d far rather read the Thesaurus than a tabloid, climb a mountain than go to the gym, eat Harira than a cheeseburger or a hot dog etc. I don’t want to be anaesthetised, I want to continuously learn things, I enjoy being reminded how amazing the things are that are generally taken for granted, and I object to the toxic crap spawned across many aspects of our society.
But when I flipped my thinking around, then yes, I can see why you described HOTD as accessible. Ditto the radio hits, and all that. I’m an outlier and if the lemmings run one way, I’ll go another, always have. Something about the herd mentality just unsettles me, and I’ve always stood outside of that, whether that’s organised religion or binge drinking or convenience food or pop music or anything that smacks of rigid dogma – or greasy-pole climbing etc etc. When people start acting like a bunch of robotic ants, I get intensely uncomfortable and walk away.
On words again, I can see why you used the word “mature” where you did, but because I came in at Bloodflowers and in my early 40s, when I use the word “mature” these days it sort of has to be philosophically mature as well, which I really don’t think KMKMKM and Disintegration are, on the whole (though aspects of them are) – much as they are musically very mature; and excellent, incredibly creative offerings.
In other news, due to the pandemic I’m still waiting for two albums I ordered early this year, that had to come from the UK – Big Country’s The Crossing, The Waterboys’ An Appointment With Mr Yeats and it turns out they’re coming by sea because they couldn’t get cargo on a plane due to reduced traffic, and even the sea freight is delayed. I’m pretty sure Wish is available from within Australia though, and it sounds like I should go ahead and order it in – might even arrive before Christmas!
Always fun talking to other music enthusiasts!
Ah yes, I agree with all that, and by using “accessible” I mean ‘accessible to a general audience’ rather than to me personally now. Unlike you, when I got into The Cure it really was going from a Madonna loving popster ‘general audience’ type to something completely different, so the accessibility issues may well have applied to me back then. Fortunately, looking at the order in which I discovered the back catalogue, I was able to have a gradual introduction, completely by chance. I suspect if I’d been immediately confronted with Pornography, Faith, or even (the yet to be released) Disintegration I would have balked more at taking them to heart. I recall vividly putting a newly purchased Kiss Me on my brother’s turntable while he was out, having only heard the singles album and Three Imaginary Boys, and being pretty taken aback at The Kiss – the violence of the guitar sound, the ferociousness of the lyrics, the profanity! I was quite innocent really!
when I use the word “mature” these days it sort of has to be philosophically mature as well
… which I guess means the lyrics. As said before, I take note of the lyrics much less than you (one of the reasons I find your takes interesting). It’s not that I don’t love certain phrases and concepts, but that’s more for their poetic/sonic qualities rather than the literal meanings and messages. Nearly all the ways I describe my thoughts on songs refer to the music or overall feel of the songs (with some exceptions). But yes, I think you’re right that the song meanings have matured differently – more lineally with his age I’d think.
August 18, 2020
I find it so fascinating to compare notes on stuff like this, @MAtT – when you think about it, we all start as embryos and get born by lottery into often very different circumstances, and often have very different roads even to get to a particular vantage point we end up having in common. I think it’s so endlessly interesting what makes people be the way they are, especially if they are people who continuously grow and think. If the lottery had thrown me into even slightly different circumstances, my roads would have been different, and who I am today would not be the same, either. We do have agency, and some inbuilt traits, but so much also depends on circumstances, and on how we react to those circumstances (which is where learning is so helpful).
And to bring this back to The Cure, it seems to me comparing our different paths for getting into their music, from a particular starting point and then in a more general way, that they’ve done very well being so consciously “smorgasbord” and doing such a diversity of stuff. So you know, maybe I prefer Spaghetti Marinara, and Moroccan Harira, but while I’m up there I just might sample a small bit of Pavlova as well, even though I’d not generally do that because it’s so sickly sweet, but when you’re getting enough solid nutritious complex stuff, a little serve of (well-made) Pavlova with fruit and cream can actually be a nice thing – in combination with those other things, but never on its own, for me.
But then I know others who would happily have Pavlova for main course and come back for even more Pavlova. And perhaps, when they’re up there at the smorgasbord, they will notice, I don’t know, the sashimi and think, “OK, I wouldn’t eat that normally, but I liked the Pavlova, it was much better than average, and so I’m going to give this a shot.” And this might change the way they eat, and they may become more adventurous, and improve their nutrition that way (bwahahaha, sorry, couldn’t resist that one but of course I don’t think that way entirely anymore, it’s just this naughty imp part of me that can’t resist making a comment like that ).
It’s certainly broadening me, in terms what I will and won’t listen to. But… if I’m going to eat Pavlova, I’m not going to eat the supermarket stuff.
Thus concludes a discussion excerpt – for the original unabridged, complete with off-topic side tracks, please follow the hyperlinks provided above. Next time, I’m having another look at The Head On The Door.