Review Summary: The door to rejuvenation…
It’s almost shocking how much The Cure improved over the course of a year. Moving from the unfocused, experimental mess that was 1984‘s ‘The Top’ to the majestic beauty of ‘The Head On The Door’ the following year, one gets the impression that Robert Smith was rejuvenated and cured (pun alert) of his creative toil when long-standing pal Simon Gallup returned to deploy his bass skills, sorely missed since ‘Pornography’ back in ‘82.
Right from the superb opener ‘Inbetween Days’ things sound immensely stronger than any of last year’s efforts, with a gorgeous wave of New Order-esque synth and guitar washing the listener in its refreshing glow, before ‘Kyoto Song’s sophisticated melody starts up, with strong vocals from Smith, feather-soft guitar, and evocative oriental sounds flickering in the background.
The record just moves from strength to strength, each track further solidifying the notion that ‘The Head On The Door’ is simply one of the best albums the gang of goths ever did. Writing of the ‘gang of goths’, it begins to seem inaccurate to label them as such, because nothing here is stereotypically gothic. In fact, its surprisingly radio-friendly for a Cure record - not a sign of selling out on the band’s behalf, but rather a sign they’d reached a new level of sophistication and skill, with Smith managing to express his typical angst-filled confessions with a verve, vigour, and eye for pop-hooks he never quite accomplished before.
Why ‘The Head On The Door’ works so well is because it takes the best features of each of The Cure’s previous phases and blends them together seamlessly. To put it another way, it takes the pop-hooks from the ‘Japanese Whisper’ singles, the smorgasbord of ideas and sounds from ‘The Top’, the familiarly gloomy subject matter from the gothic trilogy, and refines each of them until they’re at an incredibly polished, pop-friendly standard, before combining them. The result is a familiar yet fresh brand of The Cure - a band sounding better than it had in years.
In addition, the band still found room to experiment, best witnessed by the flamenco guitars and castanets present on the fantastic ‘The Blood’, and the beat-driven, oddness of ‘Close To Me’. It’s impossible to call this a complete review without writing about ‘Close To Me’ in further detail because it’s simply one of the greatest songs The Cure ever did. It’s ever-so-subtle undercurrent of breathy samples and gentle synth bubbles provide a wry backing to the desperately dark lyrics, giving the number a menacing and slightly demented quality.
Other highlights that deserve a mention include the odd synth and piano fluttering like the wings of a hummingbird on ‘Six Different Ways’, the lengthy but stunning intro to ‘Push’, the sublime riff driving the pretty ‘A Night Like This’, and the angry, fuzzy grind of ‘Screw’. Truth be told, there’s genuinely not a single weak track on the entire disc, and any of the above songs could easily be swapped out in favour of any of the other tracks, and still require the same level of praising superlative - such is the undeniable quality at play.
‘The Head On The Door’ is easily one of most accomplished and enjoyable albums the band ever produced. It’s refreshing and consistent; pleasantly familiar at times, but excitingly experimental at others, and alternative, yet hooky enough to be immediately catchy. Robert Smith penned some of his sharpest lyrics here and, with a full band that was sorely missed since Gallup’s departure, some of his strongest melodies too. The full band setting helped usher in rejuvenation for a group whose future appeared to be hanging by a thread, a year previous, and to top it all off, singles like ‘Inbetween Days’ managed to make headway in popularising the band outside of their home turf; just scrapping into the Billboard Hot 100 at #99. To put it simply; with ‘The Head On The Door’, The Cure reached heady heights indeed.