Review Summary: A bizarre, chaotic album from a 'band' that didn't know WHAT was going on. Also contains some real gems.
So, an attempt to put this rather weird album in perspective. This was created by a band in transition. Tolhurst was on another planet, Gallup had gone after a fight, so it was basically up to Robert Smith to play most of the instruments (except drums) and bash out something resembling a step forward for The Cure. The result is an extremely eclectic album that tries some strange ideas out but has no focus whatsoever. Smith himself has declared this "the worst Cure album ever". But he may have been a bit hasty there.
The Cure had become rather poppy. Singles such as 'Lovecats' had opened the band up to a new audience that preferred this newfound accessibility to the likes of 'Three Ordinary Boys'. Unfortunately, with a less than unified band and Smith's own health very poor at this time (blood poisoning"), any music produced was bound to be a little rough around the edges.
It starts with ‘Shake Dog Shake’, a rhythmic trudger that at first doesn’t sound like that much of a departure, except for the brilliantly vile opening lyrics “Wake up in the dark / The aftertaste of anger in the back of my mouth / Spit it on the wall / And cough some more and scrape my skin with razor blades“
. ‘Birdmad Girl’ is excellent, with classic Cure guitars and woody sound effects. But the album soon reaches a moody climax with ‘Wailing Wall’, a Middle-Eastern-sounding song with excellent percussion (the rest of this album unfortunately has the worst percussion of any Cure album). It's atmospheric and chilling, and Smith’s vocals have never sounded so appropriate. So if up until this point you’ve had the volume turned up pretty loud to fully appreciate the hidden sounds at the start of this LP, now might be the time to take it down a notch or two. Or instead turn it up if, like me, you love tracks like ‘Give Me It’. Wow! This is a crazy, off-key HEADRUSH of a song, with some effective lyrics “Gasping For Air/I’m Gasping For Air/I’m Gasping For Love/I’m Gasping For Air”, and all to a backing track of adrenaline-infused guitars and drums that sound like invading Panzer divisions. Truly striking and disconcerting, especially the rather disturbing sounds of baby-cries near the end.
After that follows ‘Dressing Up’, a chilled-out pop number with a cool woodwind/reed effect, marred by Smith’s worst vocals. He moans his way through this, but not in the good, you know, Robert Smith way. Not so in ‘The Caterpillar’, a song completely out of place on this album and probably only included to cater for the ‘new’ Cure fans who liked the recent poppy singles. This song is a sprig of happiness in this poisoned record. The violins at the start are quirky, and Smith’s delivery of lines such as “Flicker-Flicker-Flicker-Flicker-Flicker-Flicker-Flicker-Flicker Here You Are” is immature and, ergo, brilliant. The rest of the album, for all its strangeness (yes, even by Cure standards), is largely forgettable. ‘Piggy In The Mirror’ has a great middle-eight, but Smith‘s vocals are rather comically forced, while ‘The Empty World’ has a marching sound that doesn’t suit this group at all. ‘Bananafishbones’ is saved by its wonderful title and eccentric intro, but ‘The Top’ ends the album on a rather flat note. It’s ominous enough, but that should probably read ANonymous. Mystifying for all that, though.
It all has a kind of psychedelic strangeness to it. Peculiar, and strangely enjoyable. Even a Cure-virgin would recognise that this sounds a little non-directional and other-worldly. This wasn’t released in the US (until it was recently remastered) and so many have been deprived of a vital part of The Cure’s development. That’s not to say that ‘The Top’ is an essential purchase. But when you consider how much flak this receives from the music scene in general, it does seem a little unfair that more people aren’t bothering to check it out and judge for themselves. Undoubtedly, if you’re a Cure fan it will eventually grow on you. For the rest, well, it offers to fill that niche in your collection,the one labelled ‘Weird **** ”. Good to get out when you’re sick of the same old stuff and want to listen to, as the Pythons would say, “…something completely different”. I should emphasise, this is an underrated album. But it’s too flawed and unintentionally twisted to be a classic.