Review Summary: A whisper of change…
As Robert Smith purchased a new calendar for the year 1983, things had begun to look rather bleak for The Cure. Not only had talented bassist Simon Gallup parted ways with his former friend after a series of falling-outs on the ‘Pornography’ tour, but said tour and album had also left the stripped down Cure duo psychically and psychologically drained. Extra salt was added to the wounds of Cure fans, when in December 1982 Smith remarked to Melody Maker: “Does The Cure really exist anymore" …it has got to a point where I don’t fancy working in that format again.” So when The Cure released a standalone single in late 1982, fans were probably as shocked as anybody, especially considering the song was a light synthpop number entitled ‘Lets Go To Bed’ that managed to notch up a #44 place on the UK charts.
The following year, two additional (and even more successful, as it turned out) poppy singles were made available to the public - a grateful public, it seemed, with ‘The Walk’ reaching #12, and ‘The Lovecats’ faring even better, hitting an impressive #7 position in 1983 on the reformed-goths home turf. The singles marked a change of direction in The Cure’s sound, so it’s convenient then, that fans were offered an opportunity to collect the aforementioned singles (and their respective b-sides) in one, neat bundle entitled ‘Japanese Whispers’, to investigate this unassumingly important chapter in the bands eclectic catalogue.
Reduced to a duo, Tolhurst ditched his drum set and hopped on keyboards (and would continue to tap keys until his departure), Smith retained his vocal and multi-instrument duties, and the lads hired session musicians to help fulfil the remaining roles. The band were obviously in a fragile state of mind when recording, as the eight tracks making up this odd compilation of non-album singles sound immediately less concerned than the gothic grandeur of The Cure’s last few albums, opting for quirky synths and silly pop lyrics over slow-building, atmospheric substance of yesteryear. Despite this, ‘Japanese Whispers’ still stands as an important album in The Cure’s history, as its new musical direction acted as a pre-curser to more expirmental albums like ‘The Top’ and ‘The Head On The Door’ - almost like an EP, hinting that the group were ready for a change.
Musically (that’s what’s most important, after all) it’s surprisingly good… at some points, that is. ‘Let’s Go To Bed’ is a strong single - a funky bass line, odd but lovable synth bleeps, and a genuinely infectious chorus make for a little belter. ‘The Walk’ is just as good, with it’s danceable beat and vaguely oriental-sounding ticks, littering the background, but without a doubt, the crown goes to ‘The Lovecats’. ‘The Lovecats’ is simply a Cure essential, featuring a jazzy rhythm section, cleverly paced piano twinkling, and that eternally loveable “baa-daa-daa-daa-daaaaa-daaaaa-daa-daa” hook; it’s a bizarre mix of styles one is tempted to label ‘goth-pop’, given the song’s oddball, night-time vibe, and is ultimately deserving of it’s chart success.
Sadly, the rest of the disc (the b-sides, in other words) is less compelling, although still enjoyable in its own right, with a couple of decent cuts in ‘Lament’ - with its slightly familiar sound being a welcomed reminder of the past - and the building ‘Just One Kiss’, that gets better with each listen. It’s because of this inconsistency that the album can’t really be considered all that great, from a hard-nosed, critical standpoint. Having said that, ‘Japanese Whispers’ proved to be a crucial stepping stone in the group’s evolution, and is surprisingly brilliant in places (e.g. ‘The Lovecats’, ‘Let’s Go To Bed’, ‘Walk’). With that in mind; if those with a deep-rooted love for the band’s more gothic moments are willing to open up to different version of The Cure they may just find more to enjoy than first assumed.