Review Summary: Polar bear dreams…
‘The Top’ is a pretty weird album from a pretty weird time in The Cure’s history. The band’s line-up was as tenuous as ever, with Gallup still one album away from rejoining his pals Robert Smith and Lol Tolhurst, and to top it off, the existing members were still having a bit of trouble working together, leaving Smith with the unenviable task of writing all the material and playing the majority of instruments himself.
As such, the album feels a little uncertain of itself, sticking its fragile fingers into several pies in an attempt to find a flavour suited to this shaky and streamlined incarnation of The Cure. A vast array of styles and sounds are blended together, with Smith building on the left-field ‘Japanese Whispers’ singles, taking their poppier sound and channelling it into untouched ground. It’s safe to say ‘The Top’ is definitely a transitional and experimental album - an unfocused pre-curser to albums like ‘The Head On The Door’ that would perfect and improve on the groups changing musical direction.
However, said uncertainty actually ends up benefiting the album to a certain extent, as unlikely as it sounds. Because Smith was dabbling with oodles of new sounds and ideas, the album shapes up as an exciting and consistently curious experience - casually throwing in odd noises and experimental concepts wherever it sees fit. The result is a swirling and surprising wave of playfulness, far from the rigid, tightly-coiled greyness of earlier outings.
The album bounces between crunchy, psychedelic numbers like the snarling opener ‘Shake Dog Shake’ and bizarrely exotic, eastern-tinged excursions such as ‘Bird Mad Girl’ - one of the albums highlights, as it goes. In fact, it’s difficult to label the album with a single accurate genre tag, other than to say it’s an exotic, psychedelic post-punk whirlwind, complete with terrifically weird and weirdly terrific moments like ‘Wailing Wall’, accompanied by its bubbling undercurrent of distorted moans and groans, and the pugnacious frustration of ‘Give Me It’ - a solid number with frenetic percussion and guitars so fuzzy they end up sounding more like chainsaws than string instruments.
But for every strong outing, such as the marching drums of ‘The Empty World’ or the menacing, pulsing bass line present in the silly-named ‘Bananafishbones’, the album has a less compelling counterpart to match, such as the pointless ‘Dressing Up’ or the too-sluggish-for-it’s-own-good ‘The Top’. Fortunately, the number of intriguing moments slightly outweighs the amount of weaker ones when the album is given a fair chance to grow on the listener - it is an experimental outing after all, so not every song will hit big instantly, perhaps even more so for those Cure fans still stuck in the bands gothic phase.
‘The Top’ captures The Cure in a transitional period, and as such, some of its experiments and ideas don’t quite gel, but when they do work they’re intriguing and surprisingly effective. The key to getting the most out of ‘The Top’ is to simply understand that it’s experimental and transitional, so it’s uniqueness can take a little longer than usual to set in, and even then, not every track will be a big hit, given the album’s eclecticism. With all that mind, the best consumer advice one could issue, is thus: take it with a pinch of salt and just enjoy it for what it is - an odd, chaotic, wild, unrestrained, and more than anything else, crucial chapter in the band’s history.