The Cure - The Head On The Door

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:1985-08-26

A girl I had a crush on turned me on to this album. Alas, I didn’t get the girl but got The Cure. It was 1985 and the “Alternative” movement was in full swing and if name dropping The Cure was going to impress the girl of your dreams, then by god, you did your research. It wasn’t long before I conducted a full investigation into this quirky English band with the screechy vocals an ominous bass lines. Truth is, I wasn’t nearly as smitten with The Cure as I was by the Smiths. I liked Faith and a few singles but album-wise, a lot of The Cure left me cold. However, I was genuinely floored by The Head On The Door. To this day, I would rank it as The Cure’s finest hour. Or rather, 37:46.

Looking back, The Head On The Door was The Cure’s watershed moment. If it was meant to reach a wider audience, it didn’t sound like a calculated effort. What’s clear is that the band were hell bent on digging themselves out of the bleakness of Pornography. Where tracks like ‘Caterpillar’ and ‘Lovecats’ hinted at a sense of humor and diversity, I found The Top and Chinese Whispers inconsistent and underwhelming. With The Head On The Door, diversity was fully embraced along with an unabashed Pop sensibility. There were several contributing factors in this. For the first time, front man Robert Smith composed all the songs. In addition, there were key line-up changes. Bassist Simon Gallup returned to the fold. His signature playing is an indelible part of the band.  One note from him and you know it’s The Cure. Also, multi-instrumentalist Porl Thompson officially joined the group along with drummer, Boris Williams. Add it all up, and this was not the same band that cut ‘Boys Don't Cry'.

‘In Between Days’ is a song for the ages. Fraught with melancholy and yearning, it was the perfect soundtrack for pining after that “Cure” girl of my dreams. After all these years, ‘Days’ still sounds fresh and inviting. Where their last few albums sounded cold and under glass, here the production is warm and colorful. True, nostalgia wears rose colored glasses, but to this day, this track doesn’t sound all that dated to me.

The phantasmagoric ‘Kyoto Song’ follows with Occidental stylings and nightmare imagery. ‘The Blood’ steps up next with its flamenco guitar, playing matador with the many horned beast of the Catholic Church. Both manage to perfectly balance camp and substance. There is an eclecticism here that’s on par with The Clash’s London Calling. Reaching beyond Punk’s comfortable formula and incorporating a spinning globe's worth of new sounds.

The Cure have never recorded anything quite like ‘Six Different Ways’ and to be frank, it remains the album’s most alluring track. It’s hard to say what this punchy little number is about other than mooning over your lady love on acid. At the very least, it perversely leads The Cure’s gloomy reputation to its doom.  

With a few exceptions, I find that The Cure’s prior albums had a knack for dropping the ball at some point. Here we get a much needed ‘Push’. It’s The Cure at their most soaring and unapologetically Pop. Its hard to believe this is the same band that cut, Pornography. Along with ‘In Between Days’ it’s one of the albums more outgoing tracks. ‘Baby Screams’ kicks in right after, and that that ball has no hope of hitting rock bottom.

Another major standout is, ‘Close To Me’, a song that more than lives up to title. This one nuzzles up a touch too close for comfort with baited breath. It’s a perfect mix of the melodic and the claustrophobic. A most danceable ode to tripping alone. On ‘Night Like This’ however, things grow darker, yet defiantly romantic. A sweeping nocturne with a sax solo that miraculously escapes mawkishness. It’s without a doubt, the album’s grand number. Not only living up to its ambitions but owning them.

It’s hard what to make of ‘Screw’. It feels a bit arbitrary and less like a song than a tossed off studio jam. Yet, it has a spontaneity that strangely works, providing some much-needed revelry before The Head On The Door’s haunting finale. Dreamlike and meandering, ‘Sinking’ hints at what was to come later with Disintegration.  “So I trick myself, like everybody else,” Smith croons in his tom cat-like yowl. It’s a track that would have easily been at home on Faith. But where that album’s production was cold and sparse, there is a shimmering lushness and depth here. It isn’t the sound of sinking so much of drifting helplessly out to sea.

Without a doubt, The Head On The Door was a milestone record for The Cure. One that signaled a new direction. If their previous period felt like a spy left to freeze out in the cold, here spring has sprung with its fair share of rainy days and chilly nights. And where Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is an overstuffed buffet and Disintegration, epic in its ghostly majesty, The Head On The Door is a lesson in economy. Less is truly more. Smith has gone on record stating The Human League’s Dare and Siouxie and The Banshees’ Kaleidoscope provided the inspiration. The results however sound far less dated and original. If Disintegration is their Sgt Pepper’s, then The Head On The Door is their Revolver.    

Overall Rating (2)

5 out of 5 stars