The 1983 non-LP singles compilation album Japanese Whispers and 1984’s The Top both marked a change in the musical direction for the Cure leading the band away from its Goth-rock sound. With singer/guitarist Robert Smith taking charge, the band suddenly gained a worldwide following though the tour for The Top was troubled. Drummer Andy Anderson’s firing and bassist Phil Thornalley’s departure left spots vacant for the band that featured Smith, keyboardist Lol Tolhurst, and guitarist Porl Thompson. Boris Williams eventually filled in Anderson’s spot though it would take some work for Smith to bring back Simon Gallup back to the fold after his departure from the band after the tour for Pornography. Gallup’s return prompted Smith to record a new album that would be one of their defining moments with The Head on the Door.
Written by Robert Smith and produced by Smith and David M. Allen, The Head on the Door is an album where the Cure would go full-fledge pop while featuring bits of their early Goth sound into something more direct. With a more stable line-up that includes Smith, guitarist/keyboardist Porl Thompson, bassist Simon Gallup, keyboardist Lol Tolhurst, and drummer Boris Williams, it’s an album that sounds fuller and richer than The Top showcasing that it’s a band playing instead of Smith taking charge. With lyrics showing some more upbeat elements meshed in with the band’s melancholic tone, the result is one of the Cure’s best albums of their career.
Opening the album is the first single Inbetween Days with Boris Williams’ upbeat yet steady drums with Simon Gallup’s melodic bass line and brimming acoustic guitars from Porl Thompson and Robert Smith. Featuring Lol Tolhurst’s soothing synthesizer, Smith sings the song’s morose lyrics that is filled with anguish as it’s one of the band’s best singles. Kyoto Song is a mid-tempo song with slow but hollow beats and Japanese-style string melodies that is carried by Gallup’s low bass and soft guitars. Smith sings in his wailing vocals through the song’s harrowing yet surreal lyrics of death as the song is supported by David M. Allen’s wondrous production.
The Blood is led by swift, Spanish-style guitar washes with bopping rhythms and percussions along with Tolhurst’s soothing keyboards. Smith sings in a calm vocal style with stark imagery relating to heartbreak and faith as it includes a wonderful flamenco solo from Thompson. Six Different Ways is a quirky upbeat song with rumbling yet sparse beats to a mid-tempo rhythm and layers of scintillating synthesizers acting as strings and flutes along melodic piano swirls. Smith sings the song’s abstract lyrics of longing as it’s filled with eccentric lines playing to Smith’s strange sense of humor. Push is led by driving guitar riffs and Williams’ pummeling drums to a powerful, upbeat track with Gallup’s sturdy bass and Tolhurst’s soft keyboards. Smith wails through the song with his vocals filled with multi-tracked mixes on his vocals as it’s filled with lyrics of longing.
The Baby Screams is a bopping mid-tempo track that is driven by Gallup’s warbling bass and clap-like beats that is followed by droning keyboards and shimmering piano melodies. Smith sings the song’s haunting lyrics with his broad vocals as he is supporting by swirling guitar solos and Allen’s hypnotic production. Close to Me is a mid-tempo track with soft, hammering beats and melodic-tingling keyboards as Smith sings in a soothing vocal style to the song’s fearful lyrics of longing. With its simple presentation, it is one of the band’s best songs. A Night Like This is led by driving guitars, hard-hitting drums, heavy bass, and soft keyboards in a mid-tempo track that features Smith singing desperate yet somber lyrics. The song includes a saxophone solo from Ron Howe of Fools Dance to add a dramatic flair in another of the Cure’s best songs.
Screw opens with Gallup’s droning bass line that includes hollow, tick-tock-laden keyboards and steady beats with Smith’s calm vocals. Featuring lyrics of self-harm with some dark humor, it is one of the Cure’s menacing songs as it includes a swirling guitar solo and a layered yet textured production by David M. Allen. The album closer is Sinking is a smooth, mid-tempo track with driving bass and guitars, hammering beats, swooning keyboards, and a melodic piano that is carried through its rich production. Smith’s vocals are quaint and soothing as he sings melancholic lyrics filled with despaired imagery as it’s a wonderful way to close the album.
The 2006 deluxe edition of the album features the original album remastered under the supervision of Robert Smith along with a second disc of additional material. Included in the second disc are demos of songs from the album including B-sides and some unheard rarities.
The first four tracks are instrumental home demos to Inbetween Days and Push along with two rarities in Inwood and Innsbrook. The demos for Inbetween Days and Push are presented in rough versions with a drum machine and different instruments each in their respective tempos. Inwood is a track with sputtering, mid-tempo drum machine beats, swirling guitars, and wailing synthesizers while Innsbrook is a slower track with eerie bass lines and guitar melodies to soft, rumbling beats.
The next eleven tracks on the album are studio demos for many of the songs on the album plus B-sides and a couple of rarities Mansolidgone and Lime Time. The demos for Mansolidgone is a smooth, mid-tempo track with slow jazz rhythms and Smith’s yelping vocals singing nonsensical lyrics as the track has a similar song structure to the B-side A Man Inside My Mouth. The demo for the rarity Lime Time is an upbeat track with swooning synthesizer melodies and thumping rhythms with Smith singing in a calm vocal style as it‘s a wonderful rarity.
The demos for the songs Screw, Kyoto Song, Six Different Ways, A Night Like This, and Close to Me are each presented in rough versions as the instrumentations are the same with some louder synthesizers in some spots plus more saxophone in A Night Like This and a drum machine for Close to Me. The demos for the B-sides Stop Dead, A Few Hours After This…, A Man Inside My Mouth, and The Exploding Boy are among the highlights with Stop Dead being a wobbly, bass-driven track and A Few Hours After This… having a T-Rex inspired drive. A Man Inside My Mouth is presented with a more driving, up-tempo rhythm with buzzing synthesizer swirls and snarling vocals while The Exploding Boy features brimming guitars and wailing synthesizers to walloping beats.
The last three tracks are live bootleg versions of the songs The Baby Screams, The Blood, and Sinking. The performances for the songs are very lively and energetic with the mixing for all of the instruments to be very balanced along with Smith’s vocals and the roar of the audience.
Released in August 26, 1985, the album proved to be a major hit for the band as it peaked at #7 in the U.K. charts and reached #59 in the U.S. album charts. The album also helped increase the band’s worldwide audience while their American audience that consisted of college radio listeners and Goth kids began to increase. The advent of MTV with their videos that were directed by longtime collaborator Tim Pope helped increase their audience helping the band to become one of the key alternative acts of the 1980s.
The Head on the Door is a magnificent yet enjoyable album from the Cure as it among one of their best recordings in par with other classics like Disintegration, Pornography, and Faith. Thanks in part to David M. Allen’s rich production and the whimsical performance of the band, it is truly an album that is intoxicating from start to finish. The deluxe version also has some great moments showing how these songs were made before coming into its final version. In the end, The Head on the Door is a superb yet enchanting album from the Cure.
The Cure Studio Albums: Three Imaginary Boys - Seventeen Seconds - Faith - Pornography - The Top - Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me - Disintegration - Wish - Wild Mood Swings - Bloodflowers - The Cure - 4:13 Dream
Compilations: Staring at the Sea/Standing on a Beach - Mixed Up - Galore - Greatest Hits - Join the Dots
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