1982’s Pornography may have given the Cure their biggest commercial success to date despite its extremely dark tone. The band nearly imploded following a tour that led to Simon Gallup’s departure from the group for a couple of years. With vocalist/guitarist Robert Smith deciding to work with Siouxsie & the Banshees where he formed a side project with Banshees bassist Steve Severin called the Glove. Many in the band’s label Fiction wondered if the Cure was done until late 1982 when Smith and drummer Lol Tolhurst released the non-LP single Let’s Go To Bed. The song marked a new direction for the band as Tolhurst switched drums to play keyboards marking a more pop direction for the band.
Two more non-LP singles in The Walk and The Lovecats came in during 1983 to mark the band’s new direction that featured new wave and pop as Smith and Tolhurst worked on different projects. It was in the Glove side project that Smith decided to make a change for the Cure’s sound entirely that was away from Goth and into something much different. With Tolhurst on board along with new drummer Andy Anderson, Smith created an album that meshed with small bits of the band’s Goth sound with new wave and psychedelic rock for the album called The Top.
Performed by the Cure with the majority of the songs written by Robert Smith and three co-written with Lol Tolhurst. The Top is an album where the Cure taking a major departure from their early Goth sound. Produced by Robert Smith along with Chris Parry, the album also marks the first collaboration with David M. Allen who would become one of the band’s key figures for several years. Featuring a mix of new wave, psychedelic, and Goth with upbeat rhythms and different array of instruments. The album also has Smith taking a step back lyrically to explore different ideas of themes he had explored years earlier. The result is a fascinating though messy album from the Cure.
Opening the album is the song Shake Dog Shake that is led by blaring sounds of guitars and warbling keyboards with Andy Anderson’s slow but heavy drums. Robert Smith sings in a snarling vocal style filled with angry lyrics of heartbreak as it is surrounded by this broad but layered production. Birdmad Girl is an upbeat yet mid-tempo track that features a steady rhythm along with flourishing keyboards from Lol Tolhurst. Smith sings in a calm vocal style as his lyrics about a girl in despair with Smith playing someone who watches this girl go mad. Wailing Wall is a stark ballad filled with low bass lines and bass-pounding drums to complement its eerie tone as Smith sings haunting lyrics about a city of death with immense imagery and wailing vocal noises in the background.
Give Me It is a powerful, upbeat track with hard-pounding beats and blaring guitars that includes a wailing saxophone from Porl Thompson. Smith’s vocals are filled with snarling wails as he sings chaotic lyrics filled with death in its most nihilistic description. Dressing Up is led by melodic-swirling keyboards in its mid-tempo rhythm that includes a steady beat and a flute accompanying the song. With Smith playing a soft, chiming guitar, he sings dark yet humorous lyrics as he is getting ready for a party. The single for The Caterpillar is an upbeat song with vibrant percussions, washy acoustic guitars, screeching violins, and de-tuned piano flourishes. Smith sings abstract lyrics about a girl who loves caterpillars that has an aura of psychedelia. Piggy In The Mirror is a mid-tempo track with washy guitars and steady rhythms with a Spanish-guitar solo and swooning keyboards. Smith sings in a low vocal style to esoteric lyrics that continues Smith’s fascination with psychedelia.
The Empty World is led by a cadence-drum fill with a wobbly bass line and a swooning flute solo. Smith sings about a girl talking about a world that is filled with dystopian lyrics despite its weird sense of humor. Bananafishbones is a mid-tempo track with pummeling beats and blaring harmonicas that is accompanied by loud keyboards. Smith sings in a fast and wailing vocal style with strange yet quirky lyrics about death and despair. The closing track is the near-seven minute title track with chilling keyboards, a slow but powerful drum fill, and an eerie production. Smith sings in his wailing vocal style to lyrics of despair set in a harrowing world as it’s a wonderful cut that closes the album.
The 2006 deluxe edition of the album features the original album remastered under Robert Smith’s supervision to complement its layered yet atmospheric production. The second disc of the record is filled with live rarities plus studio demos and alternate takes plus unreleased demos from Smith that would feature early versions of songs for the next album The Head on the Door.
The first four tracks are demos made by Robert Smith for the tracks You Stayed…, Ariel, A Hand Inside My Mouth, and Sadacic where the first three tracks features lyrics to future songs like Inbetween Days and Six Different Ways. You Stayed… is a strange track with swirling guitar and keyboards that has Smith singing quietly during the song. Ariel is a mid-tempo track with a rough keyboard melody as it’s accompanied by a drum machine with Smith singing in a warbling sound. A Hand Inside My Mouth is presented with a wobbly jazz bass line and blaring trumpets as Smith sings in a rough vocal style. Sadacic is a track with noisy, blaring guitars and Smith’s screaming vocals to pounding beats that includes a bass line that is similar to the one later used in Prayers for Rain from Disintegration.
The next seven tracks are studio demos for many of the songs that would appear on the album along with two demos for the B-sides Throw Your Foot and Happy the Man. Demos for Shake Dog Shake, Piggy In the Mirror, Birdmad Girl, Give Me It, and The Caterpillar are each presented in simplified versions with drum or drum machines plus keyboards and Smith’s vocals as they lack the broad production the songs would have. Yet, the demo for The Caterpillar is the most interesting as Smith sings the song with different lyrics and less flourishing rhythms the final song would have. The demos for the B-sides Throw Your Foot and Happy the Man are presented in similar forms as the former is an upbeat track while the latter is a more down-tempo track with melodic, Asian-style string plucks. The next two tracks are alternate studio mixes for the songs Dressing Up and The Wailing Wall are each presented with rough vocal mixes and less polish on some of the instrumental tracks.
The last four tracks are live bootlegs of songs from the tour for The Top that features Pornography producer Phil Thornalley on bass and Porl Thompson, who was part of an early incarnation of the Cure, on guitars and varied instruments. The three tracks for The Empty World, Bananafishbones, and The Top are wonderfully mixed with the audience cheering after each song as all the instruments are properly heard along with Smith’s vocals. The last track of the second disc is a live rarity for the song Forever (Version) which is a song with eerie lyrics as Smith plays guitar with Porl Thompson playing a screeching saxophone to the harrowing song.
Released on April 30, 1984, the album drew mixed reviews with critics and fans who were baffled by the change in the Cure’s sound. While it would later be considered one of the band’s more underrated albums of their career, The Top provided the transition that Smith needed in his attempt to move away from the heavy-Goth sound of Pornography. Smith with Lol Tolhurst, Andy Anderson, Porl Thompson, and Phil Thornalley went on tour where the band was gaining a worldwide audience in Japan, Australia, and the U.S. as The Top became the band’s first album to reach the U.S. album charts. Despite the success, the live line-up Smith had wouldn’t last as Anderson was fired following an incident in a hotel and Thornalley left due to the road experience.
While it may be the weakest record among the recordings the Cure made from 1979 to 1985, The Top is still a very exciting album from the band thanks in large part to some wonderful production and crazy experiments Robert Smith took to revamp their sound. While it’s more of a transitional record that would the Cure go into full-fledge Goth-pop for 1985’s The Head on the Door, there is also a bit of the dark elements that has made the Cure so revered in the Goth scene. Despite the fact that it’s a bit all over the place, The Top is still an excellent album from the Cure.
The Cure Studio Albums: Three Imaginary Boys - Seventeen Seconds - Faith - Pornography - The Head on the Door - 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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