The Cure has been around as a band since 1976. Their arrival on the music scene coincided with the end of disco and the beginnings of Punk in the UK. Although not entirely Punk artists themselves they were informed by the genre’s grab an instrument and make the music you want ethos. In the time period from their founding up to the release of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me in 1987 the band had garnered a sizable following if not always praise from the critics. The Cure has come to symbolize for many fans both at that time and currently that they were the premier band that has succeeded in the music business with origins solidly rooted in the Post Punk/ Goth movements.
The best characterization of albums prior to “Kiss Me” cubed are releases filled with angst and forlorn melancholy. No matter how brilliant each album was, especially the noteworthy Pornography, they each threatened to further box the Cure into Goth cult band status. The first glimmers that their future was not set in stone came from the well-received compilation album Standing on the Beach which reached the top 50 in the US, a first for the band. This release attracted many adherents who were encountering the band for the first time. “Standing on the Beach” framed and prepared fans for the next release. On “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me” band leader Robert Smith was looking for something different. He was continuing to pursue the masterpiece album that seemed to lurk out there somewhere for the band but was always just out of reach. He didn’t necessarily want to turn away from angst and forlorn sadness as a theme but wanted to come at these themes from various approaches. Along with that desire, Smith counter-intuitively considered openly courting mainstream popularity with an album he intended to be anything but mainstream. He and the band looked to approach the mainstream without actually drowning in it, or changing the basics of their sound.
The Cure went into the studio for “Kiss Me” cubed having written 40 songs for the album. Each band member was asked to give marks out of 20 to each song to see which ones would make the final cut. The release was always intended to be a double album. In the 21st-century music business the double album has gone much the way of the dodo, but in the time period in question double albums were a common creation for established bands. The difference for The Cure is that they intended to produce a double album project that would fully exploit the concept of the double album in all its intended glory. Where many double albums were loaded with filler The Cure’s intent was to use the length of the album to sample many different approaches to their music. They aimed for the maximum impact they could make and showcase as many aspects of their music as possible. It was intentionally musically eclectic. There were many firsts and lasts on the album.
It was the first time the band would utilize horns and wind instruments with so much emphasis, having Andrew Brennan provide the sax on Hey You! and Icing Sugar while utilizing various other horn and wind instrument flourishes throughout the release. The album was the last time Porl Thompson would play keyboards for a Cure album, after “Kiss Me” cubed he would move exclusively to the guitar. It was also the final time Lol Tolhurst would be a full belted contributor to a Cure effort. “Kiss Me” cubed was produced by Robert Smith and David M. Allen with Bob Clearmountain assisting in production for Just Like Heaven. The usual suspects had returned for the recording; Robert Smith on vocals, keyboards and guitar, Simon Gallup on bass and guitar, Porl Thompson on keyboards and guitar, Lol Tolhurst on keyboards and the brilliant addition of Boris Williams on drums.
What would result from the time in the studio would be an album that was dominated by melodic bass lines and themes of existential literary despair. The listener would at first be struck by the cacophony and sheer variation of the tracks but then a more subtle impression took hold. It led to a disoriented but not unpleasant feeling and that was the band’s ultimate intent. It was as sweet as candy but was followed by a serious angst-ridden tummy ache. It was gaudy and glorious and if the album could be given a psychological diagnosis it was certainly bipolar. The results commercially were just short of astonishing. “Kiss Me” cubed would introduce the band to the wider mainstream American musical scene. It would be their first album to reach the Billboard top 40 and garner significant international success. It would move the band from formidable cult band status to a wider audience practically overnight. The engine for the success was the captivating videos at the height of MTV’s influence and the strength of the pop-influenced singles Why Can’t I Be You, Catch, Just Like Heaven and Hot, Hot Hot. The album would reach #35 on the American charts and #6 on the UK album charts. After 6 albums and over 10 years of existence the band somehow had started to gain a wider commercial grasp with the cogs in their wheel catching hold to the rising zeitgeist of the era. The wheel was not entirely engaged but the Cure was gaining ground and most amazingly without selling out or changing their sound in any dramatic way. There had always been possible solid pop hits sprinkled in their prior albums, but this album suddenly was at the right place at the right time and paved the way for an amazing and unexpected ascent to rock stardom. The Cure wasn’t striving to be cool but suddenly they were.
In some ways, the album was a subversive bait and switch. The singles were so infectiously addictive they provided an alluring gateway to the other amazing but darker works on the release. “Kiss Me” cubed begins with The Kiss which was miles apart from Just Like Heaven. The song took the symbol of the kiss and turned it on its head, from something which everyone desires to something to fear. The track displayed a definite revulsion and fear of being carried away by love. The song was swings and roundabouts, likening a kiss to poison but also yearning for love. The song put on display Smith’s endless awkwardness with the all-consuming nature of love. The song’s accompaniment was dirgy, dark and aggressive. This sound was familiar to longtime fans but could be off-putting to those who thought they were getting an album full of idiosyncratic pop. The entire track feels like a hallucinogenic dream. “Catch” on the other hand was a delightfully quirky song about a casual friendship that included bed privileges but as a romance never really goes anywhere. Both people are into the sex but neither knows the other’s name. Smith seems to have regrets about the situation, “Yes I sometimes even tried to catch her but I never even caught her name.” The track gets under your skin in a very playful manner and there was a genius in the way the strings provide the emotion in a very emotionally disconnected narrative.
Torture returns to the dark brooding songs the Cure has always been renowned for producing. But how else could it be with a title like “Torture”? The song made for a great dance tune in enlightened clubs at the time. The lyrics describe a drug-induced freak-out and it is quite possible this song was art reflecting reality; specifically when considered along with the stories of the band’s use of LSD and Coke during the era of the song’s creation. The bass line is fantastically hooky and the swirling guitars mesmerizing. Williams’ drumming is of note as he drives the song. If Only Tonight We Could Sleep continues in the same emotional vein as “Torture” but with an oriental flare. It has a stream of consciousness approach that displays the terror of subconscious nightmares coming into awakened reality. It offers as the panacea the idea of dreaming and the comfort of never waking up again. The song is wonky and discordant as it portrays the twisted miasma of the unconscious.
The more off-kilter songs throughout the album such as “Torture and If Only Tonight We Could Sleep”, along with many others belie the accusation that “Kiss Me” cubed is The Cure releasing a pop album. There were certainly many pop songs but there were just as many if not more songs on the release that was in no way pop and pushed the envelope of mainstream music to the edge. With that acknowledgement, I have to admit that the song that drew me to the album is the astonishing Why Can’t I Be You. This quirky song was like an ear-worm you could not shake. Smith presents in the lyric someone suffering from an incurable crush of epic proportions. The subject is willing to do any humiliating thing to please the object of his affection. It would seem like a tired premise if it weren’t for The Cure’s unique take on the presentation of the situation. It is so odd and yet endearing the listener could not help but be won over. It was unforgettable energetic pop and it squashed critics who said Smith and the band could never produce a radio-friendly song. The track is jazz hands all the way to Smith’s spot on delivery; it is an ultimate sugar high pop tune.
Like the come down from a sugar high, the playlist follows with How Beautiful You Are which led the listener to a pretty major observation about relationships. The song tells the story of two lovers enjoying the beauty of Paris. The narrator thinks there is nothing that can divide them for they are soulmates. They encounter a poor trio, a destitute father with two small children. While the narrator is pondering the unfairness and inequities of life, he assumes his soul mate will agree with him, he is blindsided by her reaction. She states, “I hate these people staring make them go away from me.” In one simple statement, the narrator’s love turns to hate. The splinter of ice is thrust into the narrator’s heart which is the cause of his first statement in retelling the incident, “You want to know why I hate you? Well, I’ll try to explain.” It is a masterfully written lyric conveying tremendous literary angst. The accompaniment drives the pathos and the accordion helps build the setting for the dénouement. It is a stunner of a song. Things continue to get darker with The Snake Pit. I have always thought that the song was a twin to “The Kiss” as it has many of the same musical markings. Smith is describing a special kind of hell that is being the unwitting object of a cult of personality. This senselessness is captured by Smith, as he describes the need for endless drinking and drugging that occurs to deal with the unbearable situation. There is also the acknowledgement that neither idol nor idolater gains anything in the end. Additionally, the song reveals shades of the demented when it alludes to the themes of the classic movie, “The Snake Pit” which was about mental institutions and madness. The musical accompaniment is fitting and echoes perfectly the mood of the song with its hallucinogenic off-kilter tortured and even delusional feel.
Just when the release seems to be flying off the rails into a very undesirable place for a pop album Just Like Heaven unspools providing relief from all the strum and drang. This sublime song is so diametrically opposite to the emotions of The Snake Pit you have to brace yourself or you will get whiplash. The narrative of the song conveys the violent happiness of being in love. However like many a Cure song the path to love is never easy; as tragically the girl is either only imagined or has plunged accidentally to her death dancing too close to the cliff edge. The listener is allowed to decide which the truth. What sells the song is the high energy and hooks galore that abound in the track. The excellent percussion, swirling guitars along with the keyboards and trademark Smith delivery produce a winner.
When the playlist is examined one can see a certain structure within the album developing. There is a dichotomy between the darker introspective songs and the lighter pop offerings. The more introspective songs are conveyed with aggressive and sometimes violent imagery as they attempt to plumb the depths of existential angst. This is juxtaposed to the façade like apparatus of the energy filled lighter pop songs which relieve the gloom. Both aspects are alluring and capture the listener forcing them to revisit the songs time and again, always revealing something new.
The track, All I Want is a disturbing and an almost sinister song that acts like a type of primal scream therapy. Smith is utilizing the track to release and cleanse his darkest thoughts. “Tonight I’m feeling like an animal, tonight I’m howling inside, tonight I am feeling like an animal, tonight I’m going wild.” The lyric tells you all you need to know about where the selection is headed. With Hot, Hot, Hot we once again oscillate to a more up beat song. Simply put I love “Hot, Hot, Hot”. The lyrics play with the axiom of lightening not striking twice, but paradoxically here it strikes three times. The funky accompaniment make the song so addictive. The narrator at first flees from the lightening strike which happens in an everyday street, then he gets hit at sea and never goes back, finally he is hit in bed, and again never goes returns. However he suddenly contradicts himself stating, “Hey, Hey, Hey I like it when that lightening comes hey, hey, hey yeah I like it a lot.” The narrator comes to the conclusion that what doesn’t kill him makes him stronger. The bass and drums are spectacular in driving this selection and the strings and fantastic guitar riff nail the song down. “Hot, Hot, Hot” is a highlight of the release.
One More Time is one of the more wistful songs on the release and has beautifully forlorn lyrics that relay the all encompassing comfort of love, “Hold me, hold me up so high and never let me down, hold me hold me up so high to touch the sky just one more time tonight.” It is both equal parts dirge like and ethereal making the track evocative and heart rendering. This minor track on the release is no less powerful than many of the other offerings.
Like Cockatoos is one of my favorite deep tracks off the release. The narrator again is describing the desperation of love, this time conveyed by the story of a girl. She is portrayed as a supplicant who for a moment arrives at bliss only to be told by the callous boy that it is over. Love’s path is once again thwarted and agonizingly so as her heart is brutally broken. There is not a person who has ever been dumped by someone who cannot empathize with the girl. The dark accompaniment is full of screaming birds and discordant sounds that forewarn of the eventual outcome. The track has this Hitchcock like presentation of the scene, “and in her head a picture of a boy who left her lonely in the rain (and all around the night sang out like cockatoos)”. The insistent percussion throughout the song acts like the other boot dangling aloft and waiting to fall crushing the girl’s heart. The song is lip smacking good perfection in its execution; this is a track not to be missed.
Icing Sugar is a cacophonous drum-fest. It is a lyrical poem describing the empty delight of icing sugar. The icing offers no nutritional value like the nameless things and unkind people who add nothing of value to our lives. This song harkens back to early Cure tunes. The Perfect Girl could be considered a companion track to Catch with its subject again a quirky unconventional girl who is alluring but hard to understand. The track is a sweetly divine love ditty with just the right amount of disjointed Cure winsomeness to make it a delightful treat, “You’re such a strange girl the way you look like you do, you’re such a strange girl I want to be with you”. It is yet another gem on the release, and captures Smith at his most playful. A Thousand Hours is a track for the lonely hearts and those dumped by a lover. The track expresses all the pain of a failed relationship, “A thousand wasted hours a day, just to feel my heart for a second, a thousand hours just thrown away.” The melancholy is palpable and there is the feeling throughout that Smith understands a thwarted lover’s pain and is crying along with the broken hearted victim.
The Cure on “Kiss Me” cubed hits every emotion and a number of them numerous times, Shiver and Shake leaves the listener with no doubt that they have taken anger and hatred as the theme for the track. This is a primal scream against betrayal and disgust with human nature, “I shiver and shake when I think of how you make me hate”. There are many times throughout the Cure discography that anger and disgust are conveyed but this song finds them at their most pissed off. The bass and angry militant drums let loose a fit of malevolent pique. “Kiss Me” cubed is a long journey but well worth it, the sign-off to the album is Fight. This track is a perfect summation of the various emotions and let downs chronicled on the release. The takeaway from the journey is that there are many woeful things in life but the only choice is to fight and never give in; “So when the hurting starts and when the nightmares begin remember you can fill up the sky you don’t have to give in… never give in.” For all the strum und drang of the album it ends on a surprisingly positive note.
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is the perfect album to play if you had to explain to an extraterrestrial alien about why the Cure inhabits the position they do in the musical universe. The album is a smorgasbord of Cure stylings, offering up every color the Cure uses from their vast musical palette. With “Kiss Me” cubed the band was able to put a piton in the mountain of rock music popularity. The release would set the band up for their unlike ascent to the popular music pantheon. The album would also foreshadow the masterwork that was in the wings, Disintegration. The event of that album would display a band completely in synch with the zeitgeist of the era. They would further consolidate their popularity with the extraordinary Wish. But like many a mortal that climbs the heights there were numerous pitfalls and misfortunes that would come with the victories ahead and leave a broken band and a conscious decision to descend to more comfortable altitudes. But for those seeking the point where The Cure began the metamorphosis from Cult band with a capital “C” to international sensation, “Kiss Me” cubed is undoubtedly the starting point. It is a breathtaking release listeners will find worth the time spent fully experiencing.