Disintegration is a return to goth glory after The Cure's foray into pop with 1987's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
- Josh Jackson, Paste Magazine
Recently, in my car, I scrolled through the hundreds of albums on my iPod, and settled on one I hadn't listened to in a while, The Cure's well-known 1987 smash hit, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.
Listening to the album again, it struck me that I still love it, but the words of Josh Jackson quoted at the top of this post hung with me. It is a critique often levied against this album in favor of other works of the band. It's too "pop". It's too "commercial". It's too "upbeat". The comments aren't wrong, but I have to ask: is this a bad thing? Does being pop and upbeat make this a bad album? Whereas 1989's Disintegration is moody and dark and atmospheric, a return to - and prime example of - the gloomy-goth rock they're rightly famous for, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, is a departure from that sound. Lighter, more 80's pop-oriented, full of upbeat songs and sounds, and lots of horns. Like, all the horns. This album is just chock full of horns.
Does this make it a bad album, though? Are these criticism even accurate? Let's take a look.
One thing The Cure does not get away from is the minutes of intro. On first listen, you could think that most of the songs on this album are instrumentals, and just when you're settling into that groove, Robert Smith starts singing. Right off, this is a dark, angry song. The synth in the background is melancholy, but the drums are angry, and just under a minute in the lead guitar snarls to life, clearly indicating the intent of this song. By the time we get to the 4 minute mark and Smith starts singing about tongues like poison, guts being pushed inside out, getting her fucking voice out of his head, and wishing she was dead (seriously, he howls "I wish you were dead" repeatedly to close out the song), there's no doubt that this song is dark and stormy and angry. The first lyrics are "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me..." Roll Credits! Makes you wonder what other albums would be titled if they used the first lyrics as the album title. Disintegration would be called "I Think It's Dark and it Looks Like Rain". Wordy, but fitting. The Pixies classic Doolittle would be "Got Me a Movie". Not bad; I could see it being the title of a Pixies documentary. The Offspring's underrated ignition would be called "Ahhhh fuck fuck fuck fuck!" IMHO, an improvement. An interesting way to start off the "more upbeat" album.
Horns Level: Nailed to the floor.
In 1996, The Cure released a new album called Wild Mood Swings, which may well be the spiritual successor to this album, as that is similarly criticized for being too upbeat, and largely forgotten, while Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is criticized for being too upbeat, but its wild mood swings are largely forgotten. Where "The Kiss" starts with that raging guitar and drum intro, "Catch" slides right into Smith do-doing over some light synth and drums.
The song is about meeting a girl, and reminiscing about a girl Smith "thinks [he] used to know". A girl who used to just stand around and smile and stare vacantly off into space for hours at a time. A girl who fell down a lot. A girl who Smith used to "spend the night/just rolling about on the floor". A girl whose name Smith never caught.
Imagine you're the girl he's talking to in this song. Oh, I remind him of a girl who may or may not have existed, was a clutzy space-cadet, and occasional sex partner. Hey, thanks. Of course, if you really are like the girl he (sort of) remembers, by the mid-point of the song you've stopped paying attention and are staring at clouds.I like to think this is a much more innocent song about a dog. The "rolling about on the floor" line always makes me think of playing with a big dog. Also, I like the imagery of proto-goth Robert Smith in full make-up and hairdo snuggling and frolicking with a furry dog. It's like imagining Marilyn Manson sitting on his couch watching "Chopped" and yelling at the chefs that they didn't use the galangal correctly.
Another possibility is that the girl he's singing to and the girl he is singing about are one and the same. He barely remembers her, never knew her name, and isn't sure of anything (except the sex - he remembers that). That makes it either sad -- he's singing to a former love about their good times together (and her clutziness/epilepsy/seizures) -- or hilarious. You remind me of someone...oh right, you.
In any case, it is a pretty little song. As much as I make fun of it, I really like the play on words in the chorus:
And she used to fall down a lot,
That girl was always falling again and again.
And I used to sometimes try to catch her,
But never even caught her name.
Supposedly, this is actually about concussion-related hallucinations Smith had, and the girl he met later who resembled the girl in the hallucinations. I like my dog theory the most.
Horns Level: Staring vacantly off into space.
Back to the minute-long intro, and an angry song. The intro is dark, with a bassy synth driving the rhythm. A minute in, Smith's howling voice breaks in about how he's in a "room without a light", a "room without a view". He calls it "one more treacherous night", and "torture". He's hung upside down, tied up, beaten. He can't take anymore. Then he goes on to sing about skin being pulled so tight it "screams and screams and screams for more".
His skin screams for more? Interesting.
He closes out the song repeating that "It's torture/But I'm almost there."
Ok, so Robert Smith is apparently into freaky, kinky torture sex. Honestly, I'm not judging -- as long as you and your partner are consenting, safe, and open about expectations, have fun in the bedroom (or wherever) -- it's just a little unexpected.
So, sounds angry, probably isn't. Also, towards the end, first appearance of the horns.
Horns Level: Trying not to picture any of this mentally.
Hold off, horns, we're veering into more standard territory here.
3-minute intro, synthy and atmospheric, slow-paced (but not plodding), almost sultry. Smith's tortured voice is slightly subdued as he sings about sleeping, and the flute at the end just solidifies the atmosphere. If this were by a band that didn't have a reputation for writing incredibly depressing songs, people would have an entirely different reaction to it.
It is beautiful. The lyrics seem dark, as sleep is usually used as a metaphor for death. At first blush, it sounds like an overdramatic suicide pact. However, he talks about falling into "a deathless spell", and sliding into "deep black water" and breathing. This leads to some of my favorite Cure lyrics on this album:
Then an angel would come,
With burning eyes like stars,
And bury us deep,
In his velvet arms.
The song closes with Smith crying out, "Don't let it end!"Most think this is about death, either the physical death of a partner, or the end of a relationship. I find a much simpler, more elegant interpretation fits better, though: two lovers, basking in the afterglow, wanting to just stay that way forever.
Horns Level: Horns can help you sleep. No, really.
Did I mention wild mood swings earlier? I'm pretty sure I mentioned wild mood swings earlier. I hope I did, because...wow. We've gone from "I wish you were dead" to "She was pretty" to "hurt me more" to "nap time". And now we get the horns. Full-on frontal assault of horns. No warning, no quarter. All horns, all the time.
When people say this album is "pop", this is almost certainly the song they're thinking of. Not just upbeat, but practically manic in its upbeat-ness. Some people think this is a love song. Some think it's pure lust. I always thought it was kind of sarcastic, maybe even mocking of someone who thinks they're just awesome. "Yeah, you're soooo great. I wish I was you." Or, perhaps mocking people who have this attitude. Some say it's an attempt to see through the eyes of his fans (after a fan approached him and said, "I wish I was you"), or his response that he wants to be normal like his fans.Whatever the meaning, this song is just soaked in 80's synth Pop. Which is then smothered by horns.
Horns Level: Of course you want to be me. I have all the horns. MAX HORNS.
If you could average the tone of the previous 5 songs, you'd get this one. Not aggressively angry, not quite happy, not sad. It does however start off with the line, "You want to know why I hate you? Well, I'll try to explain." and goes on to tell the story of walking through Paris with the subject of the song, apparently a gorgeous woman, when they run into a father and his two sons, apparently peasants. They don't actually say anything, but gaze upon the glorious visage of this young woman with obvious longing. The woman responds by telling Smith to tell the family to beat it. Smith hates her for this.
Ok, it's kind of bitchy, but does anyone really like having people stare at them? Don't we routinely tell kids that this is impolite? Or is that only for things like deformities and general ugliness? Beautiful people are meant to be stared at? Seems a little extreme to hate someone just for this reaction, but maybe the idea is that this is the seed of the hatred, and once she exposed her inner ugliness to him, he started to see beyond her outer beauty?
One thing that always stuck with me was the idea of Robert Smith hooking up with a super model. I know The Cure was huge in the 80's, but really? Turns out, this is a song version of Baudelaire's poem "Les Yeux des Pauvres" (The Eyes of the Poor), which tells a much more detailed version, and emphasizes the duality of external beauty and inner ugliness, of thinking you know someone and suddenly being proven completely and utterly wrong.
I really like this song, though. It has a great, driving bass line and a chorusy guitar playing along with it, counterpointed by a flowing synth organ. Smith's vocals are great, as is the imagery of the peasant family speaking with nothing but their eyes. It is also quite poppy, but...no, horns?
Horns Level: Still playing the last song.
Another slow-building intro, bass-heavy this time, undulating, writhing, calling to mind the titular snake pit before any words are heard. Very cool. I'm not actually sure this song belongs on this album. What it reminds me of, especially when the woodwinds come in midway through is their song "Burn" on the soundtrack from "The Crow" (1994). It never builds to the crescendo that "Burn" does, but it always feels like the precursor to that song.
They would probably never admit to listening to The Cure, but I'm pretty sure this song inspired the sound of "Voodoo" on Godsmack's first album. (Side note: want to feel old? Godsmack's first album was released closer to 1987 than 2015. I feel old now. If you're reading this, and Godsmack's first album came out before you were born, well, now I feel super old. Thanks for that.)
Horns Level: We're drinking ourselves senseless. Use some woodwinds.
The worst Pink Floyd cover ever. Or is it the best?
If you bought US version of the CD before they released the "Deluxe" edition, you probably have never heard of this song, unless you read all of the fine print on the back of the CD case. If you did, hey there! Welcome to the nerd club! Due to the limited space on CDs at the time (74 minutes), the song, the last track on Side 2 of the original vinyl, was omitted. When the Deluxe version was released a few years back, new technologies allowed for 80 minutes on a CD, and the track was included. So, we got not just a remastered album, but we'd also get to hear this "lost" track. It was like a little time capsule.I now understand why this song, over any of the other seventeen, was left off this album.
Maybe it's just that I've listened to this album so much over the past 15+ years that I've gotten used to how each song flows into the next, but every time I listen now, the intro to this song simply jars me. The first time I heard it, I checked to make sure I was still listening to the same album. The snare roll and rocking guitar riff sound more like the intro to a cheesy late-80's talk show on basic cable than a Cure song.
That said, it's not a bad song. It's quite good. Super catchy guitar riff, super-80's sounding saxophone, and about 5 lines of lyrics, asking for a kiss. It just doesn't fit with anything else on this album. I'm not even sure it's a Cure song. If you played this song (without the vocals) for 20 different people who had never heard it before and asked who the 80's artist was, you would get a variety of answers, and none of them would be "The Cure". The closest you might get would be The Cult, and even that would be a shot-in-the-dark guess.
Horns Level: Confused. Possibly delirious.
Arguably The Cure's most popular - if not the most successful - song. If you've paid any attention to pop culture over the last 28 years, you must have heard some version of this song. 7 Seconds covered it in the 80's. Dinosaur Jr. covered it a few years later. Goldfinger covered it in the late 90's. Reese Witherspoon starred in (ugh) a RomCom based on it. Low point in the song's history, IMHO.Here in it's original context, it is clearly an 80's song, but mostly because of the synths used. Remove them, and it is could almost be from any of the past few decades.
I'm always torn on the mood of this song. Musically, it's bouncy and upbeat. Lyrically, it starts off happy - I love the first verse, and the idea of charming a girl with a magic trick (or, as Robert Smith as said, "the more adult trick of seduction") - and then moves on to the girl loving the boy, but the boy not reciprocating, or at least not conveying his love for her very well. In the final verse, he opens his eyes, and she's gone, but was she there to begin with? Was she just a dream? I think that's how I interpret this song - a dream that feels so real you think it is, and when you finally wake up from it, you long for whatever was the object of that dream. In this case, the singer's perfect woman.
Horns Level: Lost and lonely.
Bear with me here, but I'm about to compare The Cure to a band they've probably never been mention with in the same sentence, except to say, "These two bands are nothing alike." The intro to this song (and the guitar throughout) reminds me of At The Drive-In. I'm not sure if I'm crazy or just stupid, but the jarring distortion on the guitar, the discordant melody, something in there reminds me of the post-hardcore stylings of ATDI. If Cedric Bixler starting singing instead of Robert Smith, I don't think I'd be surprised.
Vocally and lyrically, it reminds me of U2 in their sappier moments. Again, I can't quite place what it reminds me of, but I'm thinking something like "Two Hearts Beat as One". Or, maybe "All I Want Is You", because of the title. So, basically, this English song is like a combination of a Texas band and an Irish band. I'm not sure what that say about any of the above. Or about me.
Features one of The Cure's oddest lines, which many fans hope they're hearing wrong.
All I want is to be with you again.
All I want is to hold you like a dog.
That...that's supposed to be "doll", right? "Hold you like a doll." Nope. If you listen close, it really sounds like "dog", and the liner notes confirm. He wants to hold her like a dog. I'm not sure what that means, but it makes my dog theory for "Catch" seem a little more plausible now, doesn't it?
Horns Level: Thinking about petting dogs.
The worst Buster Poindexter cover ever. Or is it the best?
I'm not sure what to call this but "80's Funk". Funky guitars, funky bass, funky synths, but still pretty clearly The Cure. Smith's vocals, especially in the verses, are crazed, eliding words, taking audible breaths at times. It almost feels like he's mocking pop music here.
The lyrics themselves are quite good, telling the tale of a man witnessing lightning striking multiple times in his life. Depending on who you believe (and which of Robert Smith's comments you believe), the song is either about sex or drugs (probably both). I always assumed the former, not least because of the lightning strike motif, and how that reminds me of Michael Corleone being "struck by the thunderbolt" in The Godfather. I always thought of this song in those terms - at various times in his life, the narrator met women who struck him with their beauty. Things are cast into disarray, turmoil reigns, etc.
A fun song to sing along with, especially the Fat Albert-esque "Hey, hey, hey!" chorus.
Horns Level: Ha ha ha, you thought we'd left? We're back, baby! ...but just for a moment.
Sometimes bands write songs while recording, but then save those songs for a later album. It fascinated me when Frank Black released the demo he'd made the night before the recording sessions for their first album Surfer Rosa, and I heard a raw version of the song "Subbacultcha", which wouldn't be on an album until Trompe le Monde, their fourth and final studio album (of that era). Listening to it, and then the rest of what made it onto that first album, it's clear that the song didn't belong there, and they made what turned out to be the correct decision to hold it back until they had a group of songs in which it made sense.The Cure face a similar situation here, as this is essentially a Disintegration song two years before the album existed. Heavily chorused guitar, sprawling, echo-y drum line, synth wash in the background, wind chimes, and some sort of woodwind carrying the melody through the 2 minute intro. Smith's vocals are subdued, building towards the end of the second verse. He finishes in a subdued howl. The lyrics are pretty straightforward - hold me one more time. Putting it on this album isn't a terrible decision - it's a nice break from the rest of the album - but it does stand out, though not as badly as "Hey You!!!".
Horns Level: A flute is not a horn.
I feel that songs like this one get forgotten about. "Like Cockatoos" is dark and mysterious, starting off with this weird washing sound, then a clean guitar playing an arppegiated chord a few times until the chords come in, playing the simple melody that is repeated throughout the song. Smith starts singing about a minute and a half in, and just starts rattling off the lyrics, telling a quick story about a couple at the end of a bitter fight that leaves the relationship in tatters. As the lyrics end, the synth picks up the melody, twisting and shaping it into something even darker, and eventually overpowering the rest of the band.
I really like this song. It's angry and dark, and a nice departure from the last few tracks. It really sets up the rest of the album.
Horns Level: My wife threw the horns out the window in a rage. Now the cockatoos have them.
Another dark one, with some great bass work driving the pace and feel of the song, and a saxophone ruining it. Don't get me wrong, I love saxophones, and enjoy bands that use non-standard instruments in rock music. I just feel like this kind of saxophone is so cheesy that it should be avoided at all costs. If you lifted this saxophone line, and laid it over a Kenny G song with the same tempo and key, it would not sound out of place. In case you're not catching my drift, that is a bad thing. Replace the sax in this song with a lead guitar, and the song sizzles, and could probably sneak onto a mainstream radio station today (in fact, the Deluxe Edition has a demo with no sax, and a synth in it's place - so much better). With the sax, it is relegated to an 80's niche station.
The song is reportedly about doing cocaine (icing sugar is very fine sugar, frequently used in movies to simulate cocaine), which is very 80's, so the saxophone was a good choice, I guess?No. It's still terrible.
Horns Level: REVENGE OF THE SAXOPHONE!
What was that about mood swings? Back to the bubbly pop. Straightforward, clean, pretty but nothing special. Honestly, had this song been left off the album, I don't think anyone would have noticed. I do like the theme of the strange girl being the perfect girl. At least there's no horns.
Horn Level: At least there's...hey!
I've referred to Robert Smith's vocals as howling at times. That's probably because of this song, in which he refers to himself as "howl[ing] into this wind".
At any rate, this is another of his, "I'm almost out of energy" songs. I'm pretty sure there's one on ever few albums. There's this one, "Closedown" on Disintegration, "39" on Bloodflowers, and I'm sure plenty others. As time goes by, and he keeps going on, this can feel a little melodramatic, particularly after Bloodflowers, when he announced the band was calling it quits after the tour for the album, and citing the lyrics to "39" as his confession that he has nothing left. And then releasing another album a few years later.
And touring again.
And then releasing another album. (EDIT: And touring again!)
It's not as bad as Metallica writing sequels to songs (can't wait to hear "Unforgiven IV"...or, if they want to tap in to the idiot demographic, "Un4given"), but it's kind of obnoxious. Then again, it wouldn't be a Cure album without a heavy dose of angst.
Horns Level: Ready to hang it all up.
You're just a waste of time.
You're just a babbling face.
You're just three sick holes that run like sores.
You're a fucking waste.
Those are the first four lines of the song! How great is that? The rest of the song just continues like that. The best part is that the prevailing story behind the song is that he wrote it about Lol Tolhurst (believable, since Robert Smith is as well known for clashing with his band mates as he is for his gloomy lyrics), who plays keyboards on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Presumably, he's playing keyboards on a song about how much Robert Smith hates him and thinks he is "Useless and ugly". You'd think that he'd be gone after that, right? You'd be right, too.
Well, except that he stayed through the subsequent tour, as well as the recording of Disintegration.Hands down, one of my favorite songs on this album. Maybe not the best song on the album, just my personal favorite. It definitely falls into the "angry" category, which is why I love it. Robert Smith just lets loose with this torrent of vitriolic bile, tearing to the subject of the song. Read these lyrics and just let it wash over you.
This is a great song to sing when you're frustrated with someone. Just don't sing it to them. They might not be British and as understanding as old Lol. As much as I love this song, though, I can't help but think of the emo kids that Smith helped create, sitting in darkened corners of the lunchroom, angry at the jocks or girls or whoever, but too timid to actually do anything about it. It's not like Smith would actually fight, right?
Horns Level: * you, buddy! We're still here!
Fight! Fight! Fight!
No, seriously, those are lyrics to the closing song. Ok, it's not about a physical fight, more about pushing through pain and suffering (and angst - can't forget the angst), but it's an intense song, as Smith builds the tension up to the "Fight! Fight! Fight!" bit that makes up most of the second half of the song. Similar to "Like Cockatoos", the synths make this song, starting out subtle, but then exerting themselves with a stinging, rhythmic melody that overtakes and carries the last couple of minutes of the song.
One thing that always interests me is song order on an album, and how bands decide on that order. I'm sure sometimes it is out of their hands, but I would think they get some say, especially when they have some experience. I've gleaned some general practices that seem to be commonplace - the first song should ease the listener into the album. The last song should be lighter, particularly on heavier albums. Your first single should be a few songs in, if not the third song. Second single a few songs later, around 7. This album (I know it was originally a double album) violates most of that. "The Kiss" is actually a great opener, with just the drums and rhythm guitar, taking a few minutes to get into the lead guitar. "Fight", however, is not a typical "album closer".
I imagine most bands try to shape the album a certain way, to give it a flow, a pattern. Some like the loud-quiet-loud aesthetic, some go by order in which the songs were recorded. Frank Black sorted the songs on "Frank Black and the Catholics" alphabetically (though I always wondered if he changed song titles to get them in a certain position). I bring this up, because I cannot figure out why The Cure chose the order of the final six songs. "The Perfect Girl" and "A Thousand Hours" are so out of place at 15 and 16 that it is jarring. The album goes from the dark mystery of "Like Cockatoos" to the rolicking danger of "Icing Sugar", and then we get the bubbly poppiness of "The Perfect Girl" and the sad bastardness of "A Thousand Hours", before swinging back into the rage and anger of "Shiver and Shake" and "Fight".
"The Perfect Girl" should be earlier on the album (or perhaps held off to be a B-side to "Friday I'm in Love"). "A Thousand Hours" would work perfectly as the album closer (though I love "Fight" in that role).
This is even more glaring when you look at the original LP track listings. Side 3 started with "Just Like Heaven". Perfect. It's the big single, lead off the second half of the double album with it. That side was rounded out with "All I Want", "Hot Hot Hot!!!", "One More Time", and "Like Cockatoos". Why not put "The Perfect Girl" on this side? Anywhere in the middle would probably be fine. Then, move "Like Cockatoos" to Side 4.
Side 4's original track listing was:
Move "A Thousand Hours" to either the beginning or end of Side 4, and put "Like Cockatoos" before "Icing Sugar". That would have been amazing! It wasn't a time issue, either, as the current Side 3 ran a little over 20 minutes. "The Perfect Girl" is shorter than "Like Cockatoos", so Side 3 would be a little shorter, and Side 4 would run just under 19 minutes. It's still a good album as is, I'm just glad I listen to it in the age of CDs and MP3s, so I can instantly skip over those two tracks.
Horns Level: Still ripping into Lol.
So that's it. That's the entire album.
The Cure released four singles from this album: "Why Can't I be You", "Catch", "Just Like Heaven", and "Hot Hot Hot!!!". Those might just be...hell, they are the 4 poppiest songs on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (ignoring "The Perfect Girl"). No wonder people think this album is "too pop" or "too upbeat". Even I'm guilty of this, as I'm pretty sure the reason I think this album is so horn heavy is because of the brass bonanza that is "Why Can't I Be You", in which I'm pretty sure every instrument in the band is replaced with a horn. Even the drums. All horns. The rest of the album though, the horns aren't particularly noticeable...until "Icing Sugar", but even then, it's just one.Granted, even some of the darker songs are more poppy than the rest of their discography at the time (though I do wonder what we'd find if we examined their work after Disintegration. "Friday I'm in Love" comes to mind), and lack the moody atmospherics for which the band was loved. Of course, it also lacked some of the angsty, brooding, borderline emo lyrics for which the band was notorious.
Disintegration is still the best album they put out, and there are others that might be superior to Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, with its jarring shifts in mood and tone from song to song, slamming from one extreme to the other without warning, but to simply call this a pop album and dismiss it out of hand is short-sighted, and unfair. If anything, the tone of the album is angry and dark. They probably could have split this into two releases, with all of the poppy stuff on one, and the darker stuff on the other. The upbeat singles led them to success, but with all of them on one LP, would it have survived the scrutiny of the media thinking The Cure had completely lost their edge? Gone too commercial? We are talking about a media who went into a frenzy when Robert Smith got a haircut.
On the other hand, would that "darker" album be hailed as one of their best? Well, maybe not. Those songs are still not as good as most of Disintegration, but it would have been interesting to live in a world where songs like "Snakepit" and "Fight" were radio hits.