Make It a Double: The Cure, KISS ME, KISS ME, KISS ME
In the early '80s, the idea that the band that made the goth-rock classic PORNOGRAPHY would one day be embraced by pop music aficionados was more or less unthinkable. Yet, the Cure—or, more to the point, the band's leader, Robert Smith—would indeed one day boast Top Forty singles and Top Ten albums, records that touched an audience inconceivably large to those whose exposure to the band began with their brooding, chilly early work.
The tide for the Cure may well have begun to turn with 1986's compilation STANDING ON A BEACH, a concise collection of their singles that served as an affordable curio for listeners who wanted to hear what the band was about. The following year brought the double-LP set KISS ME, KISS ME, KISS ME, which sealed the deal, going platinum and sending three singles onto the American charts.
Any discussion of the album should probably begin with "Why Can't I Be You?" the band's first Top Forty hit, with its indelible descending guitar figure and insistent bass line. Both provide the underlying bed for a Smith vocal whose languid emoting plays both with and against the music to great effect. It was one of the stranger things one heard on the radio in 1987, juxtaposed on playlists with Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi and Starship, but that was just fine, possibly even necessary. The follow-up single, "Why Can't I Be You," is a synth horn-spiked tornado of poppy goodness on which Smith sounds positively jaunty, tossing out lines like "I'm smitten, I'm bitten, I'm hooked, I'm cooked" to describe his feelings for his beloved.
Dig deeper in to KISS ME, KISS ME, KISS ME and you'll find complex emotional strata along the way. The relentless gloom of "Torture" ("My body is cut and broken / It's shattered and sore / My body is cut wide open / I can't stand anymore") is punctuated by an arena-ready rock groove and a vocal drenched in reverb. Likewise, "Shiver and Shake" is loud and room-filling, all the more useful for Smith to spit out his vituperation ("You're useless and ugly … / And I shiver and shake / When I think of how you make me hate"). The protagonist in "How Beautiful You Are" is likewise scornful of his partner, for her vacuous tendencies toward others, but the music features more strumming than distortion.
For some relief from the scorn, cue up "Hot Hot Hot!!!" for its Chic-isms, its nonsense stories and Smith's growl and enunciation, barely forming a word before he moves on to the next word, and then the next, and then the one after that. It's okay if you don’t notice that, though—you're probably too busy dancing. To a Cure record. An irresistible, poppy, undeniably cool Cure record.
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