From an old record box: the Cure – The Head on the Door

It’s something like 1994, probably late winter or early spring judging by the chill factor of sleeping “on the floor of the night before/with a stranger lying next to me”. I’ve got my overcoat for a duvet and shirt for a pillow. The stranger isn’t a hook-up, just a fellow teen-age pass-out. We’re in Newmarket for a party to say goodbye to my friend Jon Wright’s house as he’s about to move to Cambridge.

During the evening I seem to remember we went for a walk – to buy cigarettes maybe, perhaps more Whitbread (eurgh, but better than the Hofmeister crimes that would follow in later adolescent mistakes), or even an illicit  pub visit. Anyway, as we were walking one of Jon’s Newmarket friends said “you know this road is called Knife Lane ?” and I replied “oh, why’s that ?” and he said “because people get knifed down here” and I enquired “what kind of people get knifed down here” and he said “people like you”. The adventures of youth …

No-one died.

We did however get very drunk and the house was pushed to the edge. Someone cooked something that started off as soup and ended up green. There was a lot of sickness. All of which is delightful, but not as good as the only other memory that I have from that night: it being the first time I heard The Cure’s “The Head On The Door”.

I heard it again through Jon, some time later, on tape at another, less-destructive, better-organised house party where I think I had a sleeping bag and my overcoat made a much better pillow. At some point up in Durham I picked up “Disintegration” on cd, probably having been reminded of The Cure by, of all things, “The 13th”. But I never had “The Head On The Door” until I was rifling through the racks in a second-hand store in Brussels visiting the magical Peter Duncan.

The vinyl I have is from the original 1985 (Fiction) release, catalogue number 827 231-1 ME which marks it out as the German pressing of the record. There’s nothing extra scratched on the inside circle. The album was produced by David M Allen (endless Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Depeche Mode, Matthew Sweet) and recorded at Angel Studios in London (which used to be a United Reform Church).

And so it begins with that amazing, exhilarating drum intro: phase one brilliantly short to preserve its effect, sounding so firm, so exact, so expectant; phase two: bass and drums lay down a pounding rhythm – that poppy-but-melancholy melody and the drums with those sweetly timed cymbal flourishes; phase three: everyone goes for it topped off with the synthesiser playing the tune we know and love and the added pace of that fiercely strummed guitar. The Cure have always had a way with intros. There’s no debate: “Inbetween Days” is a superior album opener and a tremendous tune, plus it has a great video.

While you, the listener, are recovering from that tumultuous opening, the band allow you some respite with the otherworldly “Kyoto Song” and the album pretty much holds that fast/slow pattern for the rest of its duration. Next we enter an alternate-Cure universe populated by potently sensual Spanish guitars, castanets, and Spaghetti Western synthesiser effects, where Robert Smith is “paralysed by the blood of Christ”.  It’s probably the best track on the album, although that’s a day-to-day thing for me, competing with “Inbetween Days” and “Close to Me”.

“Six Different Ways” follows, a song that some observant soul writing on Wikipedia tells me hasn’t been played live since the tour that supported this album in 1985/6. You can see why – it’s an oddity that lacks any of the energy you’d hope to find at a concert. It’s no bad song – it serves its purpose of allowing you to calm down after the religious ecstasy that precedes it, and before the pop-rock epic of “Push” that closes side one. It has a quintessentially Cure opening, with lengthy instrumental exposition and the kind of lyrics that Robert Smith turns in so well:

“A smile to hide the fear away
Oh! smear this man across the walls
Like strawberries and cream”

On side two the album stays up-tempo as it starts, with echo-heavy wailing on the wild, out-there “The Baby Screams”: danceable rhythms but slightly disquieting lyrics. Whatever, it doesn’t matter as “Close to Me” is moments away. It has hand-claps. I don’t really want to write anymore about it, because THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS. It has all those beautifully simple little melodies that gradually develop as the song unfolds, and it also has this tremendous video to accompany it:

After that we get the melodramatic “A Night Like This” with its dramatic guitar lines, the excellent couplet of  “Your trust/the most gorgeously stupid thing I ever cut in the world”, and a sax solo. It’s the 80s; it was ok back then and we can let it go now. Even if it does remind me of that band playing on the beach in The Lost Boys.

“Screw” is the second of the tracks that has, apparently, not been played since the original tour. Again, you can see why – in terms of instrumentation it might not be easy to slot it in alongside a lot of The Cure’s back catalogue. It’s one of those songs that I could cheerfully skip over – but when I do want to listen it, I enjoy its fuzzy bass and playful lyrics “Jump, jump right into your mouth ?/Jump, jump around on your tongue ?”.

“The Head On The Door” closes with “Sinking”, a song that is much more like The Cure-to-come. There are sweeping synthesisers, pianos tumbling down, picked guitars weaving in and out, bass lines throbbing gloomily underneath; this wouldn’t be out of place next to some of “Disintegration” or “Wish” although those albums have a much fuller, heavier sound.

Now then, what’s this head on the door thing all about ?  I can only say, after some ‘intensive’ internet research, that it looks like you’ll have to buy the deluxe 2006 reissue (Rhino) and read the booklet to find out.

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