The Head on the Door
Taking the Mope to the Dance Floor
Some bands evolve in logical, stepwise fashion, so that when they finally hit the big time, early believers are still on board. Others lurch ahead, sacrificing key elements of their sound in pursuit of a bigger audience. With this disciplined album, the Cure found an artistically credible middle path.
The Head on the Door followed a series of grim dirge records, among them the critically acclaimed Pornography (1982) and The Top (1984). These earned the British five-piece a devoted following of mascara-wearing goth youth, and a one-way ticket to the rock-cliché pasture: How many times can a singer groan, at great length and agonizingly slow tempo, about the direness of one's circumstances and still sound relevant? Perhaps recognizing this dead end, frontman Robert Smith set out to broaden the group's palette. He copped some of the bouncy synthesizer cues then powering New Wave pop. He wrote short songs, and didn't shy away from singable refrains. He and the rhythm section generated irresistible—and surprisingly funky—grooves, and augmented them with flamenco guitar and other exotica. So as not to completely startle the faithful, he sang this more buoyant stuff in the same distraught voice that had been the Cure's most identifiable trademark. And he retained some of the despairing narratives of mope music.
This juxtaposition—gloomy lyrics set against music that says, "Come out and play!"—triggered a new era for the Cure. The band takes swings at bubbly styles it couldn't have pulled off before (notably the Latin beat of "The Blood"), recasts existential torment in grabby Eurobeat trappings ("In Between Days"), and generally stops fretting about every little thing. The stylistically similar subsequent album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me was the commercial breakthrough, but The Head is the moment when sunshine first entered the dungeon, throwing light on possibilities the Cure pursued, with great gusto and much success, for years afterward.
Released: 1985, Elektra
Key Tracks: "Sinking," "The Blood," "Kyoto Song," "Close to Me," "In Between Days"
Collector's Note: The 2006 reissue includes an entire disc of alternate takes and previously unreleased material.
Catalog Choice: Pornography; Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me
Next Stop: Depeche Mode: Violator
After That: Bauhaus: Swing the Heartache
Book Pages: 198–199