It’s no secret that the early-to-mid 80s were a time of great flux for The Cure, both stylistically and in terms of lineup.
After disintegrating following the release of 1982's 'Pornography', the nihilistic full stop to their so-called 'Dark Trilogy,' the duo of Robert Smith and Lol Tolhurst willfully deconstructed what people expected from the post-punk figureheads. With a trio of singles - 'Let's Go To Bed,' 'The Walk,' and 'The Lovecats,' - the band embraced both synth-pop and jazz, teaming up with director Tim Pope to help turn this 'no image' group into something more eccentric and memorable.
Still unsure of The Cure’s future aims, Smith spent a second stint as guitarist for Siouxsie and the Banshees, helping record the psychedelic-noir of 1984's 'Hyaena.' This period also saw Smith experimenting both musically, and with acid, alongside Banshee bassist Steven Severin for their Glove side-project, a fusion of world instruments, B-movies, and Carroll-esque imagery.
Inspired by the latter project's freedom, and strong-armed by Fiction records for new Cure material, the outfit's fifth album, 'The Top,' was released the same year as 'Hyaena.' Essentially a psilocybin fuelled solo album, the ensuing tour destroyed the frontman's health - and time with the Banshees camp - but helped reinvigorate his passion for The Cure and its grander possibilities.
- - -
- - -
Eager to create something vibrant and with further reaching appeal, Smith got to work creating what would be the start of the group's imperial phase roster. Porl Thompson, now an official member, on guitar and keyboard, a returning Simon Gallup on bass duties, ex Thompson Twins drummer Boris Williams on the kit and Tolhurst on additional keyboards. After some typically boozy, but refreshingly upbeat sessions, The Cure dropped 'The Head On The Door' in August of '85, changing both the band's trajectory and the face of alternative music forever.
Marrying Smith's emotional vulnerability with the group's pop hooks and newfound ambitions, The Cure's sixth studio-album solidified their metamorphosis from erratic cult concern to kaleidoscopic hitmakers. Led by 'Inbetween Days' and its technicolour video, the band's most joyous offering broke the Top 10 in the UK and hit 59 on the Billboard 200. Soon Smith and co became college rock heroes, the frontman's look emulated by thousands of introspective weirdos who'd found their new saviour.
- - -
- - -
As unashamedly poppy as it is, 'The Head On The Door' is a charmingly eccentric beast, one that showcases Smith's unique songwriting ability - all tracks credited to him alone. 'Kyoto Song,' one of the album's moodier cuts, sees the band merge their atmospheric tones of old with eastern flavour. 'The Blood' sees the mad Brits try some gothic flamenco while the production on 'Close To Me,' all breathy percussion and twinkling keys, remain as infectiously groovy as ever.
Outside of the LP's quirkier moments, the record also boasts two of Smith's most straightforward and majestic love songs, 'A Night Like This' and 'Push,' both highlighting the band's mightier five-person sound. Simply put, 'The Head on The Door' sees a band ready to take on the world, and they were. Supporting the album with a 52 date global tour, The Cure found themselves riding a wave of optimism and admiration, one that heavily leaked into their next effort, 1987's double album 'Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.'
While critical consensus may place the likes of 'Disintegration' and 'Faith' as The Cure's greatest work, 'The Head on the Door' may stand as their most important - and for millions of fans who were teenagers at the time, their most universally beloved.
- - -
- - -
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.