The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
The seventh studio LP by English rock band The Cure, and the one that broke them in the U.S. (reaching the Billboard top 40), 1987’s Kiss Me (x3) is a sprawling two-album document of a band that has realized it can do almost anything it wants; it takes the eclectic pop savvy of the prior album, The Head on the Door, and blows it up into glorious sexy widescreen.
By turns dirty, delirious, dark, and divine, this album is one of the finest examples of eighties British psychedelia (see also: the similarly-ambitious and dramatic Bunnymen). It hits teens (and teens at heart) right in the emotionally-messy place where they live; a swirl of outsized, intertwined and constantly-shifting states. Love and hate and lust and despair and whimsy all smear together like frontman Robert Smith’s carefully “carelessly-applied” lipstick. Never again would they showcase all the many facets of The Cure – which by now had encompassed punk, post-punk, psych, doomy goth, hard rock-edging-into-metal, jazz, synth/dance, Eastern and Latin influences, and pure pop – so well on a single record. It’s all over the place, and it’s all unmistakably The Cure.
(Perhaps not coincidentally, this is also the last album to feature founding member Lol Tolhurst, who was fired during sessions for the next album due to substance abuse issues; while no one would ever place Tolhurst as the prime musical mover of the band, I wonder to what degree his admitted musical primitivism was partly responsible for some of the band’s more whimsical moments. And as a childhood friend of Smith’s, Tolhurst may have been occasionally able to get Smith to take editorial suggestions or critical feedback.)
Opener “The Kiss” goes on for nearly four minutes of filthy wah-wah guitar before Smith starts wailing psychosexual drama about kisses and poison and guts; by the time he’s repeating, “I wish you were dead”, and the band is striking a massive final chord that sounds like Purple Rain in Hell, you are probably either in or out.
The album immediately reveals its schizophrenic nature with the whimsical “Catch”; then spins on its heel again for “Torture”, which has a busy bassline akin to the following album’s “Fascination Street” and some “vampire bat” lyrics which, one hopes, are at least a little self-aware. If it’s a little too gothy to be taken totally seriously, a sharp ascending “trumpet” figure near the end (likely actually synths, but I’m not sure any eighties rock band used its synths as tastefully and well as The Cure did) unquestionably redeems it for me.
“If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” is another in the Cure’s long line of Eastern psych dalliances, all percussion and crawling tempos and “sitars/flutes” – again, probably synths, but who cares when the results are this atmospheric and beautiful? (In contrast, seven-minute “The Snakepit” drones on just a BIT too long for my taste, and I often skip it.)
“Why Can’t I Be You?” is almost a Motown dance number, featuring one of Smith’s most bravura vocal performances – he scats, he sings, he mumbles, he slurs, he floats around the notes like a butterfly. All this is in keeping with a declaration that the object of his affection is so beautiful that he wants to BE them; a dizzy, delirious love that consumes the beloved and eliminates all distinctions between individuals. Once again we have bright “horns” in an interlocking pattern, like they are playing in a round. It’s obsessive and energetic and playful (rhyming “delicate” with “angelicate”) and simply terrific.
“How Beautiful You Are” is a “literary” Cure song telling a short story, an original (AFAIK) this time instead of cribbing from Camus or elsewhere; it’s OK, but it mainly functions as a comedown, musically and thematically, from the prior song.
“Hey You!” is inessential, like “Why Can’t I Be You?”’s rough draft, and accordingly was dropped from the original CD for runtime; still, I like the squalling, careening sax throughout it, and it repeats the album title again.
But “Just Like Heaven” is about as far from inessential as you can get; it’s one of the best guitar-pop singles of the eighties, and maybe ever. The seeming progeny of two songs from the prior album The Head On The Door, “Heaven” has an instantly-memorable bassline and distinctive drum work (shout-out to Boris Williams, who fashions repetitive fills and cymbal hits into their own pop hooks) under a bed of acoustic & electric guitars akin to the similarly happy/sad “Inbetween Days”; and shimmering, descending lead guitar riff reminiscent of Door secret MVP “Push” – in fact, “Heaven” uses its riff in place of a chorus. A pop song with no chorus – neat! It’s all efficiently-arranged so that each instrument makes its entrance and announces its hook, then the next gets layered on top of it like a delicious sonic cake.
“All I Want” is another dirty, grinding number, featuring a guitar that sounds like its strings were etched in an acid bath, a repetitive three-note synth pattern, and Smith howling about holding you “like a doll”. Though I sing “dog” instead.
“Hot Hot Hot!!!” is an improbable lite-funk dance number that works far better than it has any right to, with a great big stonking big bass thump underpinning it, and some punchy, jazzy trumpet at the end.
“One More Time” is GORGEOUS; the twin of “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” , it’s a sonic pillow you just sort of have to fall into.
“Like Cockatoos” is a strange little psych number featuring a repeating sound effect that maybe is supposed to sound like, well, cockatoos, and an epic string arrangement at the end. I’ve always had a soft spot for this oddity. Similarly, the sexy, sexy “Icing Sugar” is mostly fashioned out of continuously-rolling toms and a sax; it might be a trifle, but what would a variety box of chocolates be without those?
If I’m being honest, the album falls off a bit at the end here for me. Nothing from here on out is outright bad, but none of it’s essential to me. “The Perfect Girl” is another whimsical pop tune; “A Thousand Hours” kinda drags.
But “Shiver and Shake” at least has vicious lyrics, a propulsive rhythm, and psychotic sax. It’s a good “Look out world, I’m pissed off” song. And album closer “Fight” seems to attempt to fashion the strange rhythms of “Cockatoos” into a suicide-prevention existential rock anthem. More admirable than good, maybe.
EXTRA CREDIT: definitely seek out the B-sides/bonus tracks from this era; in particular, “Breathe” and “A Chain of Flowers” are lovely.
What’d you guys think? Commentary, anecdotes, and reminiscences all welcome.