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How 'The Head on the Door' became the tipping point for The Cure

I'm putting The Cure's "The Head on the Door" on my list of Ken's Crucial Albums.

"The Head on the Door" was the right Cure album at the perfect time and came completely out of the blue to be the game-changer in the band's rise.
While "The Head on the Door" predecessor, "The Top," was, at best, a transitional album that began to hint at the dynamics that had yet to be seen in the band, it served as a logical end to The Cure, Version 1.0 and set the table for the technicolor sounds of THOTD, not to mention the blood-red lipstick and bird’s nest hair that would be their visual calling card for the 80’s and beyond.

Like accidentally switching from the 1985 college station that plays all the dour, dirge-y new wave to the NPR station that peppers world music into it’s programming, "The Head on the Door" was The Cure, Version 2.0. This was the band that would go on to stratospheric heights with subsequent albums like "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me," "Disintegration" and "Wish." It also ushered in longtime members, guitarist Porl Thompson (who’d played some minor parts on "The Top" and had a cup of coffee with the band in the early years) and drummer Boris Williams, who’d go on to play with The Cure for a decade. These major upgrades at guitar and drums would buoy THOTD and subsequent albums.

All due respect to their former drummer Lol Tolhurst (who at least managed to presage the whole LOL trend by a solid two decades), this album was the first to feature Boris Williams' legendary drumming.  Lol's yeoman’s work on drums and keys fit the "early-period" Cure monochromatic vibe of the first four albums, but Boris Williams evolved the band's sound. The one-measure drum intro to “In Between Days” was the most adroit drumming ever heard on a Cure song to that point.

The aforementioned “In Between Days” is unlike any previous Cure single and bears a striking resemblance to New Order. “Kyoto Song” certainly has a Japanese feel and “The Blood” employs a Flamenco guitar intro. By the time “Six Different Ways” came along, the band had nearly employed six different genres, with the song’s piano part flown in from singer/composer Robert Smith’s moonlighting gig with Siouxsie & The Banshees’ “Swimming Horses” (go ahead, give it a listen).

“Push” is two-songs-in-one featuring the two newbie members, with an anthemic instrumental comprised of some guitar heroics from Porl Thompson and Boris Williams, who was apparently told to use every drum in the studio. Robert Smith finally shows up to sing, two-and-a-half minutes into the song.

Side Two returns to somewhat familiar sonic territory with “The Baby Screams” employing the drum machine “Hand Clap” button more then should be allowed. Hand claps factor into “Close To Me” as well though these seem to be the real deal, albeit sampled and looped with the guitars given the song off. The result is one of the most simple, yet effective singles The Cure ever recorded.

Cure purists (Curists?) may have felt bait and switched by the album until “A Night Like This” came along, which took an old school dirgy Cure song full of longing and angst and added a saxophone solo: The Cure 2.0 gold. As if to reassert his place on bass in the band again (he departed after the third album) Simon Gallup leads “Screw” with a Fuzztone bassline. The OG Cure fans not swayed by “A Night Like This” had to feel somewhat relieved by “Sinking”—which could have been a leftover from "Seventeen Seconds" or "Faith." This showed that their old band still had some melancholy left in them.

The success of THOTD set the table nicely for the career-spanning compilation “Standing On The Beach/Staring At The Sea," which turned them into unlikely superstars. Where THOTD hooked all the drama club kids, “Standing On The Beach” got the jocks and cheerleaders onboard as well. No one was immune from The Cure by 1986. And anyone who says "Disintegration" is The Cure’s best album was likely born after 1975.