The Top – The Cure

Release Year: 1984

Rating: 8.5/10

1983 – 84 is an infamous time for The Cure. It was during this time Robert Smith played in and recorded with 3 bands: The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Glove. He would record with the Banshees during the day and then record with The Cure at night. This tireless schedule made him extremely ill to the point his skin began peeling off due to blood poisoning. This experience and lots of pots of magic mushroom tea is part of what makes this album so weird.

Smith himself has said this is as close to a solo album fans will get. In a way he’s right. It’s so experimental it doesn’t sound like anything The Cure did before. Everything from the sound to the vocals are tweaked. This change can be heard on tracks like “Birdmad Girl” and “Bananafishbones.” Both of these songs are pretty strange due to the music and the lyrics. The former is very light and bright sounding, but even with the aid of the lyrics it’s still difficult to figure what Smith means by “I should be/like a polar bear.” The latter song, named after a J.D. Salinger story, has a lot of disjointed wild music creating this druggy mood, which isn’t that surprising. It’s one of those songs where you have no idea what’s going on, but it eventually grows on you. Whatever is going on in the song, it’s at least a lot of fun.

One of the best tracks here is the aggressive and powerful “Shake Dog Shake.” It’s a classic Cure song and one of Smith’s favorites. After he sings a deranged “Ha ha ha!” the music gets tough and violent. Everything about it sounds so angry. Even when he sings he sounds like he’s spitting out venom. Here, The Cure’s visual yet somewhat creepy lyrics come into play creating the tone in the first two lines: “Wake up in the dark/the after taste of anger in the back of my mouth.” It’s one of those lines that grips you; you know exactly what he’s talking about. For its striking sound, the band turns to psychedelic influence for this watery effect on the music. It’s a great opening track and remains one of their strongest songs.

“Give Me It” is another aggressive track in The Cure’s catalog. It’s frantic, in your face, and out of control. The music moves along at a rapid, chaotic pace where you hear everything from crashing guitars to wailing horns. Smith sounds like a wild animal when he sings “Ow!” during the start. The entire thing keeps spiraling out of control until it comes to an abrupt end. It’s a distinct track that stands out for how angry and insane it sounds. Things take a different tone on “Wailing Wall,” which was inspired by Smith’s visit to Jerusalem where he lost his shoes. Things start off on an eerie tone with unsettling moaning while the Eastern inspired music slowly makes it way in. What stands out is the riff that slinks its way through the song similar to a snake charmer. It’s not the best track here, but it is intriguing.

Not everything is dark and weird on the album. Things brighten up on “The Caterpillar,” which has some irresistible singing from Smith himself. The song is catchy, light, and makes you feel good with the fluttering piano riff and music that sounds like flapping wings. “Dressing Up,” which is about Smith getting ready to go on stage, is also light and upbeat with more of a lullaby feel to the music. Smith also changes up the vocals. He sounds like he’s drunk, but it’s part of what makes the song so charming. Both of the tracks are whimsical sort of like the band.

Though “Piggy in the Mirror” is another great song, the one that is overlooked is “The Top.” It starts and ends with a toy top spinning faster and faster until the disjointed guitar comes in creating a dark unsettling mood. Things get even darker as Smith sings “I don’t care/If only I could say that/And not feel so sick and scared.” The line has a since of self-deprecation and despair, like he knows he can’t even try anymore. This makes it a perfect fit for their fourth album. From there the mood grows more haunting as Smith’s wailing echos in the background like a ghost and how the last two lines “Please come back/All of you” leave you with chills.

This is the black sheep in the band’s catalog. It’s something you may not like when you first hear it, but over time it grows on you. Smith went all out on this record. Not only did he write and record most of the music, he made it vastly different from anything he’s ever done before. Some of the songs would go on to become classics for the band, while others are deep cuts for hardcore fans to fall in love with over and over again. It also showed The Cure weren’t always about being gloomy and depressing.

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