It was 28 years ago today that The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was released, and of course I’ve got it playing on my PC while I’m writing this up.
The Cure’s release history up to that date in the US was quite scattershot in the mid-80s…multiple labels over the course of four years (Boys Don’t Cry on PVC, Happily Ever After and Pornography on A&M, the 1982-83 singles and The Top on Sire). It wasn’t until 1985’s much poppier and upbeat The Head on the Door showed a new and invigorated band, and their new label Elektra made sure they didn’t falter. The 1986 singles compilation Standing on a Beach only served to push their status ever higher, and by the time Kiss Me (or “Kiss Me Cubed” as my friends and I used to call it) came out, America had finally taken notice.
This sprawling yet exciting double album came out at the same time I was asserting my individualism as a teenager. A new circle of friends, a burgeoning record collection full of newly-found college rock, and a fresh coat of not giving a fuck anymore of what other kids thought of me. I’d gone to see them with my sister and a friend that August in Worcester, and came back with a concert tee with Robert Smith’s pasty, lipsticked mug on the front and the lyrics to “Hot Hot Hot!!!” on the back. I practically wore that shirt out in the ensuing months. I certainly got a lot of guff from both kids and teachers, but I didn’t care. This was the new me. Forget fitting in, time to figure out who I was.
Kiss Me was indeed a sprawling album, but like Standing on a Beach it got a hell of a lot of play on my tape players. I was a huge Cure fan by that time, and thanks to Elektra buying out the old contracts, their early releases were finally much easier to find. I listened to them all on heavy rotation whenever and wherever I could. I even predicted that “Just Like Heaven” would end up being one of their next (and best, and most famous) singles, and I was not proven wrong.
My friends and I would occasionally take road trips down to Amherst and Northampton to hang out at the record stores, and during the fall of 1987 and into 1988 this album would often be playing. [This was back in the days before most of our parents’ cars had tape decks, so one of us, usually me, would lug along a boombox and have it playing in the back seat. During one memorable trip when this was playing, the drinking of many sodas that evening came to its expected fruition and I urged they pulled over. As I’m running into the woods, they pulled away, leaving me completely alone. Returning a few minutes later, they saw me on the side of the road, running after them, and slammed on the breaks, causing my radio to crash to the car’s floor in a thump! loud enough that I heard it from fifty yards away.] To this day I still think of the winding Daniel Shays Highway and the back roads of Shutesbury when I listen to this album.
Compared to their earlier, darker albums of the early 80s and the intense frailty of Disintegration just a few years later, this album seems is so much more energetic, even a bit psychedelic. It kind of reminds me of Prince’s Sign ‘o’ the Times, which had come out almost exactly two months earlier; it’s a beefy double album full of multiple and quite different genres, but it’s also a crowning achievement where nearly all the tracks are memorable, wonderfully produced, and leaves little to no room for boredom. But also like Prince’s album, Kiss Me was a departure from their earlier albums, where they chose to break down the barriers, both creative and personal, to record something they would be proud of. I kind of think The Head on the Door was a practice run, Standing on the Beach was the fanbase test, and this was the first official run; it would culminate of course with Disintegration. It’s of no surprise that this was also the era of one of their best band line-ups, with Simon Gallup on bass, Porl Thompson on guitar, Lol Tolhurst on keyboards and Boris Williams on drums. This particular quintet remains one of the strongest versions of the band for many older fans, as their sound was amazingly tight and inventive.