So by the time The Head On The Door came out in 1985, The Cure had already taken a couple of giant leaps towards mainstream/crossover success, and in all respects this album succeeded in consolidating the band’s new found popularity with the masses.
It’s not that Smith and co had completely abandoned the goth-pop formula and post-punk leanings that dominated earlier work, it’s more that The Head On The Door struck just the right balance between the light and the dark.
It helped of course that the album contained a couple of brilliant singles in the form of ‘In Between Days’ and ‘Close To Me’, both of which enjoyed high rotation on the increasingly influential MTV playlist, something that did much to enhance the band’s fledgling popularity outside of the UK.
‘In Between Days’ is quite simply one of the best songs The Cure ever released and it doubles as The Head On The Door’s opener. Propelled by a repetitive baseline (an old Cure trick) and Smith’s virtuoso guitar (he’s not the best guitarist in the world but he’s certainly one of the most instantly recognisable post-punk guitar heroes), ‘In Between Days’ reflects the coming together of those two strands of the band’s sound – its bouncy upbeat tempo being almost at odds with its murky lyrical content.
‘Close To Me’ on the other hand, is far more straightforward, and even today probably represents one of Smith’s finest “pop” moments. Bright, inventive, and undeniably romantic, it helped establish Smith as a master of the eccentric love song. The catchy lyrical hooks and cheery synth certainly helped highlight the band’s new commercial sensibility.
Instrumentally and musically, The Head On The Door found The Cure adopting a far more diverse and worldly approach than ever before, one that incorporated several strong international flavours – as with the Japanese feel of ‘Kyoto Song’, and the Latin/flamenco guitar on ‘The Blood’.
‘Six Different Ways’ is a poppy little number, devoid of very much at all outside of exposing Smith’s vocal at its most quirkiest, and it almost threatens the filler status I’d definitely assign to ‘The Screw’, which sounds more like a half-finished and rather annoying idea than a fully-fledged track befitting an album of this quality.
‘The Baby Screams’ finds us back in familiar bassline-driven territory, while the much loved ‘A Night Like This’ (was this a third single?) is a dark repetitive guitar-based track and one of Robert Smith’s best ever laments of lost love, with – unthinkable for fans of the band’s earlier minimalism – what appears to be a pretty darned impressive sax solo.
The closer ‘Sinking’ is a monumental combination of heavy synth and introspective/dark lyrics, and it challenges ‘Push’ as the album’s main highlight outside of the singles. ‘Push’ features a brief but wonderful set of psychedelic lyrics, and with its waves of cascading guitar it has lost none of the intensity it first wooed me with nearly 30 years ago ... it remains one of my favourite Cure tracks.
The Head On The Door still rates as one of The Cure’s best albums, it cemented Smith’s reputation as a clever wordsmith and exposed his love of the short sharp quirky pop song. Over the course, Smith went on to change many of the default rules that originally applied to his band’s music, and despite the occasional glance back over his shoulder (see Disintegration, Bloodflowers) – with some degree of success it has to be said – this album gave The Cure genuine fresh momentum, and there really was no turning back beyond this point.