Just Like Heaven: The Cure - Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me
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Just Like Heaven: The Cure – Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me

As a long-time Cure fan of almost 40 years, my favorite Cure album has changed many times over. As a kid I loved Boys Don’t Cry (Three Imaginary Boys for the rest of the world), as a teen  and into my 20’s it was a toss up between Disintegration, and the cassette Standing on a Beach, then out of sheer perversity I became a full on stan for Wild Mood Swings, but somewhere in my 30s it turned to Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and I never looked back.

By 1987 when Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me had come out, the band had been around for nearly 10 years and was on its fourth lineup. The Cure had already broken up after the album Pornography and Robert Smith had joined Siouxsie and the Banshees and formed The Glove with his Banshees bandmate Steve Severin. Smith had consumed enough drugs to kill a horse and suffered multiple breakdowns. There was even a moment in ‘83 or ‘84 while in Siouxsie and the Banshees where he might not have ever gotten The Cure back together had the singles ‘Let’s Go to Bed’ and ‘The Walk’ — which at the time were contract fillers and treated as throwaways — not blown up as mega-hits in Japan. The hits continued with the single ‘Caterpillar’ from the otherwise unlistenable 1984 album The Top, and the breakout hits ‘In Between Days’ and ‘Close to Me’ off of 1985’s commercial success The Head on the Door.

All of these things needed to happen in order to get to the spot where Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me could even be created. Smith needed to burn himself out writing a full album a year between 1979 through 1985, and rapidly changing in sound from punk to post-punk to goth to acid-fueled psychedelia to breaking into the pop charts, not only to build upon his past work but also to free himself from the cycle of basically following the template Siouxsie and the Banshees had arrived at six months prior in almost each album. He needed to place in the charts, not to the point where he would lose his style chasing the sound of the moment, but place well enough to secure the kind of budget that would allow him the time and scope to create the album that, in my opinion, would be a blueprint for what The Cure would become over the next 20 years.

Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me came out on Fiction/Elektra Records on May 26, 1987, almost two years after their previous album The Head on the DoorKiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me would fully redefine the band in a number of ways: it was their first top 40 album in the United States, their first double album, their first album to produce four singles, their first album where the music featured full band writing credits (although lyrics were still by Robert Smith only), and from this point forward the band would leave behind the one-album-per-year writing/recording cycle and would only release albums when the material was there instead of bowing to the constant pressure for product by fans or the industry. Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me is the album where it became less about Robert Smith and more about The Cure as an actual band.

The Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me era of The Cure is by far their most prolific. The album being a double with a 74 minute and 35 second runtime was a massive statement in 1987. Double and triple albums where a relic of ‘70s indulgent major label artists like Yes, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd, but within the post modern / alternative artists the format was generally frowned upon. Releasing a double album (which could have easily become a triple album) was relatively unheard of for an alternative band. I was only 13 years old when I first got the cassette and I didn’t possess the depth to fully appreciate the album in its entirety.

At the time, I was obsessed with the Standing on a Beach singles collection cassette which placed the a-sides from ‘79-’85 on the a-side and all the accompanying b-sides on the b-side. I wouldn’t learn to enjoy the b-side of that tape until years later, and for the most part I was all about the singles. I did the same thing with Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. I took a sixty-minute tape and made my own a-side with all the bouncy, bright, poppy songs and filled the b-side with the moodier, darker numbers while trimming off songs like ‘The Kiss,’ Snakepit,’ and ‘Fight.’ Many years later, after picking up all the 12” singles, I put together a ninety-minute version of the album, changing the order and swapping some tracks out.

This was all pre-internet, so it was over twenty years before I discovered other fans had done the same thing. I had just never felt at home with the record in its original order, but sometime in my late thirties, after many deep dives through headphones and having worked at a few record stores for over fifteen years, I gained the musical background to fully appreciate the album and its original sequence. What strikes me now is how strong each song is individually that you can put together multiple versions and sequences for the album and have a solid single pop record, a record of love songs, a violent and angry album, or even a triple album odyssey when adding in the b-sides.

Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, from the moment you have it in hand, before you even hear a note, is an album that glows red hot. The super close-up of glossy red lips (a signature Cure motif) on the front cover and the intense eyeball on the back sleeve, where are you staring deep into his soul or is he staring into yours, you are being told you are about to enter a very personal album, a diary, a dream journal, a shoebox of love letters, a suicide note, the angry ramblings of a madman. You are entering an album of lust, love, loss, hate, life, death all reaching to the heavens above and the dirt below, an album of fantasies, dreams, and nightmares all rolled into one, sometimes all within the same song. Seven out of the eighteen songs contain the word “kiss;” seven songs contain the words “sleep,” “dream,” or “nightmare;” twelve songs contain either the words “love” or “hate.” Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me in this way is the most personal and the most powerful of all the albums by The Cure and becomes even richer the moment you give yourself the time to just listen and enjoy it via headphones. Now let’s dive into the actual songs.

  1. ‘The Kiss’

The album begins with a bold move: a six-minute opener where you don’t get a vocal until over halfway through.This musical buildup would become a regular thing in future Cure albums, but at the time it was a big statement to slowly add these sparse keys and booming drum hits until you get the driving Cure melodic bassline kicking in, and this wall of texture guitar, syrupy yet burning as it rises bit by bit in the mix. The opening line is sung out of the corner of Robert Smith’s mouth slurred in desperation, like when you see a photograph of someone who is outside in extreme heat and their mouth is always open and uncomfortable. The album title in the first line of the lyrics makes you think it’s a song of lust or love, but the tone quickly turns violent. The Cure have used some surrealistic or violent imagery in the past, usually aimed at a random fictional character, but in this instance it seems directed at someone real. The song turns a bit and it starts to come off as something we aren’t meant to hear as if we’ve stumbled into an audio diary as much as a song. This opening track makes a massive statement musically and lyrically, but also vocally, and making it through this epic start is like slowly climbing the first hill on a rollercoaster right before the drop.

  1. ‘Catch’

After such a brutal opening track, Smith rewards the listener with the light and whimsical ‘Catch,’ which builds upon his previous softboy songs like ‘Six Different Ways’ and ‘Close to Me.’ This simpler and happy love song with stripped-down instrumentation features what would develop into a common lyrical Cure trope for albums to come: a tale of a girl he once knew, whose name he can’t really remember, and maybe they were out in the snow or in the rain, and she had some endearing goofiness or quality that made her win his heart. The simple violin melody accompanies a vocal delivery that is slightly higher in register, which will become the trademark sound of a boyish, crush-stricken Smith. Not to be too big of a softie, but these are always some of my favorite Cure songs. The fact the band chose this as the second single off the album says a lot, since in 1987, nothing on the radio sounded like this song.

  1. ‘Torture’

The third track ‘Torture’ is part of a blueprint to the sound that will drive The Cure’s next two albums Distentergration and Wish. The bass and drums are heavy in the mix with guitars being used mostly for texture instead of the main melody. Smith alternates from clear enunciation on some lyrics, while other lines are slurred or sung as if he is in pain. This track would have made a horrible single, but with its dance-funk vibe, could have been a club banger with the right remix.

  1. ‘If Only Tonight We Could Sleep’

‘If Only Tonight We Could Sleep’ is The Cure returning to the Indian-inspired textures and tones from The Top. This might be one of the most misunderstood Cure songs, with many listeners confusing it for a couple’s suicide song. The lyric asking for a “deathless spell” sets this misconception straight, but fans continue to debate the meaning. I’m not an expert and am somewhat new to the concept of ragas or melodies set for different intervals of the day, but I’d love to dive deeper to see if The Cure are using a raga or melody that associated with morning, day, evening, or night, and if this raga would line up with making sleep seem difficult. There is probably an entire book’s worth of breaking that down.

  1. ‘Why Can’t I Be You?’

Getting this single ahead of the album, as a fan, was a sign the band were really going for it. The white-boy funk classic ‘Why Can’t I Be You?’ was louder, brighter, and more danceable than anything the band had released previously. At the risk of blasphemy, it sounded more like a track from Duran Duran than The Cure at the time. Simon Gallup is an amazing bass player, but him pulling out this monster of a track where he’s up there with Nile Rogers or John Taylor is something else. The disco-funk horn section was also quite shocking in the moment, but when this comes on at a 80s dance night these days, the floor is packed. Smith masters his newer, energetic, higher-pitched, slurred vocal style on this track, almost fighting with the horns for brashness and brightness, but allowing himself to get caught up in the movement and letting his words trail and break and blend in ways he’s never done before. Today this song is a classic in the band’s catalog, but at the time I’m not sure they could have picked a track more out-of-step with their fanbase to launch an album with. Lyrically the song is relatably about Robert Smith wishing he could trade places with anyone else when it comes to something he’d rather not do. 

  1. ‘How Beautiful You Are’

‘How Beautiful You Are’ is one of The Cure’s most perfect lyrical compositions which reads well outside the music, which isn’t that surprising, since Robert Smith basically snagged a bunch of lines from the Baudelaire poem ‘The Eyes of the Poor’ and just reworked it into a song. There are some lines that remain the same between the poem and the song, but we have to give Smith credit as Baudelaire probably couldn’t have written the music to frame this poem. Smith breaks it down to the concept of knowing someone really well and loving them until a certain event happens that redefines the relationship, and how that love can turn to hate, and you might feel you never really knew them at all.

  1. ‘The Snakepit’

Many fans omit ‘The Snakepit’ from their alternate track listing playlists. When this album came out, I had the cassette and couldn’t easily skip it. It felt like this sad, neverending drone of a song when I was younger. How could it not, when placed between the lyrical perfection of ‘How Beautiful You Are’ and the overly-energetic happiness celebration that is “Hey You!!!”? It wasn’t until much later and starting to develop an understanding of Indian music and the musical theories with ragas and how the melodies allow for more improvisation that I could fully appreciate what the band were doing with this song.  The lyrics have the listener buried deep underground, feeling pressure building up until their eyes are bursting “like plums.” The pressure builds and rises through the song as more instruments come in and the vocals become buried further and further in echo. The song is cavernous and claustrophobic, but it only feels this intense by comparison to the tracks that bookend it.

  1. “Hey You!!!”

The Cure turn things upside down again with the floppy, energetic palate-cleanser ‘Hey You!!!’ which has the fewest lyrics of any song on the album, freeing the listener from having to think too much. It’s bouncy, fun, upbeat, features a saxophone, and also calls out to Christmas (but not the sad Christmas from ‘The Snakepit’). If you bought the CD in the 80s, this song was left off the tracklisting as it made the album longer than the Red Book CD standard time of 74 minutes and 33 seconds, so the album jumps straight to ‘Just Like Heaven,’ which only makes ‘The Snakepit’ an even more truly brutal listening experience.

  1. ‘Just Like Heaven’

The third single ‘Just Like Heaven’ opens up the second LP or side B of the cassette, but if listening via CD or streaming, you lose a bit how epic of a single and start this track truly is. ‘Just Like Heaven’ is by far The Cure’s most Cure single as it features so many Cure tropes, such as the girl that is never named and being unsure whether it was a dream, sleep, drowning, falling, being buried or underneath, or being high up or in the heavens. Even with the allusions to death and loss, this is one of the most upbeat and joyous of all of the band’s singles. You get the feeling that no matter if it was he who died or she who died, or even if it was just a dream that was all too real, the loss itself was worth it for the moments of joy and love felt for the little bit of time that he had. This would be the band’s first single to break into the Top 40, even if it stalled at number 40 in the US. (The Cure wouldn’t top that placement until they released ‘Love Song’ off Disintegration which reached number 2 in the charts.) This single is pure pop perfection that only the Cure could write. “Just Like Heaven” defines who they are, which is honestly a bunch of sad romantics.

  1. ‘All I Want’

Immediately following a pop song about love is a song very directly about sex. The Cure have written about sex before, but always a bit more coyly and leaving it to the listener to decipher the hidden lyrical meaning. ‘All I Want’ has Smith screaming like an animal, getting low, and holding the subject “like a dog.” It’s a song about lust, with no mention of love; it’s purely carnal, and when followed by ‘Hot, Hot, Hot’ this track’s placement seems most fitting between the two singles. Smith might have been a bit more direct but by placing this between two hits kinda ends up clouding it a bit if not paying the closest attention.

  1. ‘Hot, Hot, Hot’

‘Hot, Hot, Hot’ is the fourth and final single from the album, and yet another white-boy funk postmodern dance classic. This single stalled out in the US and UK and many agree it’s the weakest of the four singles from the album, given how strongly the music for this track hits you while most of the lyrics are lazy rhymes that don’t connect with the theme of the album. This is one of the few instances where the dance remix is stronger than the album version. The Francois Kevorkian remix strips the song down to the sheer essentials and improves upon the funk party vibes the band had put down on the original. This song would have been stronger had the album version extended and not let it wrap up so quickly. Just as you are fully enjoying the groove, the song is over on the album, but the extended remix pushes it to where it needs to go.

  1. ‘One More Time’

‘One More Time’ couldn’t be a bigger departure from the previous track, but it kicks off the final run of songs on the album perfectly with a tale of loss of innocence and wanting to be taken back to a kinder time either as a child or early within a relationship that has been lost. It’s a reflective and slow-tempo bass-heavy track with keyboard flute melody and chimes where each element is so sparingly placed and mixed equally that it’s almost a lullaby. [Quick note on chimes and The Cure: Robert Smith uses them nonstop through the rest of the band’s catalog, especially on singles ‘Pictures of You’ and ‘High.’ If you want to drive yourself mad, try to count the occurrences of chimes in ‘High,’ but be warned it will ruin the song.]

  1. “Like Cockatoos”

‘Like Cockatoos’ brings back a bit of the raga-based songwriting of ‘The Snakepit’ and ‘If Only Tonight We Could Sleep.’ The story is about a girl who loves a boy that turns around and breaks up with her after he gets what he wants. The idea of the “night [singing] out like cockatoos” is harsh — the call of a cockatoo is horrific, scary, and loud, and this is the sound she heard the night he broke up with her, as everything she loved faded away. The music builds slowly with the synth strings stacking after the vocals end. And then you get the new age crystal shop rain stick texture sound at the end, but not even that can ruin the track.

  1. “Icing Sugar”

‘Icing Sugar’ is a short track that feels like it is three times its length due to how long it takes for the vocal to kick in. It alludes to cocaine and sounds like a companion to ‘The Hanging Garden’ from Pornography, which would make sense with how much cocaine was used in the making of that album. It’s a bass and drum heavy number with a saxophone melody that carries the song. This was one of the tracks written by Simon Gallup that inspired the lyrics from Smith. It doesn’t fit lyrically with the overall concept of the album unless it is framed as a love song about cocaine, but musically it fits very well.

  1. ‘The Perfect Girl’

The Perfect Girl’ is another one of Robert Smith’s giddy little crush songs. It’s bouncy, poppy, whimsical, and once again the girl is nameless and she’s a bit of an alien and goofy or clumsy, or just different, and it’s why he loves her so. This song fits perfectly along with ‘Catch,’ ‘Six Different Ways,’ and ‘A Chain of Flowers’ with this otherworldly girl turning his world upside down. In the end, he’d have it no other way, being a vampire bat and all, so upside down is natural.

  1. “A Thousand Hours”

The sixteenth song on Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me is one of the most-debated songs within The Cure’s fanbase: ‘A Thousand Hours,‘ a sad lament on wasted time or energy. Some fans believe it is suicide note in the making, while others feel it describes a relationship that fell apart, and others see it as a struggle with one’s own art. The band has never issued a definitive statement made either way, but it’s one of the shortest and most lyrically direct songs by The Cure even if the meaning is obscured enough that you can make it work to fit the narrative you want. After the fun poppy little number that is ‘The Perfect Girl’ it was only natural to follow it with a song that would suggest the total opposite of all is well in the world. At this point as a listener if you haven’t just given into the world created within Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, this could be the moment you can’t take anymore of this emotional rollercoaster.

  1. “Shiver and Shake”

‘Shiver and Shake’ is a total rocker full of disgust and hate aimed at Smith’s old friend and bandmate Lol Tolhurst. While Smith has said as much, it could easily be directed at himself and his exhaustion from his own battles with drugs and alcohol. ‘Shiver and Shake’ is one of the most violent and angry songs in the entire Cure catalog, about how what usually makes us mad with others are really the things we hate about ourselves. This song would become a musical template used for many of the more aggressive or fast-paced songs on Disintegration. It is somewhat cruel though to write a song about your longtime friend and bandmate while they are still in the band, but this album has a lot of songs that seem to be about falling apart from one another or longing for earlier more innocent times, so chances are things were bad way before he finally kicked Tolhurst out of the band.

  1. ‘Fight’

The album ends, oddly, with the anthemic ‘Fight,’ a mid-tempo aggressive number with stabbing keys and heavy drumming with added programmed drums. It’s always the angry songs where Smith is very clear vocally, and even when he’s stretching the words out for effect he makes sure you hear each word. ‘Fight‘ is his war cry for the wounded to keep going; it’s a strange note to close on after a rollercoaster through the highs and lows of dreamstates and loss. The ending of the song with Smith crying out “never give in” followed by three hard key bass duh duh duhs with sharp synth strings over the top doesn’t sit that well for the subject of the song.

Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me is your first crush, your first kiss, the worst break up you’ve had, the best night of your life followed by the worst morning. It’s the magic of making a new friend only to have them let you down and then repeat. It’s the hottest day of the year and there is no air conditioning. It’s glowing so bright that it’s blinding and then the darkest black you’ve ever seen, the kind that absorbs all light completely. Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me is birth and death and everything in between. It’s an album best appreciated once having lived a bit, which is why it took so long to become my favorite of them all.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.