Wednesday, July 20, 2005

No. 10 Just Like Heaven - The Cure

The Cure were best known during the 80s as a "gothic" band who produced depressing epics to which teenagers huddled in their rooms and thought about slitting their wrists. But as their 1985 singles collection Standing on a Beach showcased, their other forte was writing original, catchy pop songs which ranged from the punkily sublime ("Boys Don't Cry") to the joyously ridiculous ("Lovecats").

Ardent fans were a little wary of the poppier tunes, fiercely protective of the band's "alternative" status at a time when that label still meant something. Then the alternative / mainstream distinction effectively disappeared from pop music, and to a new generation the Cure were defined by 1992's rather inane "Friday I'm in Love", meaning their place in music history has been re-evaluated somewhat.

In hindsight the apparent stylistic schizophenia actually made perfect sense. A thread running through all Robert Smith's songwriting was demonstrative Romanticism, whether this meant wallowing in dark, Byronic depression or flitting over the hills chasing the skylarks (or cats). Moody or madcap, the Cure's music had a colour and unpredictability that seems almost unbelievable from the vantage point of today's pop-by-numbers.

My favourite Cure song for a long time was "In Between Days" with its punchy bass and wash of lovesick keyboards. But it's "Just Like Heaven" which is the more enduring and perfectly structured song. There is something celestial about the opening, with the keyboards soaring above the Bach-ian symmetry of the falling and rising piano riff. Yet you sense that the melody could easily survive much rougher treatment--as Dinosaur Junior later proved with their thunderous cover version.

And that's even before Robert Smith comes in to howl of impossible, dreamt love:

Show me show me show me how you do that trick
the one that makes me scream, she said...

He's got an amazingly beautiful girl and she tells him he drives her wild. But after the instrumental break it turns out he's only dreaming (...I must have been asleep a day...). Doh!

As far as I know, this song was never a big hit anywhere, but a tribute to its enduring, crossover appeal is that it was regularly played on the radio in Arequipa when I was there, easily outshining the Latin pop and American rock fodder surrounding it.

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