To reiterate what I’ve probably said elsewhere: 1983 was, in many ways, the unofficial start of the 80s in music: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Billie Jean”, Madonna’s debut, Cyndi Lauper’s debut, Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit”, and rock acts side-stepping into a world of synths and drum-programming or the bleary 80s production, from New Order shedding their Joy Division skin of Movement in Power, Corruption & Lies, “Blue Monday”, Talking Heads dropping Brian Eno for Speaking in Tongues (their best-selling and highest charting album), Bob Dylan’s Infidels, etc. And the Cure, who had just made one of their two best albums in Pornography, clearly took one look around them (and one listen to “Tainted Love”), and decided to do the same. Japanese Whispers, released just in time for Christmas wishlists, contains the six tracks available in The Walk EP, as well as “The Lovecats / Speak My Language” single (which is the best of the bunch). The short version of this review is that you’ll get more for your money if you simply go straight for the underrated Soft Cell album released that same year or The Head on the Door, where the Cure’s transition into pop is more complete and also more masterful.
The longer version:
1. ”Let’s Go To Bed” is one of many Cure songs where the bass-line could move mountains. Otherwise, we have a keyboard hook that sounded dinky the first time I heard it but has gradually gained my affection, and a good tune in the choruses, whose words, in combination with the title, are a little eyebrow-raising … but it’s all part of Smith’s m.o.. Speaking of which, “Let me take your hand / I’m shaking like milk” is one of many things out of his mouth that doesn’t mean a damn thing.
2. ”The Dream” is only notable because the synth sounds like the horn of a toy train. If that’s what they were going for, then this is goofy trash. If it wasn’t, then this is trash.
3. ”Just One Kiss” would’ve been a nice instrumental; the reverberated guitar makes the song sound like an aural encapsulation of a rainy night. Shame Smith’s singing doesn’t add anything.
4. “The Upstairs Room” is one of two songs found here not released as part of a single, and I think it would’ve made for a better a-side than “The Walk”: some nice synth counterpoint; flurries of drums, however thin, manage to nudge the song along.
5. ”The Walk” is trash; “Blue Monday” with everything that made “Blue Monday” great stripped away.
6. ”Speak My Language” is another fun throwaway with a neat bass-line and some experimental percussion that doesn’t amount to much but sound nice. “We drink ourselves dry” is a stepping stone towards “Even though it felt soft at the time I always used to wake up sore.”
7. ”Lament” is the other one of two songs not released as part of a single. Nice synth hook, but not much else to write home about.
8. “The Lovecats” is when the Cure’s transition from post-punk to pop finally completes. Really lovely bass line, lovely piano hook, lovely tune throughout, lovely wordless bit in the choruses that makes me want to throw my hands up and start dancing. It’s still flawed because some of the effects in the intro and outro are a waste of energy and I’m not quite sure what possessed him into such histrionics at the end of the song (“THISSSSSSSSS”), but oh well.