An Uneasy Interlude
Greg Cleary | Marquette, MI United States | 05/16/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I can't comment on the reissue, but I've owned this album for years, and here's what I think. Although "The Top" is innovative enough to warrant four stars, I've always found it hard to enjoy, so I hardly ever listen to it. That's why I only give it three stars. If you're a big fan of The Cure, though, it is worth owning, as it is the halfway point between "Pornography" and "The Head on the Door." It contains some of the gloom of the former, but in terms of musical styles, it is just as eclectic as the latter.
There is a pretty strong theme here, which is the uncomfortable relationship between spirit and body. The top is a metaphor for that, as it is like our body, having to stay in motion in order to survive, and ultimately doomed to fail. Animal images pervade the album, as a look at the song titles shows. Most of these images are creepy, the one exception being "The Caterpillar," which is one of the most joyous, hook-laden songs the Cure ever recorded. At the other end of the spectrum, at least in terms of lyrical content, is "Bananafishbones," which has to be a reference to J.D. Salinger's short story, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," in which a man commits suicide by gunshot. (Robert Smith sings, "Put a piece of metal in your head you said, make you dead....")
Contributing to the feeling of uneasiness is the rather vague musical line-up, consisting of Robert Smith ("instruments, voices") and Laurence Tolhurst ("other instruments"), plus a drummer and a saxophonist. Because there is no band, the album has no groove and feels like it was assembled one instrument at a time in the studio. That's not a good thing, though for such a disparate collection of songs, maybe it was the only way to go.
Some of the songs are almost unbearable. "Wailing Wall," "The Empty World," and the title song are all dirges, and "Give Me It" is a loud, punky jam that disrupts whatever continuity the album may have developed up to that point. There are good moments to be found in some of the other songs, however: the crisp Spanish guitar strums that highlight the chorus of "Birdmad Girl"; the cascading keyboards in "Piggy in the Mirror"; the woodwinds in "Dressing Up."
In the end, "The Top" is more of a curiosity than a coherent musical statement. Robert Smith was really branching out here, reinventing the Cure's sound. After the much groovier and more focused follow-up, "The Head on the Door," The Cure would return to an eclectic approach a few years later with "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me," again with mixed results. There's no denying that "The Top" has an important place in the history of The Cure, even if it's a disk that seldom comes off your shelf.