Japanese Whispers (1983) ***
Purging his wrist-slashing fantasies with the Goth Trilogy (Seventeen Seconds, Faith, Pornography), Robert Smith reemerges smack in the decadent coke-snorting '80s as a poofy-haired synth-rocker. The brite, New Romantic synth-pop tunes on this compilation of singles aren't that far removed from the brite, punkish guitar-pop tunes circa 1979; the dedication to hookcraft has returned, and melodies are likewise the most memorable since the debut. Expanding from a trio on the debut to a four-piece at this point, the sound is denser and more fleshed out, but still relatively minimalist compared to later Cure albums' excesses - I said relatively. There are only eight songs, and the three best are available on the Staring At Her Breasts: The Swinging Singles compilation, so this is hardly essential for a casual fan. Your typical Cure album follows the "three or four really good potential singles surrounded by a bunch of merely ordinary songs" pattern, and this is no exception. "Lament," and "Just One Kiss," sound like goth-period outtakes, if only a teensy bit brighter and lighter. "The Dream," the only truly bad song on here, bases itself around an annoyingly simplistic three-note synthesizer riff. "The Walk," and its b-side, "The Upstairs Room," are grim adventures in Eurodisco. "Speak My Language," and "The Love Cats," are also of a piece, both wonderfully frothy bounces of fluff, based around tinkly-winkly bouncing piano lines. One crucial insight that I gain from this record into Smith's personality is that he's a cat, not dog, person. "Fires outside in the sky look as perfect as cats!" he coos in "Let's Go To Bed," in which he pretends that he doesn't care about getting laid as a ploy to convince a girl to go to bed with him. A perfectly normal human sentiment; we all feel that love/sex/romance/whatever you want to call it, is a "stupid game" sometimes - the thing about Smith's lyrics about depression and alienation is that they're a lot more universal (and banal) than his goth narcissism supposes. In sum, a pretty good to average Cure album, take it or leave it. I don't care if you don't.