Woke Up In The Rain: The Cure’s Japanese Whispers Revisited

Undulating between light and shade. Plot it on graph paper should you wish; this is a band whose attention flows, over time. An exploration of dynamic counterweighted by the propensity for pop (or so its says in my notebook; I’m like Samuel Taylor Coleridge sometimes. Sentiment suddenly appears as if devil scratchings, all mysterious across the paper. Damn these adventures in laudanum).

Therefore – and considering that you’ll struggle to identify a Cure track as ubiquitous in collective consciousness as ‘The Love Cats’ – extrapolating the whereabouts of Japanese Whispers on this précis of career curve isn’t a fiendishly difficult affair. You can see where this argument is headed…

Not that Japanese Whispers is, in the conventional sense, a proper album. It feels that way for those of us too young to have been loyally snapping up contemporary material during the early years (I’m thinking that the first Cure disc I shoplifted as a new release would have been Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me or Disintegration). Me – I’m very much taken with the concept of album as coherent unit; not sacrosanct as such, but very much framed by a shared intention. Japanese Whispers, however, is a compilation of the three singles (+ associated b-sides) released after the dark, end-of-the-street masterpiece that is Pornography; a period of reinvention, of questioning musical intent, and – in Robert Smith’s case – moonlighting behind Siouxsie Sioux.

So this particular suite of somewhat disparate elements – as well as being a direct reaction to Pornography – is patchier, more experimental (at least in terms of musical intention), and indicative of the more synth-heavy textures strip-mined on subsequent albums The Top and The Head On The Door. I say ‘patchy’ because the b-sides haven’t fared well over time; ‘Speak My Language’ is interesting for attempting to force a wee bit too much into the narrative – vaguely reminiscent of The Beatles’ ‘You Know My Name, Look Up My Number’ – but the rest perhaps suffer from degrees of under-exposure, of being left out in the rain.

Which leaves us with those three singles. They don’t specifically dominate the vista simply because they have a life beyond this collection; notions of catchiness also have a part to play. I’m not going to invest thousands of words on ‘The Love Cats’ for the simple reason that over-familiarity isn’t always a virtue. And perhaps the same goes for the track sitting beneath the words.

The highlight – at least personally – is ‘The Walk’; three and half minutes of fluctuating, faux oriental synth motifs, anchored by a strident riff straight out of the The Big Book Of Strident Synth-Pop Riffs. One of the first Cure-specific tracks that made me sit up and notice when listening to my 1983 radiogram. And sitting up to take notice is what music is all about.

The Cure / Let’s Go To Bed

This particular revisit was suggested by Jorge at Every-ist And Every-ism – whose recent, exquisite Cure article can be found here (NB: it’s required reading). And if you’re looking for some drunk hack to maltreat a favourite album of your own via the medium of words, the LGM contact options are available at the bottom of this page. Do write… 

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