Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Cure: The Head on the Door [Elektra, 1985]
In the wiggy abstraction of his self-regard, Robert Smith has evolved into a Brit art-pop archetype. Eccentric though his songs are, they offer nothing arresting in the way of imagery ("like a baby screams" and "it's so smooth it even feels like skin," which latter is admittedly pretty good, are as meaty as it gets), much less character or incident. They're not really observed--it's more like they're experienced at a distance. Yet they're not dreamlike, though while he's at it he does report on his dreams--it's more like he doesn't know the difference between loneliness, solipsism, and satori, with lots of stuff about loved ones (girlfriends, I mean) who one way or another aren't there, or real, or something. His characteristic vocal technique is the unacknowledged sob. Yet his music, which on this album runs from New Order rip and electrodisco pseudo-strings to guitar sounds and many lands, isn't rendered any more normal by its exceedingly skillful deployment. And his originality is winning--he's clearly not just intelligent but hyperaware, at home in his alienation, and hence hero, even sex symbol, to a generation. Or at least its arty, collegiate market share. B