Even in a year already marked by sprawling, ambitious double albums from Prince and Hüsker Dü, the Cure's new Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me stands out. Like Sign o' the Times and Warehouse: Songs and Stories, this two-record, eighteen-song set is about reaching inward. The Cure is trying to deepen and refine an existing sensibility rather than reach outward to expand it. On previous efforts, guitarist and singer Robert Smith has flirted with everything from conceptually orchestrated studio pop (The Top) to sarcastic dance tracks ("Let's Go to Bed"); now that the Cure has evolved into an actual band, he's able to consummate those eclectic desires. Kiss Me is a breakthrough all right. For the first time, the Cure's music is relatively unfettered by pretension and indulgence, and the results are remarkable.
That said, nobody who's found the Cure solipsistic in the past will be converted by the likes of "Why Can't I Be You?" — Smith sounds most self-involved when he's celebrating obsessive love for somebody else. But then nobody who hears this insistent first single on college radio will likely be able to resist, either; it's energetically dense, like a Joy Division drone embedded with power-pop hooks.
What's especially striking about Kiss Me is this sense of balance. Saxes and violins — hell, entire horn and string sections — are used here in a manner that's judicious, not gratuitous. Jittery horns contribute punch and vigor to the breathless, bass-heavy romp "Hey You," and the breathtaking mix of violin, diverse synths, angular guitar and throbbing bass lines on "How Beautiful You Are ..." subtly underline the melody instead of rubbing it out. Even on the expected bits of whimsy ("Like Cockatoos") and the five-minute therapy sessions ("All I Want"), this group's tuneful confidence and new-found consistency beam forth like a beacon through a purple haze. More highlights could be cited, but the fun of a double album is digging in and discovering it all yourself.