Through A Note Darkly: The Head on the Door, Marquee Moon, Arular

3. The Cure: The Head On The Door

Personal Favorite: “In Between Days”

Summarizing Lyric: “Tell me who doesn’t love/What can never come back” (“The Blood”)

Someone’s grown comfortable with the sadness smeared across their face. Whereas the incoming Disintegration will showcase Robert Smith in his most terrified state, wanting to escape whatever shade of void he was in, The Head on the Door shows The Cure knitting that void around them, a merry band of goth kids bopping their heads to the rhythm of their sorrows. This reveling in sadness is heard across the record through the larger than life arrangements full of synths, chimes, playful acoustic interpretations of Latin and Asian sounds, and an intro where Porl Thompson’s obscene sustains bring to mind climactic scenes in animes (“Push”). The instruments may be leaking with minor chords, but they can’t help but have the corner of their lip curve upward at the fact that they are. The same can be said for Smith who announces his adoration for sorrow with the line “Tell me who doesn't love/what can never come back” (“The Blood”). There is, however, a frustration with loving sadness seen most obviously in the aforementioned “Push.” It is on this track that we hear Smith ignite his lungs, advising someone (you, me, himself?) to “smear this man,” who has to haunt your body to know your secrets, “across the walls/Like strawberries and cream/It’s the only way to be.” It should come as no surprise that the patient ignores the advice and finds themselves in “Exactly the same clean room/Exactly the same clean bed” and it’s embarrassing. In a recent trip to Texas to visit family I found myself in my cousin’s bedroom, one painted blue and packed with Spongebob iconography, mourning over the death of a long gone relationship. Little boy feelings in a little boy room, but I’m not little anymore. Like Smith, I was too old, too big to fit in those teen feelings anymore (“I've stayed away too long this time/And I've got too big to fit this time”) but I liked being in that zone. I like watching “you like I'm made of stone/As you walk away,” I like imagining the worse case scenario (my head on a door) when something good’s about to happen, I apply sadness to my face the way The Cure apply their makeup. And Smith will say he wants to change (“A Night Like This”), but the revelry heard in constant self-destruction suggests otherwise.

2. M.I.A: Arular

Personal Favorite: “Bucky Done Gun”

Summarizing Lyric: “I’m armed and I’m equal/More fun for the people” “Bucky Done Gone”

In this incredibly contentious political climate where most voices are reaching ears too busy ranting to listen, two lessons seem to be needed. The first is one that Arular teaches with absolute ease, a lesson in being compelling enough to shut people up. I do believe that every story is important, but not every story is graced with a voice as confident and determined to communicate as M.I.A.’s is on Arular. As uncomfortable as it may make some people, she does not shy away from the grimmer aspects of her character(s)’s life (boys growing to become guerrillas, being held under submission in the amazon, turning to prostitution to fund a Visa escape). Turning these experiences into downbeat ballads would have earned her the title of “brave” from some and may have even garnered a few tears, but crying would leave people feeling hopeless to prevent such experiences from happening to others. Framing herself as a victim of her environment would leave her audience thinking “If she couldn’t overcome it, what hope do we have?” By starting with “Ba-na-na Skit,” a clip that pokes fun at the condescension immigrants receive for not speaking English as fluently as native born speakers, she shows that she’s processed whatever trauma she’s received and is ready to melt those chains. She proves her fighting spirit immediately on her next track, the declaration of war that is “Pull Up The People” where she, our “fighter, fighter god,” taunts the enemy with her arsenal of beats soon to be deployed. She continues to lead the charge, shutting cities all over the world up with “Bucky Done Gun”  and the announcement of her thesis, “I'm armed and I'm equal/More fun for the people.” Plenty of people talk over brave piano ballads. No one can talk over M.I.A. and her stomps that reek of fury at being locked up in sewers for too long. Compelling and confident, that’s the voice that turns heads. Once those heads are turned, it is up to the listener to teach themselves the next lesson: empathy. Are you just going to dance? Or are you really going to listen?

1. Television: Marquee Moon

Personal Favorite: “Torn Curtain”

Summarizing Lyric: “Fantastic! You lose your sense of human” (“Prove It”)

Me: “What the fuck are you doing?”

TV: “Don’t know… does it work?”

Me: “Barely.”

TV: “Excellent, so you love it then.”

I think so. Marquee Moon sounds like it was played by panicking, but excited space cadets on the brink of entering the event horizon of a black hole. The rhythm section, determined to push against the grain, form the sturdy, but dented alloys; the guitars, speeding through history to find a place of melody and spine-tingling dissonance, are the foot on the gas pedal (do spaceships have gas pedals?); Tom Verlaine’s voice, what a quaking hand would sound like if given a mouth, are the hands frantically pounding the unbreakable silica, trying to escape the fate set aside for those who mistakenly engrave their name on a marquee reserved for nobody. Television, unashamed of taking inspiration from their predecessors (the Hitchcock-inspired lyrics for instance), knew they might have been leaning too far into the extreme they were leaning into. They announce this themselves on “Marquee Moon” with a scene of a vague Verlaine character speaking to a (possibly old) man “down at the tracks,” a place where cargo is moved forward, but always to the same places. The man tells Verlaine how he doesn’t go mad in this place of false progression, “‘Look here, Junior/Don't you be so happy/And for Heaven's sake/Don't you be so sad.’” It’s a simple answer, an advocation for moderation, but it is one ignored by the relatively indulgent Television, a punk band with a ten minute song, guitar solos, and the arguably melodramatic “Torn Curtain.” This is not to say Marquee Moon is not a tight record. It’s the fact that it is tight while being so messy that makes it so concerning. It’s a record that asks for too much: rehearsed, but raw; poignant, but with tinges of sarcasm; of the past, but sounds nothing like it. The album does achieve all these things, but at what cost? “You know it’s all some new kind of drug,” but like most drugs, the high the record provides will keep you chasing. For a second you’ll feel like you fell into a strong pair of arms, but once the vinyl goes silent you’ll see the Venus de Milo standing above you, armless and without you. Maybe being one of a kind isn’t all it’s cut out to be.