Shriek of the Week: The Cure, “In Between Days”
Last week’s Shriek of the Week was inspired by a new book that I am now halfway through – Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein. Adam Ant’s “King of the Wild Frontier” was the first song (of 35) covered in the book. I tried the record despite never being a big fan of Adam Ant and ultimately decided that it just didn’t work for me. As I’ve gotten deeper into the book I’m discovering that Majewski and Bernstein’s notion of what made up new wave music is a little different than mine. Specifically, they should have called their book “Songs That Defined the Early 1980s.” The artists they discuss almost exclusively made their names in the first half of the decade and even in the few instances where they didn’t, the songs chosen to represent the band were typically from the short period between 1980-1982. For example, the Human League are cited for “Being Boiled“, a moderate hit from 1980 that preceded a critical band member change, as opposed to the more representative #1 hits “Don’t You Want Me” or “Human”. Depeche Mode is cited for “New Life” off of their 1981 debut album Speak & Spell, the only album with their initial lineup that included Vince Clarke (later of Erasure). Tears for Fears were recognized for “Mad World”, off their debut … well, you get the idea.
The authors acknowledge that the book “isn’t a definitive oral history of the new wave era.” To wit:
Even so, when I look at the 35 artists covered I can’t help but feel that there is one glaring omission that is so bad, it’s criminal. Here’s the full list:
I sat and enjoyed reading the book while listening to the artist that I most closely associate with good new wave music – the Cure. People mock the Cure as teenage mope music and, to be fair, some of that isn’t wrong. In a world where the future is wonderful, shiny and decadent – i.e. the world of new wave – the Cure was sometimes a Debbie Downer. Of course, that didn’t stop the authors from including Joy Division and the Smiths. And unlike Joy Division or the Smiths, neither of which I’d really classify as new wave, the Cure had an entirely different side to them which was decidedly upbeat. 1990’s Wish is practically a pop album. Thus for me, the Cure are the quintessential new wave band. And 1985’s The Head on the Door is the album that I decided to play over and over while reading Mad World.
I hate to turn to Wikipedia in a discussion about a song, but here is a sentence that I think encapsulates why “In Between Days” is both an excellent song as well as one worthy of flying the new wave flag: “The song is poppy and upbeat, featuring strummed acoustic guitars under a snappy synthesizer riff, although the song’s lyrical themes of ageing, loss and fear do not particularly reflect the upbeat tempo of the music.”
Some songs, like the Mad World-referenced “Safety Dance“, sound very dated. Others remain guilty pleasures to this day. In Between Days – and in fact the entire The Head on the Door album – can be spun in 2014, nearly 30 years after its release, without the least bit of guilt, over and over again. I should know – it’s what I’ve done the last few days.
For a fun link that Amanda Palmer would approve of, check out the In Between Days Ukulele Playalong. And here’s North Carolina grunge band Superchunk covering the song for the A.V. Club covers project. (Paramore covered it too.)
The Cure – In Between Days – Live Performance 2007