Extending on the territory of The Glove's 'Blue Sunshine' & 1983's 'The Lovecats' & 'Mr Pink Eyes', Robert Smith created 'The Top.' This was from a rather extreme period in his life when he found himself guitarist in The Banshees (who were also recording 'Hyaena') as well as frontman of the reborn-Cure from 'Let's Go to Bed'-onwards. He recorded this under the influence of psychedelics with a band that included long-time associate Porl Thompson, former drummer Lol Tolhurst, producer & later Johnny Hates Jazz/Natalie Imbruglia-associate Phil Thornally & drummer Andy Anderson (who would later play with the Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce). 'The Top' was rumoured to have been accidently recorded at the wrong speed - but I think these effects were deliberate, Smith manipulating his vocals and created a record that is one of the great acid-soundtracks (see 'Trout Mask Replica', 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn','Tago Mago', 'The Faust Tapes' & 'Easter Everywhere').
The 10-orignal tracks showcase the beginnings of that eclectic Cure-sound that would be expanded on over the following albums 'The Head on the Door' & 'Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me.' Live-favourite 'Shake Dog Shake' always sounds wonderful, like 'Pornography' on a Beefheart-trip it has the oddest lyrics and shows where Brett Anderson got his animal-fixation from! 'Birdmad Girl' is a gorgeous Latin-inflected acoustic joy - 1985's 'The Blood' would stem from here; 'Wailing Wall' advances on the territory of the Banshees' 'A Kiss in the Dreamhouse' & Smith's work with Steve Severin in The Glove. Compare this to 1987's 'The Snakepit' to see the difference between psychedelic Smith and the wine-inflected version a few years later!!
'Give Me It!!' is bizarre proto-metal, still one of Smith's most dirgey recordings and possibly an indication of looming madness! The mood shifts to the sublime 'Dressing Up', a song that turned up in live sets a few years later and is found on the 'Paris' live album. Smith seems to be playing with gender here, so an interesting record, as well as a fantastic pop song. The classic single 'The Caterpillar' is next, probably the peak of his psychedelic works, it's utterly ravishing and must have been a record that Bjork heard? This is followed by another long term live favourite 'Piggy in the Mirror', Smith's lyrics maybe responding to Sioux's 'Fat Bob'-jibe or the funhouse-reflection of himself the last year or so?
'The Empty World' sounds like a more psyched relative of the doomy Cure of 80-82, though any hint of that mood is broken by the sterling Beefheartian 'Bananafishbones' - a joyful glut of psychedelic rubbish. Finally the title track concludes the album proper, this isn't that far from the doomy Cure of yore, though the production/mix ensure the whoozy and dreamy dominate the gothic and morose downerness.
The second disc comes with 17 unreleased/hard to find tracks and out-takes including the mythical 'Ariel' (an influence on Ariel Pink) and 'Forever' - a song that Cranes would name an album after. There appears to be an early version of b-side 'A Man Inside My Mouth' as well as 'The Caterpillar's classic b-sides 'Happy the Man' and 'Throw Your Foot'- which were too great to leave off the album! I think 'The Top' has aged wonderfully, though its eccentric psychedelic nature will not appeal to everyone. It's sometimes tagged the worst Cure record, but I'd say that would probably be more true of 'Three Imaginary Boys' or 'Wild Mood Swings' (not that I think either are that bad!). An extremely welcome reissue and a record that shows where songs like 'Six Different Ways', 'Close to Me', 'If Only Tonight We Could Sleep', 'How Beautiful You Are', 'Like Cockatoos' & 'A Japanese Dream' would come from in the following years...