Thursday, January 28, 2010

The End of the Eighties, Track 04

“A Few Hours After This…”
The Cure
In Between Days 12” B-side

In the mid-’80s, John had this cassette tape called Standing on a Beach floating around in his car. At the time I was very much not into alternative music. I remember (primarily because he won’t let me forget) giving him a hard time for listening to that crap.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I’m buying that tape off of him for nine bucks.

Long after I picked up the CD version of the album, Staring at the Sea, I still played the hell out of that tape. Side one had all the singles, but side two had something the CD didn’t: “A Few Hours After This…”

I have referred to those two-and-a-half minutes as “the greatest b-side ever released,” and I stand by it. This song soars somewhere between the luxuriant Goth of Faith’s “The Funeral Party” and the pop sensibilities of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me’s “Just Like Heaven”. It’s the kind of song where I just close my eyes and arms are folded around me – safe, warm, lush.

In the liner notes of the Join the Dots b-sides and rarities collection, Cure frontman Robert Smith refers to “A Few Hours After This...” as “a slightly deranged experiment, an attempt to do something orchestral and quirky,” and that’s exactly how it unfolds. The music is majestic, all swirling strings and bold percussion, and mixing it with idiosyncratic love song lyrics multiplies its richness. Throwing in a splash of humor, something often overlooked when it comes to Smith’s work, in this setting is nothing short of peculiar brilliance: “A few hours after this and we're apart again / Like two white checks / Like opposite poles / In a secret game / (Like nothing like these I suppose...)”

Fifteen years later, the honest-to-goodness, number one, main reason I bought Join the Dots was to finally have “A Few Hours After This...” on CD. And, frankly, it was worth every penny. I remember bringing the set home and immediately popping disc one in the stereo, queuing up the song, cranking up the volume, settling into the couch, pressing play, and closing my eyes. Tracy flew downstairs as soon as the first chest-thrumming note hit, wanting to know why the house was shaking. I didn’t have a great answer for her; I could only explain that I had never heard this song so crisp and clear and needed the moment.

A couple years later, I was asked to review the third wave of Cure deluxe edition reissues for PopMatters. Among them were the expanded The Head on the Door remaster and the Rarities (1984-1985) disc, including a studio demo version of the song. It’s an expanded mash-up of what would become the lyrics to “Screw” and “A Few Hours After This...” on top of a guitar-based rendering of the composition, making it a fascinating window into how the two songs evolved.

That freshman year at Bowling Green was a lot of things, but, apart from being a song by a core group that helped define the era for me, “A Few Hours After This...” sort of encapsulates it all at its heart... over-the-top, playful, dramatic, quirky.


Blake Newton said...

Just ran across your post. I also believe that "A Few Hours" is one of the great b-sides, and it was THE song that made me understand that b-sides were worth taking seriously. "Exploding Boy", also a b-side for "Inbetween Days" is also fantastic... making "Inbetween Days" one of the greatest singles since the Beatles, at least!

DaveF said...

Just listening to the song, which I I love just as much as you do. Did you know there is a third version, I do wish I could find. It was a radio one session version - final lyrics, but accounting. I loved it - had it on a tape somewhere.

Stumbled across your blog trying to find this session version.

Still love this song, always will

AB said...

I had no idea there was a third version! I am going to have to track that down. Thanks for letting me know!