Paul Royse (University of Tennessee, USA)


In the last several decades, the analysis of musical topics in 18th century classical music
and popular music has been used to great effect for interpreting extra-musical signifiers. One concept in this scholarly field that has yet to be applied to the analysis of popular music, however, is Hatten’s idea of topical troping. Hatten describes topical troping as a process that occurs when “…imported topics then interact with their new contexts in significant ways, ranging from a momentary flavoring of the discourse to the assumption of a thematic role in that discourse” (Hatten 2014, 515). An issue that arises when applying this concept to popular music is how to qualify a topic as “imported” relative to an artist’s stylistic practice. Furthermore, many musical topics representative of differing popular musical styles have yet to be established in scholarship, though there has been significant progress made in the last couple decades.

This paper presents an application of Hatten’s troping concept to a popular music work:
The Cure’s 1984 album, The Top. The topical troping in this album illustrates a phenomenon I refer to as a “stylistic transition,” in which multiple stylistic signifiers of a group’s earlier musical style are intermingled and juxtaposed with “imported” topics of a style that would later distinguish the group. In the case of The Cure, the intermingling musical topics are gothic topics and popular music topics. I build on Hatten’s method of categorizing topical tropes to analyze instances of troping and how they relate to the songs’ subject matter and lyrical content. This analysis will provide a method for interpreting topical troping in certain popular music works, particularly those that are generally considered to be “transition” albums in an artist’s discography.