The Cure

July 23, 2011 at 9:00 am 35 comments

It’s easy to write off The Cure as having contributed nothing to the world beyond a few novelty pop hits and the enduring tedium of mall-goth culture. Robert Smith and the boys would perhaps be more firmly ensconced in the pantheon of rock greats if they’d ever tried to produce a Kid A-style avant garde masterpiece. After all, even the Stones had a go, with Their Satanic Majesties Request!

Well, hang on their a second – none of this is entirely fair! First of all, 1984’s The Top could easily be said to represent an attempt at Sgt. Pepper-style  technicolour psychedelia. Regarded by some Cure fans to be the band’s only truly bad album, it was – in a very real sense – the Satanic Majesties of the 80s. Then there’s the much more highly regarded Pornography, on which sheer angst alone pushed the band to the brink of distraction. Or how about that much-loved stadium doom epic Disintegration?

We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, though. The thing is, no matter how strung-out, expressionistic or colourful The Cure’s music got, it was always firmly rooted in guitar-based pop. In fact, that’s exactly what made The Cure so great! Smith managed to produce immersive masterpieces of nightmarish angst and dreamlike beauty without ever deviating much from the instantaneous effectiveness of the three-minute pop song. Even when drenched in FX, these tunes were never cheaply impressionistic – they were always painfully vivid and often unforgettably catchy.

The Cure - Seventeen Seconds

The Cure - Seventeen Seconds

On the band’s second album, Seventeen Seconds, they managed to infuse the skeletal new wave of early singles like “Boys Don’t Cry” with a genuinely spooky ambiance, without actually changing anything terribly obvious. Later albums were heavier on the flanged basslines, delay drenched guitars and soundscapey synths but they never quite surpassed the magnificent nocturnal focus of Seventeen Seconds.

The Cure – “Play for Today”

The Cure – “In Your House”

Seventeen Seconds was the first in a loose trilogy of albums that defined The Cure’s artistic zenith. Glenn Ponda has already written a brilliant post about these albums but this here blog can’t help adding its two cents.

The Cure - Faith

The Cure - Faith

Faith, the trilogy’s second album might be the most “complete” album in The Cure’s discography. It marks a transitional period between the bare-bones early material and the fleshed-out later albums. It’s also arguably the band’s most genuinely bleak and effectively gothy record.

The Cure – “All Cats Are Grey”

The Cure – “The Drowning Man”

The Cure - Pornography

The Cure - Pornography

Which brings us back to Pornography, very commonly considered to be the great Cure album. It certainly has the greatest claim to being an attempted avant garde classic – the band’s proto-dreampop formula really does strain under the shear weight of angst and self-loathing unleashed on Pornography. The album’s closing title track is mixed in such a way that everything seems to be in utterly the wrong place. A mood of alienation and impending oblivion looms large throughout.

The Cure – “One Hundred Years”

The Cure – “Siamese Twins”

Presumably, the self-destructively drug-drenched horror of Pornography couldn’t be sustained without serious damage to the band’s mental health and commercial prospects. For the rest of the 80s, The Cure’s albums became less one-dimensionally bleak – mixing widescreen goth rock with jaunty novelty tunes and all points in between. In the process, the band became a massive hit with teenage outsiders, both downcast and quirky (and both!) So, while Smith and co. may not have enjoyed quite the critical reputation they deserved, they did end up playing to stadium’s full of truly devoted fans, to whom they meant the world.

The high-point of this period was 1989’s Disintegration. Overlong and overwrought, Disintegration probably doesn’t quite deserve the reputation it has but it is, somehow, The Cure in excelsus. Currently available in a rather deluxe 2LP edition, it’s as good a place to start as any.

Entry filed under: avant rock, MP3s. Tags: , .

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35 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The Duke of Stratosphear  |  August 3, 2011 at 6:37 am

    I conform to the view that Pornography is “the great Cure album”, but all of the ‘Goth Trilogy’ ranks among their very best.

    Disintegration has two or three good songs and an awful lot of sub-Pornography moping. The Top was virtually a Robert Smith solo effort. It’s not great, but it’s better than anything they’ve done in the past two decades.

    That said, their last consistently excellent LP (saxophone notwithstanding) was The Head On The Door…26 years ago!

    Reply
  • 2. The Duke of Stratosphear  |  August 3, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Oops! Did you spot the deliberate typo? Obviously, what I meant was that Faith is “the great Cure album”.

    I put it down to my brain being addled by the hot weather (no…really).

    Reply
  • 3. Biggie Samuels  |  August 5, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    I still prefer 17 Seconds to Faith. It has such a lightness of touch; manages to be incredibly dreamlike without seeming to try too hard.

    Also, while I agree that Disintegration is overrated, I think “sub Pornography moping” is a bit harsh. Preferring The Head on the Door to Disintegration is outrageously non-canonical. Actually, preferring The Head on the Door to Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is fairly unconventional!

    Reply
  • 4. The Duke of Stratosphear  |  August 6, 2011 at 2:56 am

    The Head On The Door isn’t without its faults; there’s the sax, of course, and the closing two tracks are superfluous, but I stand by my description of Disintegration. The angst is too forced by comparison with the ’80-’82 period, when they sounded genuinely on the brink.

    Kiss Me is arguably worse – a bloated, sprawling mess (not unlike Fat Bob at his most dishevelled) with too many half-baked songs. Listen to The Kiss – 6+ minutes of a song struggling to get off the ground, musically uninspired and loaded down by its own *ahem* proto-Emo suffering. For me, it’s the epitome of Bad Cure.

    By contrast, the same LP contains Just Like Heaven, which is as close to perfection as anything they ever recorded. Harumph!

    Reply
    • 5. Biggie Samuels  |  August 6, 2011 at 8:05 pm

      I agree that Kiss Me… is patchy and overlong but I actually think “The Kiss” is one of the best songs on the album. Even though I prefer the less willfully “heavy” sound of 17 Seconds and Faith, I do also like it when they do a song that seems like it’s being crushed by its own weight. Also, I don’t see how it can be “proto-emo” when emo started around 1985, a full two years before Kiss Me….

      My idea of “bad Cure” on that album is “Why Can’t I Be You?”, a precursor to the likes of “Friday I’m in Love”. This is The Cure in novelty pop mode but it doesn’t have the charm of something like “The Love Cats” because all the weirdness and surrealism has been removed (or simply isn’t there).

      Reply
  • 6. The Duke of Stratosphear  |  August 7, 2011 at 2:27 am

    “Proto-Emo” was a bit of mischief on my part. It’s possible neither of us was being entirely serious.

    Why Can’t I Be You? should definitely be filed alongside The Kiss. A turd of a song, although the anecdote about the band members all playing a letter in the promo, with the notable exception of Lol Tolhurst, is bittersweetly amusing.

    Reply
    • 7. Biggie Samuels  |  August 7, 2011 at 6:20 pm

      Obviously, I recognize the massive influence The Cure’s music and image had on third-generation, 20-years-after-the-fact, corporate emo. They certainly didn’t invent emo but they definitely have to bear some responsibility for what it became.

      I don’t think “Why Can’t I be You” is a terrible song – it’s a very catchy novelty pop song. The trouble is, there’s nothing more to it than that. The best Cure songs are never quite what they first appear to be.

      Reply
  • 8. The Duke of Stratosphear  |  August 8, 2011 at 5:08 am

    I listened to WCIBY? last night to check if I was way off beam. I wasn’t. I had to stop listening after about a minute because it was making me angry.

    I also listened to The Kiss in its entirety, for the same reason. Again, I was right, although I’d forgotten what drivel it also is lyrically.

    You know the details of the aforementioned Lol Tolhurst story, I take it?

    Reply
  • 9. cregan  |  August 11, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    i’ll chime in. Faith yes. oh yes. not even the music but the overall sound. sounds like being lost in the fog on psychedelic drugs. mike hedges at his best.

    Reply
  • 10. cregan  |  August 11, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/dec04/articles/classictracks.htm

    if anyones interested in this sort of thing………….

    Reply
    • 11. Biggie Samuels  |  August 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm

      Must admit my eyes tend to glaze over when engineers start listing microphones but that article did bring up the interesting fact that The Cure ‘performed’ “A Forest” on Top of the Pops. And here it is!

      Reply
      • 12. cregan  |  August 20, 2011 at 1:58 am

        some great Robert Smith “Anti-miming” in that clip. he was the king of that in the early to mid 80’s before the Cure became a Professional Rock Act with “Head On The Door”. check out the miming in these.

  • 13. Biggie Samuels  |  August 20, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    This would probably be a good time to note that I’m currently transferring my Cure obsession into a Siouxsie obsession. What I’ve discovered is that while the Banshees are theoretically more interesting, The Cure are more theoretically interesting.

    Reply
    • 14. cregan  |  August 21, 2011 at 11:40 am

      well… while as i see Siouxsie as the physical manifestation of the moon goddess archetype i see The Cure as a band that one of the Banshees guitarists was in.

      siouxsie obession since being rudely sexually awakened by the Arabian Knights video on Top of the Pops in august 1981.

      Reply
      • 15. Biggie Samuels  |  August 21, 2011 at 4:31 pm

        I’m heavily into both bands right now but while I find The Banshees easier to approve of, I find The Cure easier to love. The Banshees tick all the right boxes but The Cure move me on more levels. It makes sense that The Banshees are more critically regarded because their appeal is easier to explain – they’re more of a “manifesto” band. The Cure offer something far more personal and abstract. Their true genius is harder to encompass.

  • 16. cregan  |  August 22, 2011 at 10:20 am

    are the Banshees more critically regarded? i havent read any critics since the old Melody Maker days. i remember The Cure getting some kind of lifetime achievement award a few years ago. i thought the Banshees were generally ignored these days critically.

    the Banshees appeal of course IS easier to explain. not for what you said though. its cos their singer is a incarnation of the Moon Goddess. Smiths just one of her worshippers.

    pure unbridled eroticism is something the critics dont seem to take into account. which is strange since its probably the biggest motivating factor in pop/rock music since Elvis shook his pelvis and millions of screaming girls wet themselves to the Beatles shaking their wigs.

    its the main appeal of The Cure for most of their fans too. just look at the comments on youtube. theres a hell of a lot of “Robert is so sexy” and not a lot of “Robert is such a fine musician”.

    Reply
    • 17. Biggie Samuels  |  August 23, 2011 at 10:57 pm

      My assessment as to the relative critical status of the two bands came from a quick survey of the books on my shelf containing writing about the post-punk/new wave period. Obviously, Simon Reynolds’ Rip it Up was in there as was Greil Marcus’s Ranters & Crowd Pleasers and Jon Savage’s Time Travel. Reynolds, in particular, seems to regard The Banshees as proper post-punk, whereas The Cure are “goth lite”. He does allow that Seventeen Seconds is “attractive” but that’s about it.

      There’s so much to say about why The Cure’s music is so powerful for so many people but all the critics can think of is Fat Bob Smith doing a goofy dance in a big fuzzy cat costume. The first thing they need to realize is that Bob Smith doing a goofy dance in a big fuzzy cat costume is inherently more interesting than… oh I don’t know… The Pop Group, let’s say.

      To me, Siouxsie is a Bowie figure – a flamboyantly brilliant curator of styles and concepts. Fat Bob is more of a Kevin Shields figure – a kind of isolated, singular genius who seems to go out of his way to wind people up and destroy any goodwill that may be owing to him. William Gibson has captured this “annoying genius” archetype brilliantly in his last couple of books, with the character of Reg Inchmale.

      Reply
      • 18. cregan  |  August 24, 2011 at 11:21 pm

        last i read was “Pattern Recognition”. have to read more of Gibson.

        certainly the Banshees while not actually having a “manifesto”, (a lot of 80’s acts actually DID), were highly ideological in the way that The Cure werent.

        dont know about the “Genius” bit. i dont like that word. i know a few “Genius’s” self proclaimed and otherwise and im not sure what the word is being used to denote most of the time.

        The Cure for me, and i think a lot of other people, are best when the Banshees influence on Smith is strongest. 79 to 84. in fact id say that the Banshees transformed (“transformation” is the big thng with the Banshees) him from the callow youth he was into the Robert Smith all the girls with black eyeliner and preraphaelite romantic tendancies know and love. you could say that since then, in fact he’s become stuck as this montrous creation of Sioux and Severin. never really changing, just getting fatter and more decayed.

        i lost interest with “Kiss Me Kiss Me”. although about a year ago i DID listen to “Disintegration” to see what all the fuss was about. cant say it was anything more than i expected. reminded me if anything of the similarly stateside successful albums of Depeche Mode. late 80’s Goth lite.

        was nice to hear him singing with Crystal Castles last year though. the only new band ive been able to get obsessive since god knows when.

        or maybe Lol Tolhurst was the genius. after all as his involvement decreases so does my interest in the music. no..ok…ok… ive heard his new band.

        or maybe….things are combinations of the right people the right time and place and precarously balance on a knife-edge so that if the conditions change then everything does and theres no such thing as a genius. how else do we explain Bowie in the 70’s and Bowie ever since?

        but i digress……….

        “The Walk”‘s a great record.

  • 19. cregan  |  August 24, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    btw.. ever heard “Pavilion Of Dreams” by Harold Budd? im listening to it right now and very nice it is too.

    Reply
  • 20. Biggie Samuels  |  August 26, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    “last i read was “Pattern Recognition”. have to read more of Gibson.”

    The Inchmale character appears in the second and third parts of that trilogy (“Spook Country” and “Zero History”). Well worth reading the lot.

    “dont know about the “Genius” bit. i dont like that word. i know a few “Genius’s” self proclaimed and otherwise and im not sure what the word is being used to denote most of the time.”

    Methinks you might be a bit too familiar with the “annoying genius” archetype for comfort. Not naming any names, like…

    “in fact id say that the Banshees transformed (“transformation” is the big thng with the Banshees) him from the callow youth he was into the Robert Smith all the girls with black eyeliner and preraphaelite romantic tendancies know and love.

    I don’t think Smith has made any secret of that fact that it was The Banshees who made him realise his band could be more than just an existentialist version of The Buzzcocks. Best thing they ever did, IMHbCO.

    “i lost interest with “Kiss Me Kiss Me”. although about a year ago i DID listen to “Disintegration” to see what all the fuss was about. cant say it was anything more than i expected. reminded me if anything of the similarly stateside successful albums of Depeche Mode. late 80′s Goth lite.”

    I think the trouble with that album is actually that it’s too heavy! A bit leaden at times. But I should point out that I have nothing against “bad” later period Cure (within reason, of course). Same goes for The Banshees…

    Best Banshees song evar!

    And yes “The Walk” rawks. I guess it was Smith’s attempt to do a “Blue Monday” but boy did it ever work out well.

    Reply
    • 21. cregan  |  August 27, 2011 at 9:24 am

      the banshees later period couldnt be described as “bad” at all. its different certainly. more mature. in keeping with the Banshees ethos of constant transformation. The Cures later period seems more like a stagnation. with constant referrals to past glories. particularly constant referrals back to “Pornography”. perhaps an admission of a lost creative vitality.

      the only thing wrong with the later period Banshees is the guitarist. a buffoon. i give this as evidence. everything in this is sublime except for the idiot on guitar.

      Reply
  • 22. cregan  |  August 27, 2011 at 9:52 am

    i think the word “Genius” is supposed to denote someone who has an exceptional ability at something. i think its a word thats thrown around too lightly.

    what for example would be the criteria for measuring “genius” as far as music goes? we can quite easily refer to Gary Kasparov or Bobby Fischer as genius’s cos in chess there no subjectivity. no room for bluff. but what makes a “Musical Genius”? what does Robert Smith do exceptionally better than other people?
    from what ive heard from Kevin Shields he seems fairly down to earth and realistic about his “genius”. he doesnt seem for a second to think he is one.
    conversely being told youre a genius and believing it can completely destroy your life.

    im trying to think of anyone in music who i would consider a genius. Dylan, Coltrane? dylan is words rather than music though. poetic genius rather than musical. Stockhausen? he claimed that he was.

    Reply
  • 23. Biggie Samuels  |  August 27, 2011 at 10:28 am

    How about “Cities in Dust”, then? A pretty cheesy U2-style stadium rock anthem. But it’s bloody great, innit?

    C’mon, admit it! you love “Pictures of You”:

    Luv U Fat Bob!

    Reply
  • 24. cregan  |  August 27, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    “C’mon, admit it! you love “Pictures of You”:”

    umm……..no……..

    i liked “catch” at the time i think. i heard “lullaby” a while ago and thought it was ok. thats about it for post “Head On The Door”.

    Reply
  • 25. cregan  |  August 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    and comparing the Banshees in any way to U2 is complete blasphemy.

    im from Ireland remember. U2 is no laughing matter to me.

    ok…..”Disintegration” is a bit Bryan Adamsy dontyethink?

    Reply
    • 26. Biggie Samuels  |  August 27, 2011 at 11:38 pm

      Disintegration is more of a cross between Celine Dion and Rush.

      I’ve always though “Catch” was a great song.

      Interesting that folks here seem to prefer Head on the Door to Kiss Me… and Disintegration, as it’s so much goofier and poppier than either of those albums. Fuck it – I love them all.

      Reply
  • 27. cregan  |  August 29, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    although the BEST Cure album is obviously Japanese Whispers.

    i think we can all agree on that.

    Reply
    • 28. Biggie Samuels  |  August 29, 2011 at 9:29 pm

      I need to listen to Japanese Whispers more. I do love “The Walk”. It sums up so much of what I love about The Cure. So goofy and off-hand in many ways and yet so genuinely dreamlike and haunting. Now that’s genius!

      Oh wow, look at this!

      Reply
  • 29. The Duke of Stratosphear  |  August 30, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Stop saying “goofy”! It’s starting to annoy me almost as much as when (early) XTC are described as “quirky.”

    Where was I? Oh yes…the bottom line is, the only Cure songs of any worth post-1985 are: Catch, Just Like Heaven, Lullaby, Lovesong and Never Enough. Singles, one and all. Coincidence?

    Reply
    • 30. Biggie Samuels  |  August 30, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      I love “bad” later period Cure but even I draw the line at anything post Disintegration. “Never Enough” is pretty weak-ass, IMHbCO. Still, there are people out there who’ll tell you Bloodflowers is a good album. Do not listen to these people or that album.

      Kooky?

      Reply
  • 31. cregan  |  August 31, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    some more quality Smith miming in that clip. and its amazing how any performance is enhanced by having caged girls either side of the stage.

    as far as epithets go, “Cheesy” is the one that annoys me. meaning something i like but i know i shouldnt like or that liking is disapproved of in the consensual outlook. you either like something or you dont. there is no “Cheesy”. we dont have to justify liking something to the rest of society.

    Reply
    • 32. Biggie Samuels  |  August 31, 2011 at 9:25 pm

      I dunno. I’ve always felt like there’s a place for guilty pleasures. Sometimes the guilt’s the best part. Say you’re listening to a Ween record and not enjoying it. Then you’re missing the point. But say you’re enjoying a Ween record but you don’t feel guilty about it. Well, you’re still missing the point.

      When I started getting back into The Cure, I felt pretty embarrassed about it. Seemed so teenage. Or like pure nostalgia. But I’m way past that now. There really is something going on here and I’m prepared to place Fat Bob next to other great 80s pop auteurs like Kate Bush, Prince, The Boss, Green Gartside, Mark Hollis…

      Reply
  • 33. cregan  |  August 31, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    nobodys mentioned “Friday Im In Love”. the laziest type of song. the List Song.

    Monday blah blah blah blah blah
    Tuesday blah blah blah blah blah
    Wednesday blah blah blah blah blah ………..

    etc

    Reply
    • 34. Biggie Samuels  |  August 31, 2011 at 9:26 pm

      I think we can all agree that “Friday I’m in Love” is shit.

      Reply
  • 35. Hüsker Dü « Bubblegum Cage III  |  March 6, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    […] in proportion to how important the band was considered to be at the time. The same might be said of The Cure but while Fat Bob Smith and co were always popular, they were never nearly as critically acclaimed […]

    Reply

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