Usually I write these reviews and retrospectives on my own. But during my individual posts about each of these albums on Facebook, my good friend Aidan Cross commented so succinctly and interestingly that I asked him if I could include his views on each album below my own, in a ‘conversational’ style. Aidan is a life long Cure fan and has a far greater knowledge of their work than I do, even though I’ve loved the band for some 25 years or more now, and I felt his feedback deserved to be included more than just as a comment to my writing. A huge thank you to Aidan for his input and for letting me share his comments with you. Aidan is also a talented songwriter, and you can hear his band Weimar here.
Coming out of the ‘post punk’ era of the late 1970’s, the Cure were always a little ‘different’ to their contemporaries. They combined the honest romanticism of bands like the Buzzcocks (who weren’t afraid to write love songs in a time when bands like the Pistols and the Clash were writing spiky political songs) with dark expansive experimental songs which harked back to the days of the Doors or Pink Floyd. They weren’t afraid to discuss and challenge gender stereotypes on songs like ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’ or through Robert Smith’s ‘messy glamour;’ wonky makeup and ‘fright wig’ included.
Always surprising, always emotionally hard hitting and always melodically multilayered and interesting, the Cure’s diverse catalogue is definitely worth discovering for yourself. And I hope you enjoy discovering or revisiting it with me and my friend Aidan, a life long Cure fan and much more of an expert on these albums than I would ever profess to be!
As always, your feedback and comments below are much appreciated!
Three Imaginary Boys (1979)
Most first albums are a combination of a band’s influences rather than a fully fledged original sound (with some notable exceptions of course!).
Imaginary Boys sees a young creative band finding their feet but not quite finding their individual sound yet. There are shades of Magazine, Wire and the Buzzcocks, which the Cure meld into their own vulnerable, deconstructed sound. Although even at this early stage Robert Smith is showing a keen sense of melody and unique songwriting talent.
When I first heard the album I thought there was something wrong with my stereo, as the instruments are strangely spread too thin over the mix. But production aside nothing can detract from the excitement of such an interesting band in their first tentative musical steps.
Favourite Song: Three Imaginary Boys (song)
Agreed, there are lots of overlooked gems on this album. Fire in Cairo is my personal favourite. Regarding the sparseness of the sound, it was this very unusual aspect of production that set The Cure apart from their peers in these early days. As a three-piece, the band had been cautious that producer Chris Parry would make them sound like a five-piece like he did The Jam, but he did the exact opposite, emphasizing the sparse and angular nature of the band’s sound. Despite this Robert Smith was never happy with the production on this album, nor with the track selection – songs like Meathook, Object, Foxy Lady and So What he said were joke songs that had never really been intended as album tracks. (Foxy Lady in particular is more of a demo, and notably the only Cure song ever to not feature Robert Smith on lead vocals – bassist Michael Dempsey sings lead.) Despite this a lot of the album’s fans argue that the quirkiness of these songs just add to the album’s overall charm and appeal. The album was repackaged for the American market as Boys Don’t Cry, with the sillier tracks removed and the singles added, but I kind of prefer TIB itself – it offers a more raw picture of The Cure in their embryonic stages.
Oh yes, and Subway Song bloody rocks, they never did anything like this again – so dark and yet so camp at the same time.
Seventeen Seconds (1980)
If the Cure’s ‘difficult second album’ was judged purely on the phenomenal single ‘A Forest’ it would easily score 5 stars.
But one song does not an album make, and most of the rest of Seventeen Seconds didn’t seem to have the same excitement or spark as the band’s debut.
There are still some highlights including ‘M’ and ‘In Your House,’ and you can certainly hear the beginnings of the big, hypnotic sound they would perfect on upcoming albums.
But Seventeen Seconds overall seems rushed and a bit directionless compared to their stronger albums.
Favourite Song: A Forest
I would have to disagree, I regard this album as being among their best. I would give it another listen treating it as more of a concept album than a collection of songs. The album is generally an exercise in ambience, exploring the scope of the band’s sound to create bleak, semi-improvisational mood pieces. (The track ‘Three’ was improvised heavily at each live show; later becoming a song called ‘All Mine’ which later evolved into ‘Forever’, a track performed at many live shows in a radically different form each time.) It’s not really an album to have on as background music, you really have to turn off the lights, shut your eyes and let yourself become lost in it. As an album it is very much a ‘journey’; and a scary and edgy one at times, like the soundtrack to a horror movie, but it’s a trip well worth having and they never did an album quite like this again. The album confused the critics at the time, who were expecting something poppier, but this was really the start of The Cure as we came to know them.
Faith is an infectious third album that drives along at an arresting pace and sucks you into it’s world.
Favourite song: All Cats are Grey
I definitely agree. The Funeral Party is probably my personal favourite. Inspired partly by the death of drummer Lol Tolhurst’s mother and the suicide of Ian Curtis, this is a good example of a ‘coming of age’ type of album, mirroring a stage many of us go through at the age Robert Smith was when he recorded the album (21), realizing the impermanence of life, the inevitability of change and the realization of mortality. Despite the title, Robert Smith realized in the end that he had no ‘faith’ – despite being raised Catholic, he had no religious belief whatsoever, thus this album was in many ways an embracing of the unavoidable ultimate fate of death and decay.
Smith and co. really find their feet on this dark, absorbing album, with a classic gothic sound that is unique, dramatic and captivating, Brooding, melodic and spellbinding. Essential listening.
Favourite song: One Hundred Years
Easily my favourite Cure album and joint favourite album ever, along with Soft Cell’s ‘This Last Night In Sodom;’ two albums equally dark, tortured, haunting and melodic that have got me through so many difficult times.
The Top (1984)
After a bit of a break to help his mates out in Siouxsie and the Banshees and to form the side group The Glove with their bassist Steven Severin, Smith and The Cure are back with a much more ‘polished’ sound on 1984’s The Top.
The Top manages to form a bridge between the darker beginnings of the Cure’s catalogue and their ‘poppier’ sound to come, but doesn’t really do either era justice in this fairly underwhelming album.
Maybe I need to hear it a few more times, but this is the first Cure album I’ve heard so far that I’ve not overly enjoyed. This one didn’t do it for me really.
Favourite Song: The Empty World
This album was recorded under massive psychological stress and heavy drug usage – Smith was in three bands at once at this time, one of who (the Banshees) were treating him like shit, and he was boozing heavily whilst caught up in a very destructive drug habit. It also didn’t help that The Cure weren’t really a proper band at the time, with no available bassist, resulting in Smith having to play every instrument on the album himself (except drums, handled by the wonderful and recently departed Andy Anderson).
That is why this album suffers – the circumstances were just too stressful to allow the album to live up to its potential. It does catch on with repeat plays though, and it’s a shame the album is flawed as the songs were actually really good and sounded much better when performed live. I’m totally with you on The Empty World – best track hands down and one of my favourite Cure songs.
The Head of The Door (1985)
Smith harnesses the pop sounds of ‘The Top,’ but creates a much more confident, intriguing and stronger set of songs on ‘The Head on the Door.’
In one move the Cure go from a ‘shoe gazing’ cult band to an alternative pop powerhouse to rival the likes of contemporaries New Order or The Smiths with their own brand of quirky and super-catchy songs.
They also manage to do this without losing any of their edge, which is quite a feat. They continue to evolve; bringing in world influences and full-out pop music references (sax solo anyone?!) whilst weaving it into their own individual sound.
There are certainly many great songs on ‘The Head on the Door,’ and I will no doubt sound like a complete ‘fair weather fan’ in choosing the single ‘Close to Me’ as my favourite from the album. But then again, this is no throwaway single. It’s a masterclass in the use of interweaving layer upon layer of different melodic hooks. Each and every part works on its own, but also completely compliments the song and the other melodies around it. This is one of the strengths of Robert Smith’s songwriting that is rarely talked about, and yet I can only think of one band who come close in their use of multi layering melodies to create a hypnotic collage of sound – Madness…no really. Close to Me demonstrates Smith’s incredible gift in perhaps the most obvious way, showcasing each part individually before incorporating them into the full song. Clever stuff indeed!
Overall, The Head on the Door is possibly the ‘happiest’ sounding Cure album so far, without ever sounding twee. Its definitely worth a listen to any fans of alternative pop at its finest.
Favourite Song: Close to Me
It was definitely on The Head on the Door that The Cure made the leap from being a weird cult band who only appealed to a niche market, to an international stadium-playing sensation. Much of this renewed energy was due to Robert Smith overcoming some of the various drug habits that had dogged him during the recording of The Top, not to mention leaving the Banshees to devote his full time to The Cure – and of course, the return of early members Simon Gallup and Porl Thompson to the group, resulting in what many fans consider to be the band’s strongest line-up. The excitement and positivity really shines through on this album, as does the chemistry between the new line-up, and although they’re playing the pop game here, they’re playing by their own rule book. This album achieves the perfect marriage between the pop flavours of the time and the more avant garde sound of the band’s earlier releases – and with such a solid blend of alternative and mainstream, it’s not really any wonder The Cure became so internationally massive after this album.
The B-sides from the singles are also amazing – I think the album could have been even stronger if some of the weaker tracks were replaced by some of the tracks used as b-sides; i.e. The Exploding Boy and A Few Hours After This, both of which for me rank among their best work.
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
From the ‘Walking on Sunshine’ guitar to the ‘Rock Lobster’ rock n roll riffage or ‘Hey You,’ this is the Cure at their most palatable. And whilst I’m not against that, and it’s all nice to listen to, I admit I am pining for the sonic dream-worlds of albums like Pornography and Disintegration.
Favourite song: The Snakepit
A brief review for a very ‘not brief’ album; I won’t condemn you for that though as you’re far from the first reviewer to do that. The mistake The Cure made with this album was making it just so damn BIG, 18 tracks is far too many for the average listener to listen through in one go, and that results in a lot of the stronger material here being seriously overlooked. With hindsight I think they would have been better off splitting it into two albums, maybe one with the poppier tunes and one with the more experimental tunes to be released later in the year. The biggest strength of this album is it showed just how adventurous The Cure could be and how they felt free to experiment with just any type of music – there’s lots of world influences here, along with bits of jazz, funk and blues, then there are the darker tracks reminiscent of their earlier work. Like Cockatoos is easily my favourite track here, for me that one song is easily among their best ever. Icing Sugar and A Thousand Hours also deserve a mention, then of course there’s the Baudelaire-inspired How Beautiful You Are and the ‘rock anthem’ Fight that closes the album. A wild melting pot for sure, but it’s what made The Cure stand out from their contemporaries and enabled them to reach so many different audiences internationally.
Some of the best albums do more than just present an interesting collection of songs; they pull you into a complete unique and all-consuming world of their own. Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ or Roxy Music’s ‘Avalon’ aren’t just great albums, they are ‘places’ to ‘visit’ inside your mind; expansive plains of sonic wizardry to take you away on a journey of sound and textures.
All this and more is true of The Cure’s Disintegration. Beautiful, dark, emotive; it’s multilayered melodies feel like you are submerged in a warm alien ocean (anyone else get a liquid feel from this album?)
One of the things that isn’t talked about enough with Robert Smith is what an absolute master of LAYERING he is; putting layers and layers of different melodies that manage to be catchy on their own AND completely compliment each other. It’s a skill that seems effortless when Robert does it but is actually complete genius.
Disintegration is also possibly the Cure’s most personal, intimate sounding album and really hits you on an emotional level.
Yes, it’s an obvious choice for my favourite Cure album. But there is a reason why it’s so loved, it’s a gorgeous place to visit.
Turn it up loud and lose yourself.
Favourite song: Fascination Street
Disintegration is easily the band’s magnum opus. It’s the culmination of all the work they’d done over the previous decade and in many ways it is the ultimate Cure album that ultimately encapsulates what they are about. While I personally still slightly prefer Pornography for its rawness and gritty edginess, Disintegration is definitely up there with the best for me and deserving of its reputation. Also to my mind Disintegration is the last truly great Cure album. Plainsong, Prayers for Rain and Untitled are my personal favourite tracks.
It was always going to be difficult to follow up an album like Disintegration, but the Cure are still very much at the peak of their powers on Wish and this is a really strong set of songs as well as the ultimate ‘break up album.’
From the blistering opener Open to the achingly beautiful Trust and To Wish for Impossible Things, this is a superb Cure album that deserves a lot more accolades than it gets.
…And then of course there is that song; the purest slice of perfect pop the Cure have delivered since ‘Boys Don’t Cry.’ ‘Friday I’m in Love’ will be instantly recognisable to anyone whether they know the band or not.
I don’t understand the low scores Wish gets. To me, it’s easily one of their best.
Favourite song: Trust
Ah, now that’s interesting, I was wondering what you were going to say about Wish because I really don’t rate it very much as an album – yet the funny thing is it was actually the first Cure album I ever bought and I loved it at first. It was just when I got more into the back catalogue that Wish started to pale in comparison.
I definitely don’t consider it a dreadful album. I like just over half the songs on it – I think it’s more that it sounds unfocused to me, it has trouble making up its mind whether it’s Disintegration part 2 or a pop album, and it just doesn’t seem to flow too well. Plus a lot of the more popular songs I am really not that keen on – From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea bores me for instance, while Trust and To Wish Impossible Things to me just sound like weak self-parody. I read in one book that Robert Smith’s enthusiasm was waning at the time and he was unsure what direction the band should be going in and losing his motivation due to the impending Tolhurst court case, and I think this shows on the album, there’s a sluggishness to it that really lets it down IMO.
That said, it still has some great songs. Open is great and a song I can very much relate to, Cut is amazing (written as a dig at Lol and you can really feel the resentment here) and End is easily one of their best closing tracks, plus a powerful lyrical statement by Smith against his fans’ over idealisation of him. Very few Rock Stars would be so humble as to ask their fans “Please stop loving me, I am none of these things” but Bob has never been one for the celebrity game.
So not a truly bad album by any means. In my opinion it’s just a flawed one that reflected the lack of a clear direction at the time.
Wild Mood Swings (1996)
“I feel so happy I could scream” sings Smith on ‘Mint Car,’ and this is certainly the happiest and most ‘pop’ the band has sounded for some time.
Wild Mood Swings is another great 90’s Cure album, which is fun and highly listenable, but perhaps not as emotionally impacting as Disintegration or Wish. Apart from This is a Lie and Jupiter Crash of course; two of the most beautiful Cure songs ever written in my opinion.
Favourite song: This is a Lie
This album got a huge barrage of hate when it came out; partly from critics (because at this point in time everything was about Britpop and The Cure were considered passe so the press were just determined to hate anything they did) but also from some of the fans who got very venomous saying the band had lost their inspiration, sold out etc.
I’m glad that with time this album has been reappraised and is now getting more credit, as I really could never see what was meant to be so bad about it. As you say it’s not one of their masterpieces, but it’s not bad either and I definitely consider it far superior to Wish.
There is a notable change in Robert Smith’s lyrical style; becoming a lot more straightforward from here on and far less cryptic. But for me that just shows the maturation of his style, as does the stateliness of certain tracks here, with the baroque influences.
The Cure are back to their ethereal, hypnotic best on Bloodflowers. But it’s perhaps not quite as memorable as some of their earlier albums. Bloodflowers is still definitely worth a listen though, and I have a feeling this one will move up the ranks the more I listen to it.
Favourite song: Out of This World
Bloodflowers was supposedly meant to complete a trilogy of ‘dark’ landmark albums during the Cure’s career (Pornography and Disintegration being the first two) but it has never been regarded as coming anywhere near those two in terms of quality. There was perhaps a sense in places that they were trying too hard to be ‘dark’- and as Steve Sutherland said in his review of Wild Mood Swings, Robert Smith lives a good life and is reportedly happy in himself, so all the angst in his recordings from this time no longer feels entirely convincing.
That said, this is still a good album in my opinion, if by no means among their best. I found the songs a little too samey to rank alongside the likes of Pornography and Disintegration, but I must re-listen to this one as there are still some very good tunes.
Watching Me Fall would be my personal favourite.
The Cure (2004)
The Cure wait 13 years for their ‘eponymous’ album and they sound comfortable with their style and direction/s here. They incorporate elements of their previous albums with some heavier sounds and show there is life in the old band yet. It’s rarely as captivating as Pornography or Disintegration, but The Cure solidifies their reputation as a unique and special band in a new millennium with this album.
Favourite song: The Promise
I have mixed feelings about this one. Bloodflowers was supposed to have been the band’s swansong and they only made this follow up because Ross Robinson offered them a well paid contract they couldn’t refuse and wanted to get them making music in the style of all the contemporary metal acts who cited them as an influence. It wasn’t half as bad an album as I feared but it sounds extremely forced and more like unintentional self-parody than anything else. One reviewer commented “Don’t be surprised if you buy this and later find it at the bottom of a pile of CDs that haven’t been played in a very long time” and that was pretty much the exact case with me.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some good tunes here… But it’s from this point on that any ‘new’ Cure material loses its appeal for me.
4:13 Dream (2008)
4:13 starts off promisingly with the dark, sprawling and emotional ‘Underneath the Stars.’
From then on however it becomes a bit of a ‘Cure by numbers.’ Not bad per se, just predictable. Nothing particularly engaging here on first listen unfortunately.
Favourite song: Underneath the Stars
No surprises with this review. I must confess I have never actually heard this album, it is the one album by The Cure that I have never bought nor even listened to. I heard the singles from it, thought they were the most formulaic tripe they could have come up with (‘Cure by numbers’ indeed), read reviews saying much the same thing and so chose not to give this album my time so as not to depress myself by seeing how a band I liked so much could become so shit. From your review it sounds like I made the right decision!
This just seems to verify my opinion that Bloodflowers should have been the band’s swansong as it was always supposed to be. They only made the subsequent albums because Ross Robinson coerced them into doing it with huge amounts of money, Robert Smith had exhausted his songwriting abilities by this stage and his heart was no longer really geared towards making new stuff. I know they’ve recently announced their first new album in over a decade but I really hope it is actually done in the true Cure spirit rather than being forced and formulaic like this – I like to think they have at least one truly great album still left in them. I think the way to go, rather than trying too hard to be ‘dark’ and feeling they have to live up to their Goth image, would be to return to their true roots in spiky, quirky pop tunes a la Boys Don’t Cry (all their best stuff since Disintegration has been the poppier material after all) and bow out with a true fun, quirky Rock/Pop album. If they want to sound dark and melancholic it needs to at least sound authentic.
And there we must leave the Cure (for now); one of the most diversely fascinating and unique bands this country has ever produced. From dark, brooding intensity to sunny pop and back again, the Cure have always taken their own path and always surprised listeners with the scope of their arresting melody and lyrics. There’s no band like them and their back catalogue is a must for any fans of interesting and multilayered music.
I hope this has encouraged you to listen to their albums or to rediscover your favourite Cure songs. And thanks once again to Aidan for taking part in my first joint blog.
Thanks for reading.