“Fire in Cairo” from Three Imaginary Boys (1979)
No, “Fire in Cairo” is not a political song, though its explosive refrain of “F-I-R-E-I-N-C-A-I-R-O” is received like the rallying cry of an enraptured true believer, shouted from the platform of a falling statue. Instead, this track, featured on the Cure’s 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys and again on the 1980 U.S. compilation/release Boys Don’t Cry, has much to do with the subject of lust, a scene of wanting set in the desert where the narrator is, in every sense, especially hot and bothered.
“Fire in Cairo” forecasts both everything and nothing about what the band would become. Fundamentally, the Cure would continue to light upon unconventional world music tones (particularly Orientalist and Middle Eastern) and Smith would forever write high art lyrics, occasionally informed by his appreciation of literary works; in this case, “Fire in Cairo” an expression of Smith’s identification with Paul Bowles’ canonical novel The Sheltering Sky. And yet the anemic final product – the production value sounding like that of a demo tape, the instrumentation simplistic, Smith’s vocals underfed and stark – does not resemble the kind of texture-rich, atmospheric material the Cure would come to be associated with.
But there is a rightness to this minimalism as far as “Fire in Cairo” is concerned. The desert is a sharp place; all contrast, no continuum. Without much instrumental interference, the attention falls to the words, which are poetically provocative and, in the case of the chanted chorus, favorably agitating. Smith positions his lyrics ambiguously, so that his metaphors are mismatched to musical phrases, resulting in an imagistic slipperiness. It’s a tease. “Shifting crimson veil/ Silken hips/ Slide under my hand/ Swollen lips/ Whisper my name/ And I yearn”: the stop-start pattern confuses as ideas carry over, extending out further than the regiment of musical measures allows. Interrupting this rigidity of time promotes a sense of withholding and languor, a mood that Smith promptly self-destructs as he spells out “Fire in Cairo” in militaristic staccato. Urgent, hypnotic, this fire is one that still foments and excites. – Stacey Pavlick
“Boys Don’t Cry” Single (1979)
“Boys Don’t Cry” was released as a non-LP single after the group’s debut record Three Imaginary Boys was dropped. Representing the jaunty, jagged pop of the band’s early days, the tune’s bright, major-key feeling is a far cry from the more moody, brooding goth-rock the band would become well-known for. Of course, Robert Smith has always had a poppy side, and “Boys Don’t Cry” could be considered a predecessor of sorts to later accessible tunes like “Let’s Go to Bed” and “Friday I’m In Love.” The song was used as an opening track to the 1980 American album of the same name, a modified version of the British debut LP Three Imaginary Boys intended to introduce American audiences to the band.
“Boys Don’t Cry” begins with a series of four resonating chords played by guitar and bass in a distinctive, choppy rhythm that is repeated throughout the tune. A minimalist, tinny lead guitar riff repeated after each chorus coupled with Smith’s aggressive, yet unforced lead vocal anchor the song in a gentle, unassuming melodicism. Clocking in at only two minutes and 30 seconds, the track has a kind of pop economy that stands in contrast to much of The Cure’s later, more epic, work. Although the music sounds peppy, Smith is tackling some heavy themes lyrically. Opening with the line, “I would say I’m sorry if I thought that it would change your mind,” Smith describes a relationship in its final throes, plagued by bad communication and misjudgment. No matter how emotional the speaker gets about the end of this relationship, though, he says he must “Just keep on laughing/Hiding the tears in my eyes/ Because boys don’t cry.” “Boys Don’t Cry” proves that from the start, Smith showed the public his sensitivity and honesty as a songwriter, qualities that would lend The Cure a long, prosperous career. – Jake Adams
“Jumping Someone Else’s Train” Single (1979)
Just the third single from the band, “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” still sounds like a group finding its footing, but doing so with a fierceness and hunger that befits the roiling music scene they emerged in, which was a wild tumult of punk, post-punk and mod revival in England. In fact, it was that last subculture that was the primary inspiration for the song, thanks to Smith’s aversion to the social lemmings that clung onto the empty fashion of it all. As a pointed, jittery guitar line races, Smith sings, “Don’t say what you mean/ You might spoil your face/ If you walk in a crowd/ You won’t leave a trace,” effectively condemning all the bland look-alikes he saw out in the streets. Plainly, that’s the train belonging to others that the target of Smith’s ire is hopping. Though it’s a slam, Smith smartly underplays it, opting for neither the snarl of punk nor the practiced detachment of post-punk. Smith instead delivers the same sort of keening emotion that would eventually give the band’s best love songs their depth, lending lines such as, “It’s the latest wave that you’ve been craving for” and “Everyone’s happy, they’re finally all the same” a unique tingle of spirited truth-telling.
Like the prior Cure singles, it didn’t do much on the charts, presumably because radio programmers didn’t quite know what to do with music that was simultaneously this brisk and brash but also awash in resonantly conveyed feeling. Regardless, it was clearly a great, memorable song, which is part of what led to it being selected as one of the tracks added to the material from Three Imaginary Boys when it was repackaged as Boys Don’t Cry for the band’s U.S. debut in 1980. That might not have made it a hit, either, but it was surely helped grab some of those curious fans discovering the odd new band from overseas. – Dan Seeger
“A Forest” from Seventeen Seconds (1980)
Seventeen Seconds saw the first changes afoot in the Cure. A following having latched on after Three Imaginary Boys and on the backs of singles “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Killing An Arab,” 1980 was the year the group would smartly pivot into uncharted terrain and accrue their greatest successes so far. Though the album’s ragged “Play for Today” hearkens back to the band’s origins, all splash and punk nerve, angular guitar-driven jangle, the rest of Seventeen Seconds is more languorous. Despite keyboardist Mathieu Hartley’s short lived stint with the group, the shift in sound that accompanied his time was significant: heavy-lidded synth textures, first appearing in force here, encroached further and further into the Cure’s sound on follow-ups Faith and Pornography. And, replacing Michael Dempsey on bass, Simon Gallup’s evocative styling played a central role in Seventeen Seconds, a pattern the band repeated as the decade wore on.
Their first single to have major commercial impact – coming in at #31 on British charts, “A Forest” towers above Seventeen Seconds. A texture peeled thin sweeps in Smith’s plaintively resonant guitar before Lol Tolhurst’s dry snare and Gallup’s distinct hook snap the song’s spine in place, giving the meandering initial direction. Smith’s vocals, warped in a desperate air, float and echo off “into the trees” as brassy synth swells crash. His searching lyrics (“I hear her voice/ Calling my name/ The sound is deep/ In the dark”) set the tone for the record’s gothic successors. Then, Tolhurst gets a leg up over the tempo and each element, pulling disjointedly at the track’s seams, falls in line. Posed between the languid instrumental ushering in the record (“A Reflection”) and the skuzzy sparseness that closes it (the title track, “At Night”), “A Forest” was the stand out on a record that saw the Cure building on already formidable powers. They would cap off the single’s success with others (“Primary,” “Charlotte Sometimes,” “Let’s Go To Bed”) that didn’t chart as high but nonetheless increased their profile. Seventeen Seconds’ scattered excitability would be dissolved in the haunted corners and languid trellises of the following year’s Faith. – Joe Clinkenbeard
“The Drowning Man” from Faith (1981)
Ethereal, stark, lush, pretty, jangly—this is “The Drowning Man” from Faith. The opening drums, with their odd echoes and sound effects, are layered with multiple guitar tracks, then additional vocal effects: this is the voice of the early Cure. The soundscape matches the qualities of the lyrics: sad, mournful, but bright at the same time. Faith is the transition between the empty-room feeling of Seventeen Seconds and the thick, harsh, Gothic Pornography. “The Drowning Man” is the most atmospheric of the tracks on the album, which has a dabbling of pop (“The Holy Hour”, “Primary”) and angry punk (“Doubt”), but most of it is brooding. It is one of the Cure’s best albums: they weren’t afraid to depart and experiment with multiple soundscapes, layered together, without ever being overwhelming. Smith does the bulk of the work here, experimenting with keyboards, guitar, bass VI, and bass (“Primary” sports two basses).
The lyrics practically bring one to tears: “Oh Fuchsia!/ You leave me breathing like the drowning man!” Like with much of the early Cure, the lyrics are pulled from books that Robert read (this is inspired by the Gothic novel Gormenghast from Mervyn Peake). The alternating vocal tracks, one in the foreground and one echoing in the background, give this song an incorporeal creepiness that leaves one haunted and thirsting for more. The delectable heartache on this track drips through every second of the song. And as the vocals fade away to under the sea in a morass of atmosphere and guitar work, a signature for Smith on this album, you’re left bare with what you started with: those atmospheric drums. This track exemplifies the Cure’s vision for great music and how experimentation can be done well even with the limited studio technologies of the time. – Cedric Justice
“Charlotte Sometimes” from Charlotte Sometimes Single (1981)
Recorded in 1981, the brooding “Charlotte Sometimes,” released as a single, was meant to be the Cure’s big hit that would increase the band’s exposure outside of the UK. By all accounts though, the track was a failure, destined to be a single-only track released by Polydor. For many years it remained an obscure cut, until it started to appear on compilations, firstly on 1986’s Staring at the Sea: The Singles. From then on, “Charlotte Sometimes” was a welcome surprise in many of the Cure’s live performances (see: the band’s first live album release in 1984) and a deep-cut fan favorite.
Where “Charlotte Sometimes” lacks a pop-friendly hook though, it makes up for with plenty of atmosphere and confidence. The song is loosely influenced by a children’s book of the same name, and Smith delivers a dreadful tale of disillusion and loneliness, contrasting the warmth and familiarity of bedtime stories with a lack of identity and a sense of loss. Smith uses Charlotte as a vehicle for his own haunted story, one where a population of unique voices and characters all melt into a faceless, soulless entity. While it’s certainly not the darkest the Cure would get in their long career, “Charlotte Sometimes” is notable as a precursor for the creative vision that would later be identified with the Cure. As Smith sings, “Night after night she lay alone in bed/ Her eyes so open to the dark/ The streets all looked so strange/ They seemed so far away/ But Charlotte did not cry,” we’re given a look into the deep well of sadness that he would explore on many albums to come. – Kyle Fowle
“One Hundred Years” from Pornography (1982)
For some diehard Cure fans, Pornography is the gold standard, the brooding, Gothic masterpiece that the band never quite equaled again. A sense of tumultuous desperation is inherent throughout the record, a pleasantly disturbing soundtrack for emotional turmoil of all shapes and colors. It’s no wonder Smith once said that he wanted to make the album “virtually unbearable.”
Bearable it is, though, for darkness has rarely been this fascinating or artistically satisfying on record. “One Hundred Years” serves as the perfect opener for the anguish that is to follow, with its opening lyric, “It doesn’t matter if we all die.” The machine-gun, execution-style drums, anchored by an abnormally loose snare drum combine with the relentless compressed lead guitar line to give the song a repetitive, helpless qualify, invoking images of Sisyphus bushing his bolder up the hill. The creepy, omnipresent strings in the background work with the haunting sound of Smith’s lead vocal, double-tracked and run through a long delay to achieve an almost hellish effect. The high-pitched guitars and strings come together at the end to form a cacophony of highly disturbing, squealing sounds.
As if the ghostly music wasn’t enough to make the listener afraid to go to bed at night, we get the imagistic nihilism of Smith’s lyrics. Fear is personified as “creeping up the stairs in the dark.” We hear about death blows, dead patriots and slaughtered pigs. Mortality hangs over the tune like a macabre shadow, as Smith sings, “The ribbon tightens round my throat/ I open my mouth/ And my head bursts open” as “We die one after the other/ Over and over/ It feels like one hundred years.” Granted, you have to be in a very particular mood to willingly wallow in such blatant darkness, but when you are, the Cure have never sounded better. – Jake Adams
“Wailing Wall” from The Top (1984)
Pornography was the Cure’s breakthrough release, both artistically and commercially (it was their first Top 10 album in the U.K.), but it exacted a cost. At the end of the Fourteen Explicit Moments tours to promote the album, Gallup left the band with enough acrimony that it took over a year before he and Smith spoke again. Following the especially poppy singles that pushed against the band’s new heavy goth image (and that were eventually pulled together on the Japanese Whispers release), Smith went to work on the next full-length Cure album, essentially working without one of his key collaborators. In fact, his sense of isolation was so profound that the resulting album, The Top, can almost be viewed as a Smith solo album, with providing almost all of the instrumentation and taking sole writing credit.
The album was as dark as its immediate predecessor, albeit in a very different way, leaning of intricate, psychedelic wounds and little dashes of experimental weirdness. The album’s best track, “Wailing Wall,” is a reflection of this, opening with a lush, snaky melody that almost has a Middle Eastern tinge. The intro extends for over 90 seconds (complete with a few sonic squalls) before Smith slumps in with the opening lines, singing, “The Holy City breathed/ Like a dying man,” as if trying to decide whether or not to rouse himself from an opium haze. The songs continued on in a slow, low, seductive groove as Smith sings about a treacherous journey to a promised land (“Through broken streets that sucked me in/ My feet were bare and cut with stones”) that certainly seems representative of the anguished path his band was traveling at the time. Given the beautifully downbeat tones of the track, it seems like Smith was highly dubious as to whether the group would ever reach that blessed destination. – Dan Seeger
“The Exploding Boy” from In Between Days Single (1985)
Poof! Are we in Spain? And is that a saxophone!? “The Exploding Boy” starts strong and never gives up. This is a showcase of the flanged/distorted bass styling of Gallup. Porl Thompson is not only a great guitarist, but he is featured on saxophone here (which is very ‘80s, now, isn’t it?). While the lyrics aren’t complex, they’re memorable: “You talked until your tongue fell out/ and then you talked some more.”
This is a fast, poppy song that is completely danceable, a fitting B-side for “In Between Days.”The Head on the Door is when the Cure really learned (with, I’m guessing, the aid of Dave Allen) how to be a pop band. The songs in this era became marketable and helped to launch their career to large, stadium shows. “The Exploding Boy” exemplifies exactly what the Cure learned to do best: be silly, nonsensical and have fun. It feels like a cross between “The Blood” (also highly influenced by Spanish Flamenco guitar) and “In Between Days,” utilizing the acoustic guitar and keyboards very well, layering those textures, and sticks to the standard verse/chorus pop format known in rock music. If you’re going to do pop, if you’re going to have fun, if you’re going to be silly… this is the way to do it. – Cedric Justice
“Push” from The Head on the Door (1985)
The Head on the Door is often described as the Cure’s truest pop album, which is arguably accurate so long as it’s understood that these songs are “pop” in diagonal, inter-dimensional, abstract senses of the word. Insanely likable, yes, but not exactly Casey Kasem material. A shiny drum fill introduces The Head on the Door, “In Between Days” a chickadee of an opener, its buoyancy and Technicolor strings an unexpected turn away from the chalk gray feel of Pornography.To be fair, the collection is still quite eclectic, though not as madly patchy as what came before in The Top or as exhaustive as what followed in maxi-album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. Best known perhaps is single “Close to Me” with its fingertips-to-palm claps and flutey interjections piercing Smith’s transcendent dream-state. Far East instrumentation takes over in “Kyoto Song” while castanets and trilled yipping give a Flamenco taste to “The Blood.” Not without its depressive hallmarks (a dissonant piano chord muddies the mood on closer “Sinking”), The Head on the Door represents the best of what the Cure would offer for strange radios.
“Push” is one of the album’s longer tracks, its establishing intro overlapping the ringings of guitar and piano with the steady stutter of its bass line. Over a minute and a half goes by before there is a trace of Smith’s voice, and then only a brief melodic utterance as if spontaneously possessed to encourage along the vibe. After a deep drum figure and cymbal splash (percussion here sounding like it’s executed with clubs instead of sticks, the rumbling thrums so), we get Smith’s message: “Go go go/ Go go go/ Push him away.” A call for his beloved to kiss off a rival, his approach, as ever, is a cross between fanciful and frightening. “Oh smear this man across the walls/ Like strawberries and cream,” he sings, assessing “It’s the only way to be.” And as that last word rolls around and curlicues up, it finally trails into some kind of meow-yelp. Wouldn’t you know? Far and away, that’s the best part. – Stacey Pavlick
“Like Cockatoos” from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
The cover of the Cure’s 1987 double album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me closes in on the flesh of a lower lip, as if examining it through a telescope from two feet away. Puffy, engorged and red as fortified blood, it throbs and asks to be bitten – this in direct defiance of its successor’s visual art, the damp freeze of Disintegration’s ice blue underground flowers. Kiss Me’s lip is emblematic of the sensuousness and aliveness that courses through its contents. The most adventurous (some say unfocused) collection put to press in their catalog thus far, its 18 tracks align with no single conceit. “Catch” and “The Perfect Girl” enchant with a frilly Goth romanticism, “Snakepit” and “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” inhale like Oriental smoke, “Why Can’t I Be You?” and “Hot Hot Hot!!!” accentuate Smith’s ticklish stutters and gurgles with the metallic glint of horns while the lovelorn joie de vivre of “Just Like Heaven” prove that the Cure is much more than their social signifier as an eyeliner-smudged gloom band.
“Like Cockatoos” appears deep in the tracklist, but greatly rewards its excavation. This is a song best greeted with a preparatory hush and closing of one’s eyes: purge the senses. A wash of wind chime clatter crests and recedes throughout the song, something like the sound of hollow shells and glass bones and aqueous marbles cascading together as you part your way through this beaded curtain. The sultry Arab scales suggest Marrakesh, and double raps on the backbeat of four seem like a knock seeking access to a strange and private room within. “And all around the night sang out like cockatoos” is the lyrical motif as an evasive lover removes himself in remorseful finality (“‘There are a thousand things,’ he said/ ‘I’ll never say those things to you again’”). The bass riff, repeated from start to finish, concludes on a descent, emphasizing the notion of endgame. A stringed countermelody initiates the outro, which wanders until the clinking wave overtakes it, drowning it and dragging it back into its unfamiliar undertow. – Stacey Pavlick
“Plainsong” from Disintegration (1989)
Disintegration is one of the most melodic and anthem-like pieces of work ever produced. This masterpiece of a record starts strong, grinds to spooky, evening-sun lows, macabre highs and explores punished and tortured depths (of a man upset that he’s about to turn 30). This album pretty much defines the Cure as a mopey, depression-rock, Goth band, even though those of us well-versed in the band’s catalog know that to be a huge oversight.
“Plainsong” gets the album started off with a bang. The opening chimes are misleadingly quiet, and then boom: three octaves of keyboards blow you through the wall like Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. The guitars then layer thick, melodic, delayed, epic beauty, while everyone trudges along at a slow, metered pace. Halfway through, after listening to a bank of shimmering keys and a gorgeous lead guitar, the heavily treated, drowned-out vocals lazily traipse in for two verses and fade away back into the wash of sound. This layered instrumentation is what the Cure does best — giving music space and room to breathe, yet employing way too many instruments to track at first listen. And it’s what makes the Cure eminently listenable: because there is so much going on, there is always one more thing to discover. It even sounded good on cassette. Twenty-three years later (yes, we’re that old now), Disintegration is still able to deliver its majesty, layer by layer; like uncovering an ancient artifact. – Cedric Justice
“Open” from Wish (1992)
There was a time when it seemed likely that Disintegration would be the last album released by the Cure. The rumors started in the lead-up to the record’s release, fueled in part by the announcement just a couple months before it hit stores that founding member Tolhurst was officially out, leaving Smith as the only person there from day one still on the roster. The uncertainty was compounded in 1991, when Tolhurst sued for partial ownership of the Cure name, litigation that was settled three years later in Smith’s favor. Their argument against dissolution was pretty convincing: the immense success of Disintegration, including smash single “Lovesong,” which just missed the top spot on the U.S. singles charts.
The follow-up album that eventually arrived was Wish, which wasn’t nearly as well regarded as its predecessor, but kept the string of hits going with the painfully bubbly single “Friday I’m in Love.” There are far better songs than that on the album, ones that play to the band’s established strengths rather than fish for more pop chart success. Prime among them is “Open,” which practically luxuriates in ravishing, glistening gloom. Smith’s personal struggles with alcohol show up in the highly evocative lyrics about a night of chasing the numbness that comes with overindulging. But even more harrowing is the imagery associated with being a cog in the fame machine, dragged into parties to meet a battalion of unctuous well-wishers (“And the hands on my shoulders don’t have names/ And they won’t go away”) until the phantasmagoria of feigned social graces nearly does him in (“And all the people I meet/ And all the words that I know/ Makes me sick to the heart/ Oh I feel so tired.”). Fame becomes the most toxic cocktail, and Smith has the expertise to offer that assessment. That he and his cohorts do so in riveting style was proof that, while their highest peaks may have been behind them, there was value in the band soldiering on. – Dan Seeger
“Halo” from Friday I’m In Love Single (1992)
“Halo” is one of those sticky-sweet love songs that make one wonder how it didn’t make the cut to be on the album. Wish has so many sweet songs that just aren’t this good, such as “Doing the Unstuck,” “Wendytime” and—I’m going to say it—“Friday I’m in Love.” That’s right, this song is better than “Friday I’m In Love.” Somehow it got relegated as its B-side.
What makes this song particularly Cure-ish is the opening bass-line, with those nice open strings and the repetition that Gallup has become known for. That bright, bass tone is also lends so much presence to this and serves as a fantastic foundation for the rest of the instrumentation. Then the drums kick in with a very deliberate, Boris Williams drum-beat, complete with that wondrous 16th-note high-hat that he nails every time. Enter some guitar textures and by the time the keyboards swirl their way in, I’m practically twirling about, high as a kite. Infectious!
Smith is at his peak of singing ability here, nailing every note and with his patented quiver, and Roger O’Donnell’s keys and piano parts are downright pretty. This is the Wish-era Cure: great song writing, layers and layers of multiple instruments doing simple parts that build to a lush soundscape. A common Cure trick of allowing a lot of space without lyrics allows the music to breathe. Much of their work allows Smith to focus on the guitar without having to sing, and this is no exception.
“I’ve never felt like this with anyone before/ You make my head all full of rainbows.” This song gets what it feels like to be in love… dizzy, twirling, cherished. By far one of my favorite Cure tracks ever, I’m full-of-rainbows that we are able to introduce this to our readers. This is what requited love feels like; it’s really nice when they like you back… and it makes me deathly happy. – Cedric Justice
“Want” from Wild Mood Swings (1996)
Lol Tolhurst’s lawsuit against the Cure kept them occupied during the end of the first half of the ’90s. In 1995, Smith, Gallup, Perry Bamonte and O’Donnell returned to the studio with new drummer Jason Cooper (replacing Williams) and a new drive to follow on Wish’s runaway success. Similar shake ups had previously provided ripe creative soil, with Seventeen Seconds and The Head on the Door having been borne of lineup changes. As usual for them, they kicked Wild Mood Swings off with the darkest exploration at hand (“Want”), spending at least part of the record gradually drawing back the veil evinced by it. This is supported by the album’s own pendular restlessness. Directly uphill from the depths of “Want” lie the pulsing psychedelia and faux sitar affixed to “Club America,” the sway of “The 13th” and pure pop issuing from “Strange Attraction.” Indeed, pop is a watchword, with the simple forms of Wish adapted to suit Wild Mood Swings’ mercurial approaches. With the exception of “Trap,” evoking Disintegration’s roiling anger, and the melodrama of “This Is a Lie,” tracks such as “Round & Round & Round” and “Mint Car” fall in neatly with the remainder of their early ‘90s work.
The result is a front loaded record – later tracks such as “Numb,” “Return” and “Treasure” are left wanting – but a compelling argument for Wild Mood Swings is made by “Want” on its own merits. At its outset, Smith’s guitar ambles in loops through squalls of feedback, contributing the track’s hypnotic, and serrated, flavors. In a half-mad howl, Smith laments he is tortured by cravings for “more drink more dreams/ More bed more drugs.” But, negating those superficial pursuits, this harsh acknowledgment: “I’ll never really get more hope/ Or any more time.” This was a lesson well learned by the Cure.Wild Mood Swings’ 2000 follow up Bloodflowers saw the group attempt to recapture the gloomy monomania that had characterized their late ‘80s output, but they would never again claim the commercial heights of Wish nor the critical acclaim lathered on Disintegration. – Joe Clinkenbeard
“Bloodflowers” from Bloodflowers (2000)
Bloodflowers was supposed to be a return to form for the Cure. After the pop-friendly offerings on Wild Mood Swings this was going to be the record that returned Smith and company to their roots of goth-rock. In fact, Smith was adamant about portraying Bloodflowers as the final part in a trilogy of darker albums, parts one and two represented by Pornography and Disintegration. Unlike those records though, Bloodflowers is lifeless, or possibly just overly nostalgic. In 2000, goth-rock had either mutated into hardcore with the likes of Marilyn Manson or gone the emo/noise-rock route with bands such as My Bloody Valentine. By comparison, the sound the Cure was peddling felt toothless at its best and horribly contrived at its worst. It’s a record that feels like a paint-by-numbers Cure LP, one that Smith could write and record in his sleep, and that complacency is evident throughout.
Where Bloodflowers as an LP fails, the title track mostly succeeds. At the very least, Smith refuses to compromise his aesthetic vision, pushing it to the limits of tolerability on the seven-and-a-half-minute closer. “Bloodflowers” is as bleak a track as the Cure has ever recorded; sparse, minimalistic drums and slight, dissonant synths slowly build into a menacing industrial cacophony. Smith revels in a lyrical plainness, presenting two sides of a conversation between jilted/lost/feuding lovers. Where one says, “This dream never ends,” the other states, “This dream always ends.” It’s a contrived and simplistic approach to creating a narrative, but it underscores the existential exploration of the repetitiveness and constriction of everyday life. When an overdriven guitar solo breaks out around the five-minute mark, it’s a moment of excitement and spontaneity amidst the languid arrangement. In this way, Smith constructs a narrative that creates tension between the familiar and the mysterious, the mapped out and the unexplored. Maybe Smith doesn’t execute this struggle as deftly as on previous Cure records, but there’s no denying his ambition here. – Kyle Fowle
“Before Three” from The Cure (2004)
Out of all the producers of all the Cure albums thus far, Ross Robinson’s contribution and color is most pronounced on this self-titled release from 2004. For those who don’t know, Robinson produced bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, helping create the Cure’s “metal” album, distinct in its abrasion and loudness.
“Before Three” has some of the hooks and a few Cure elements that the band manages to wrestle out from under this harsh, hard-edged album. Gallup’s shimmering, trebly bass tone, and Thompson’s lead guitar riff is hook-delicious, but the drumming is decidedly harder employing way too much crash cymbal, and Smith’s now-characteristic wailing is a bit much. However, this particular song is bit catchy. By no means is it as angry or hard-hitting as the rest of the record, but it has that quality of grit and crunch with slight pop undertones. What really ties “Before Three” together, though, is the lead guitar line. It is just catchy enough to make this listenable, even when Smith yells a trite, “Yeah yeah yeah!” over the top of it. – Cedric Justice
“This. Here And Now. With You” from 4:13 Dream (2008)
If Wish signified the apex in the Cure’s pop sensibilities, Wild Mood Swings a last stab at experimentation, Bloodflowers the settlement of gothic ‘80s open threads and their self-titled 2004 outing a comfortable retread, 4:13 Dream is their swan song. Released three decades into their career, their 13th studio record, while not impressive in itself, marked another milestone for the group which had in the ‘Aughts settled into a routine of decreased recording and touring. Intended as the first half of a double album – the second which Smith until recently promised was just around the corner – and technically the band’s last (or most recent) LP, 4:13 Dream is today considered standalone. A component of its continued solitariness, Smith has said, is that the band that put together the 33 tracks in the recording sessions no longer exists – the change ups finally caught up with the Cure. And though guitarist Porl Thompson had rejoined the Cure by this time (to leave again in 2011), nothing else was much the same about the band. Besides the ever present Smith, this version of the group would have been unrecognizable to the boys from the South of England in the ‘70s.
But delivering on demands to provide one more choice cut, unearth another holy hook from the wet, boggy peat of their music, 4:13 Dream’s “This. Here And Now. With You” is the Cure’s joyful parting salvo. Slushy bass and muffled cymbal splashes are loaned from their earliest output, while its capering arrangements are akin to those that populated tracks in the The Head on the Door period. Smith’s vocals twist and sound more exuberant than elsewhere. Buried deep in the hinterlands between the unreleased 1980s track “Sleep When I’m Dead” and “The Perfect Boy,” the track could easily be overlooked or mistaken for another insipid entry on the record. Though last year O’Donnell returned to the Cure, and Tolhurst joined them on tour, it’s unlikely we’ll see much of them anymore – or any group of its popular heft and caliber, with so far ranging an influence on the many genres their music frequented. – Joe Clinkenbeard