The Cure

The Cure during their "golden years" of the late eighties. From left to right:
Lol Tolhurst, Porl Thompson (guitars), Roger O'Donnell (keyboards), Robert Smith (vocals/guitar), Boris Williams (drums), Simon Gallup (bass)

Not unlike most I discovered The Cure while in high school. You just can't deny the fact that nobody, and I do mean nobody, can depict gloominess in a song the way Robert Smith and his band-of-the-moment can, and to a lot of teenagers I suppose that's just the ticket. Smith spent years honing his craft in the early 80s, never wasting time writing songs about trivial things like hope or joy, and focusing only on how miserable existence is. After awhile things became a little less tortorous for Smith because he lightened up a bit and starting writing pop music, even if it is some of the most bizarre pop music around.

I suppose a "typical" Cure song could be described as such: an intro of either drums or bass or both, and then other instruments layering over the rhythm section one at a time. After about two minutes, Smith meanders in, speaking (or occasionally singing) a few lines of words, none of which make a whole lot of sense but all of which impart the same depressing feeling. Then the song goes on for about five more minutes as an instrumental. The best part is, by God, it works! Forget song structure; Smith threw verses and choruses out the window sometime back in 1980. Vocals are no longer the most important part of the equation either. Instead of being mixed on top of everything else, they're buried within the song somewhere. This isn't exactly "radio-friendly"; The Cure abandon a lot of "mainstream" music traditions (such as structure, hooks), and manage to make their songs appealing by other means.

Talking about The Cure and their sound in broad terms is very difficult to do. Not only does the band seem to have personnel changes at least once a year which makes them sound different on every album, but Smith has a different idea about what he wants to do on every album. Thus, The Cure on Seventeen Seconds (a quartet in 1980) is very different from The Cure of The Top (essentially a duo in 1984), and even more different from The Cure on The Head on the Door (a quintet in 1985). Nonetheless, I will say, and I think many would agree, that the band really reached their peak with their album Disintegration in 1989, and haven't really had much "new" to say since then. The quality hasn't significantly dropped per se, but the band has yet to come up with anything quite as good as what they mustered throughout the 80s.

Robert Smith is The Cure, since he handles most songwriting duties, has the final say on most everything, acts as producer, guitarist, and vocalist. Again, nobody manages to convey the feeling of depression the way Smith can: whether it's slowly plucking notes from his guitar as if it's the last note he'll ever play, or singing in his unique nasally voice that can sound more tortured than someone actually being tortured. Even though his band changes constantly, his bassist Simon Gallup has been his right-hand man for the vast majority of their career. These two were simply made for each other. Every Cure song is built around the bassline, and Simon always has the right one for the song. Every other slot in the band changes rather regularly and to discuss the pros and cons of each would take quite awhile.

Perhaps listening to the same four bars of bass and drums repeat for seven minutes while someone moans about life doesn't sound particularly great, but something about The Cure can really suck you in. When you're in the mood for The Cure nothing else satisfies, since there's no other band quite like them. Even if their sound is constantly shifting from album-to-album, there is something unifying in every Cure song. Just something undeniably The Cure. They're certainly not for everybody, and in fact you'll probably either fall deeply in love or you'll just hate them and never give them a second chance. I don't think there's a lot of middle ground with a band like The Cure.

Now, onto the reviews...

Three Imaginary Boys
Rating: 2
Release date: 5/8/1979
Favorite song: Three Imaginary Boys
TracklistRatingMember Lineup
10:15 Saturday Night5 Robert Smith: vocals, guitars
Michael Dempsey: bass
Lol Tolhurst: drums
Accuracy4
Grinding Halt3
Another Day5
Object2
Subway Song2
Foxy Lady4
Meathook2
So What1
Fire in Cairo4
It's Not You2
Three Imaginary Boys5
The Weedy Burton0
The Cure themselves aren't even particularly proud of this album, and Robert Smith doesn't even consider it a Cure album. Well, it's out there, so I've got it anyway. It's not terrible, but "The Cure sound" is just barely starting to bloom here, evidenced by songs like Another Day and Three Imaginary Boys (the best songs on the album unsurprisingly). This is an extremely sparse album, so sparse that "air" should be listed as an instrument because it's so crucial. The album is unfortunately loaded with useless punk songs like So What and It's Not You, which Smith himself even detests. Perhaps the most interesting song is the bizarre take on Hendrix's Foxy Lady, which to me seems undeniably catchy with its ripping refrain and strange arrangement. Three Imaginary Boys is spotty, to say the least, so it's probably best you save this one until you've already become well acquainted with the band's work.


Seventeen Seconds
Rating: 4
Release date: 4/22/1980
Favorite song: A Forest
TracklistRatingMember Lineup
A Reflectionx Robert Smith: vocals, guitars
Simon Gallup: bass
Lol Tolhurst: drums
Matthieu Hartley: keyboards
Play for Today5
Secrets4
In your House3
Three1
The Final Soundx
A Forest5
M5
At Night5
Seventeen Seconds3
Ah, here we are, a much more "Cure"-ish record. This one is still relatively unpopular though because there's simply not a lot of music here: three instrumentals, two of which are so short I didn't even rate them because their presence doesn't harm the album, which a 0 implies, but instead add to the mood. The rest ranges from decent to absolutely brilliant. If there was any doubt about Smith's abilities as a songwriter, material like A Forest and At Night prove he is a force to be reckoned with. Like the previous album, everything here is incredibly sparse, and when there are words, Smith's buried so far down in the mix you can't tell what he's saying. Even if there's not a lot of music here, I had to give this album a fairly high rating because it gives off this wonderfully cold, indifferent feeling. You can tell Smith really went through a lot to ensure every second of this album conveyed the correct mood. I think it was pulled off excellently, but some are put off by the empty feeling, I guess.


Faith
Faith
Rating: 5
Release date: 4/14/1981
Favorite song: Faith
TracklistRatingMember Lineup
The Holy Hour5 Robert Smith: vocals, guitars, keyboards
Simon Gallup: bass
Lol Tolhurst: drums
Primary5
Other Voices4
All Cats are Grey5
The Funeral Party5
Doubt2
The Drowning Man5
Faith6
It's just as indifferent as Seventeen Seconds, but paradoxically there's so much passion here too. Something like The Funeral Party is played totally indifferently, and yet the song as a whole gives off this incredible feeling. This is where Smith really starts getting ridiculously depressing, because it's songs like The Funeral Party that just drone on and on, seemingly passionless, and yet stir up more evocative emotions than if Smith were wailing at the top of his lungs. Nearly every song is perfect. The opening bass notes of The Holy Hour and the gonging of a bell shortly thereafter paint such a bleak, foreboding picture, and the mood is never lifted. All Cats are Grey is the most atmospheric song the group has ever made, with Smith hanging up the guitar and playing keyboards for the duration. The weakest point is undoubtedly (pun!) Doubt, which is this incredibly aggressive, angry punk song that doesn't belong anywhere near this slow, crawling masterpiece. In fact, had they replaced Doubt with the excellent single Charlotte Sometimes, I'd call this my favorite Cure album and be tempted to rate it a 6. It's that good. Topping off the album is the title track, which is the longest of the bunch, but frankly my favorite song ever by The Cure. No song, not even by The Cure, manages to bring down one's mood so effectively. If there's a "most depressing song ever recorded," my vote goes to Faith. It should be noted that Robert himself seems to agree that Faith is the best song they've done.


Pornography
Rating: 5
Release date: 5/4/1982
Favorite song: The Figurehead
TracklistRatingMember Lineup
One Hundred Years5 Robert Smith: vocals, guitars, keyboards
Simon Gallup: bass
Lol Tolhurst: drums
A Short Term Effect4
The Hanging Garden5
Siamese Twins4
The Figurehead6
A Strange Day5
Cold5
Pornography3
An album so black, hateful, and depressing that Smith nearly killed himself making it. An excess of alcohol and drugs, as well as isolation even from his bandmates, led to an incredible album that is one of the most unique and jarring in existence. You won't like it on first listen, I know I sure didn't. It's easily the most cohesive album from the band, with every song just pummeling the depression and anger into you. Just listen to that wailing guitar that greets you in One Hundred Years: if ever a sound managed to capture all the frustration and anger in the world, this is it. It seriously just sounds like it's just screaming in agony. Everything else is equally gloomy. The Figurehead is another 6, since there is no moment more depressing in musical history than when Smith breaks down at the end with "I will never be clean again..." after a lengthy guitar build-up. Many cite the constantly repeating drums as aggravating, but the fact the drums sound ridiculously huge and just pound into your eardrums the whole time is all part of the experience. This isn't "easy listening". Cold would just not be near as impressive and scary without that huge drum intro. The only, and I stress only fault with this album is the closing track, which is unfortunately weak after the brilliant closing track on the previous album. Nonetheless, an album you shouldn't pass up; everyone should hear this album at least once.


Japanese Whispers
Rating: 4
Release date: 12/6/1983
Favorite song: Let's go to Bed
TracklistRatingMember Lineup
Let's go to Bed5 Robert Smith: vocals, guitars, keyboards
Lol Tolhurst: keyboards
The Dream2
Just One Kiss5
The Upstairs Room4
The Walk5
Speak my Language5
Lament4
The Lovecats5
Not even really an album, just a collection of songs that Robert Smith would probably rather forget. This is totally '80s synth pop, and I think it suits The Cure to a T. In fact it's a shame it's not a real album and Smith didn't spend more time with Mr. Oberheim. It may be synth pop but this is just as gloomy as anything else The Cure ever put out. Just check out Lament, Just One Kiss or even the more spritely The Upstairs Room; these aren't happy songs. Lament actually sounds incredibly similar to Faith's The Drowning Man which nobody would confuse with radio-friendly pop. OK, so the two experiments with jazz are bouncy and fun, I'll give you that. But the majority of this album is gloomy synth pop, which is either going to sound dated and silly to you, or else really cool (as in my case). The Walk is easily the best example of this. Let's go to Bed is ridiculously catchy even if Smith thinks it's just a dumb pop song, and everyone can agree that The Lovecats is "the grooviest thing."


The Top
Rating: 4
Release date: 5/22/1984
Favorite song: The Top
Shake Dog Shake5 Robert Smith: everything but drums
Andy Anderson: drums
Lol Tolhurst: keyboards
Birdmad Girl4
The Wailing Wall4
Give me It4
Dressing Up4
The Caterpillar5
Piggy in the Mirror5
The Empty World3
Bananafishbones4
The Top5
An unreasonably detested album by The Cure. Smith himself has insulted it many times. It's a result of a lot of alcohol, a lot of drugs, a lack of sleep (Smith was playing with both Banshees and The Glove while making this album), and a lack of bandmates. It's basically a Smith solo record. Smith finally gets away from the structureless assault of Pornography and writes songs that, every so often, have a chorus, or maybe even a change in dynamics. But these songs are anything but normal. There's the snare drum march of The Empty World, the wall of noise Give me It, the bizarre psychedelic rock of Bananafishbones, the dreary dirge The Wailing Wall, and finally the circus-like drone of The Top. That's not even mentioning the lyrics, which no rational human being could ever make any sense of since every word seems to have been selected at random. It's the most trippy of all The Cure's releases by far, and I guess that means it isn't for everyone. But there's some really good stuff here I think, and in fact, not really a bad song in the bunch. It just might take a few listens to get used to.


The Head on the Door
Rating: 4
Release date: 8/13/1985
Favorite song: In-between Days
In-between Days5 Robert Smith: vocals, guitars, keyboards
Simon Gallup: bass
Porl Thompson: guitars and keyboards
Boris Williams: drums
Lol Tolhurst: keyboards
Kyoto Song3
The Blood4
Six Different Ways3
Push5
The Baby Screams4
Close to Me5
A Night Like This5
Screw2
Sinking5
Just a year later Smith finds himself a real band, quits all the side projects, and begins The Cure's next period in which they actually start writing songs with choruses and stuff. Other than Sinking, the brilliant closer that perfectly demonstrates The Cure's layering method of song construction, everything on here is quite bright and poppy. The introduction of Boris on drums and the re-introduction of Simon on bass also adds to the deep groove that The Cure have since become known for. Every song on here has this incredibly dancey groove to it, whether it's outright (as in the waltz-time Six Different Ways, which in fact is only good because of the great groove) or more subtle (as in the straight-ahead rock of Push). Though The Cure are starting to find themselves as a band here once again, things are developed even further in their next album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. This is probably the best album to demonstrate the band's pop capabilities though, especially the first song In-between Days which is perhaps their catchiest pop single of all.


Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me
Rating: 5
Release date: 5/5/1987
Favorite song: Just Like Heaven
The Kiss5 Robert Smith: vocals, guitars, keyboards
Simon Gallup: bass
Porl Thompson: guitars and keyboards
Boris Williams: drums
Lol Tolhurst: keyboards
Catch4
Torture4
If Only Tonight we Could Sleep5
Why Can't I be You?5
How Beautiful you Are...5
The Snakepit5
Hey You!!!4
Just Like Heaven5
All I Want3
Hot Hot Hot!!!5
One More Time4
Like Cockatoos5
Icing Sugar5
The Perfect Girl3
A Thousand Hours5
Shiver and Shake4
Fight1
Here's "The Cure" in all their glory. Seriously, this is a huge album, and every single song sounds totally different from the last, and yet they all sound like The Cure. Seriously. It's like The Cure's White Album. Some of the songs don't seem quite as fleshed out; just compare the short and incredibly simple The Perfect Girl to the absolutely perfect pop song Just Like Heaven. Highlights are the opening track, a Pornography throwback with this four minute wah-wah guitar solo intro, which finally leads into Smith screaming the album title. I personally am very fond of The Snakepit, a Middle-Eastern odd-timed groove with sparse lyrics, and mostly a lot of highly-distorted guitar soloing. But since it's the longest song on the album, not everyone digs it since it moves so slow. Hot Hot Hot!!! proves the band can groove like no other, mixing funk rhythms with pop music. The lush ballad A Thousand Hours has one of the most heartbreaking guitar riffs I've ever heard, even though the synth arrangement sounds a bit dated. Shiver and Shake is sort of like an updated Give me It, every bit as intense and hateful, maybe a little more organized this time around, but every bit as good. The worst song in the bunch is the lame closing track Fight, I guess some attempt at arena rock with a stupid chorus that has Smith demanding that you fight. It's supposed to be motivating, but it's just ridiculous. After the glorious ending tracks on the last few albums, once again The Cure end the album on a weak note. Argh. Otherwise, this is a good place to start with The Cure. You get the most varied mix of music from the band.


BEST ALBUM
Disintegration
Rating: 6
Release date: 5/1/1989
Favorite song: Pictures of You
Plainsong5 Robert Smith: vocals, guitars, keyboards
Simon Gallup: bass
Porl Thompson: guitars
Boris Williams: drums
Roger O'Donnell: keyboards
Lol Tolhurst: "other instruments" (nothing, in other words)
Pictures of You6
Closedown5
Love Song5
Last Dance5
Lullaby4
Fascination Street5
Prayers for Rain5
The Same Deep Water as You5
Disintegration6
Homesick5
Untitled5
Unbelievable. Instead of making a huge album of every kind of style of music, The Cure hone their efforts to create Pornography Part 2. It's not near as angry or black, but it's every bit as depressing and cohesive. But this time, the band is far better, and the music goes from depressing to beautiful... gorgeous... however you want to describe it. The band really milk their layering too; most of these songs exceed 6 minutes, and yet they don't drag at all if you ask me. Every song is a highlight, seriously. They're all incredible. I'm not even sure how to succinctly describe this one, because I keep wanting to mention all these details, like the incredible bassline in Fascination Street, the brilliant "disintegrating" guitar solo that closes the album in Untitled (which I almost rated another 6), the excellent use of background vocals in the title track, the liquid smooth guitar sound in Homesick, the gorgeous bass intro to Last Dance... I could go on and on. I had to rate this one a 6 because it's an album that has it all: every song is fantastic, all the songs form a cohesive whole, the album works to build emotions, and it's unique. It has it all. New to The Cure? Definitely start here. It'll take a few listens, because this sucker moves slow and it's long, but eventually you'll either fall deeply in love or you'll fall asleep.


The Cure
Rating: 3
Release date: 6/29/2004
Favorite song: Lost
Lost5 Robert Smith: vocals, guitars, keyboards
Simon Gallup: bass
Perry Bamonte: guitars
Jason Cooper: drums
Roger O'Donnell: keyboards
Labyrinth5
Before Three4
The End of the World5
Anniversary3
Us or Them4
alt.end5
(I Don't Know What's Going) On2
Taking Off4
Never1
The Promise4
This is an interesting album. If you ask me this hardly even sounds like The Cure at this point, even though they went ahead and called it The Cure. It's interesting, because if you look at the individual song ratings, most are pretty high, with the exception being the positively annoying Never. Yet I only rated the album a 3; I guess it's because I just find myself rarely ever listening to it. Most of the tracks are pretty good songs, there's just nothing that really pulls me into the album, which is very strange for a Cure album. I suppose the biggest changes here are that there's no longer an abundance of keyboards, the guitars are much louder, the bass no longer serves as the basis for the song as before, and the drums are loud and far more aggressive, with lots of crash-riding and whatnot (about the exact opposite of Boris's tasteful playing). Even Robert's vocals are pushed way up in the mix, they hardly even sound like The Cure anymore, just another "alt rock" band. Again, even if most of the music is actually pretty good, this album just doesn't carve out a place in The Cure's discography like, say, The Top. The best thing to come out of this album is Robert's much improved vocals; just dig that scream in the opening of The Promise. Except, I guess, in the course of bringing out a much stronger voice, it required he sing much more forcefully which was never really part of The Cure's sound. But hey, who am I to stop progress? A decent enough album, it sure could have been worse...


4:13 Dream
Rating: 4
Release date: 6/29/2004
Favorite song: Underneath the Stars
Underneath the Stars5 Robert Smith: vocals, guitars, keyboards
Simon Gallup: bass
Porl Thompson: guitars
Jason Cooper: drums, loops
The Only One5
The Reasons Why3
Freakshow5
Sirensong4
The Real Snow White3
The Hungry Ghost3
Switch4
The Perfect Boy5
This. Here and Now. With You2
Sleep When I'm Dead3
The Scream5
It's Over4
It is not the best example of The Cure's abilities, but certainly it feels much more like they have their own style at this point, even if it is quite a bit different from their classic style during the late '80s (which was a drastic change of pace from their early '80s style! Ah, progress). The last album simply had no identity whatsoever, which thankfully isn't the case here. However, I suppose the problem with this album is the songwriting... it's just so rarely challenging. Many of the album tracks here are simple medium-tempo guitar rock that, while rarely bad or annoying, it's also not very remarkable. I suppose that's the biggest disappointment from this album: I was hoping for a greater variety of styles and more experimentation, and with the funky Freakshow released beforehand I was hoping for more "weird" Cure like this but alas, we didn't get it. Most of this stuff is pretty safe. Nonetheless, it's an easy listen all the way through. It opens on a great note, with Underneath the Stars reminding us that Robert still is the master of melancholy (remember, it's been 8 years since we heard him come up with anything like this, on Bloodflowers). It also ends in a very rock way. The Scream has this wonderfully weird groove, which starts out simple and quiet until Robert screams his lungs out and everything goes berserk. The Cure haven't rocked this hard since The Kiss! Then the energy stays up for the album closer, It's Over, another frantic rock song like The Top's Give me It, though perhaps not quite as psychotic. The albums running order is indeed one of its strengths, so be sure to give it a good listen all the way through at least before passing judgment.