But It’s a Classic! (Looking back at The Cure’s catalog)
I missed a lot of The Cure’s heyday in the 1980s but as a band that were still relevant hitmakers in the alternative 90s, I know the hits well. But besides a couple albums I owned over time I’ve never sat down with most of their output and especially not anything from post-2000. For today’s edition of But It’s A Classic, I spent two days listening straight through The Cure’s 13 studio albums.
Three Imaginary Boys (1979) – The Cure’s debut relies more on a jerkier post-punk than what the band would eventually become. There’s a little Buzzcocks punk (“It’s Not You”) and some a little bit of jangle here and there that almost sounds proto-REM jangle (“Fire In Cairo”) at times. There’s a pretty unnecessary cover of Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” dropped right in the middle but a post-listening reading leads me to find it’s one of a few tracks chosen by the record company against the band’s wishes. Overall a solid debut with the little bit of lopsidedness you’d expect of a band finding its voice.
Seventeen Seconds (1980) – A year later, the 2nd album amplifies the mood that the debut hinted at throughout and lets the songs stretch out a lot more by keeping a similar running time with fewer songs. There’s a bit more orchestration on some instrumental tracks (opener “A Reflection”) that fill up some space with extra moodiness. Seventeen Seconds is a much more focused albums, and it shows while giving us a few classic tracks here (“A Forest” and “M”).
Faith (1981) – Faith ditches the instrumental moods of its predecessor and charges ahead a little more furious at times (“Primary”) but for the most does stick to what made the tracks of Seventeen Seconds. Despite being a relatively brief 8 songs, the album does drag a bit in the second half (“The Funeral Party” and “The Drowning Man”) to create the least memorable of the albums so far.
Pornography (1982) – This album immediately leaps out as a jump in sound with drum machines, keyboard and tape loops and no songs under 4 minutes. Unlike it’s predecessor they’re able to make all the longer songs enjoyable all the way through. The enhanced production helps the albums best tracks (“Hanging Garden”), and the guitar work got more interesting in a lot of songs (“A Strange Day”). Despite not really having much for publicly enduring hits, this album feels like the peak of The Cure’s earlier gothier work which defined their overall aesthetic for their career.
The Top (1984) – This album immediately jumps out immediately different with a real jarring rock influence (“Shake Dog Shake”) in what must have been a little bit of a shock for anyone expecting a direct follow up to Pornography. The Top feels like a band trying a bunch of experiments to see what will stick from creeping Eastern influenced sounds (“Wailing Wall”) to pounding driving rockers (“Give Me It”) to synth pop (“Dressing Up”). The band definitely explores even more instrumentation than before with some acoustic guitar plucking and what I assume is a pan flute (or keyboard approximation of one). There’s one bright spot in “The Caterpillar” which points toward the next phase of the band in what is mostly a forgettable transitional album. This album is also the last of a series of albums where the final track shares a name with the album. Not sure what that really means, but it feels like a marked change here.
The Head on the Door (1985) – After a transitional album we’ve reached massive hit making Cure and the album I’m most familiar with before starting this project. The hits are here (“Inbetween Days” and “Close To Me”) and they’re easily the best of the band’s songs so far. Even the moodier material (“Kyoto Song”) seem to be better focused than previous albums, and the song length falls to the 3 minute range. The hints of Eastern influences are a bit more prevalent as the band’s tone is notably less dark than the earlier albums. The first 4 albums mark a certain sound era for the band that they tried to pivot from unsuccessfully for an album and finally have found what made them a very successful band in the mid-80s. You can almost hear a U2 size stadium anthem in something like “Push” and “A Night Like This” and only one real miss on the album (the Duran Duran-ish “Screw”).
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987) – So you’ve made the best album of your career, now what? You drop a long double album, of course. The album comes in hard with a sprawling 6 minute epic of wah guitar and ricocheting drums in what feels like a band who just had massive hits trying to make some sort of grand statement that sort of works. Kiss Me seems to be the same sort of mishmash of genre experiments that The Top was just on a somewhat better but much longer run time. “Just Like Heaven” is the band defining and (arguably) the best song the band has written, but the other hits are annoying (the synth horn fueled “Why Can’t I Be You?”) in comparison. The amount of excess here drops this one squarely in the middle despite a few great songs propping it up. Feels like a transitional album in the spirit of Faith and The Top but contains some hits to prop it up.
Disintegration (1989) – Much like Pornography took the concepts of Faith and drew them out, Disintegration matches the length of the previous album in about a half dozen less tracks. The tracks here hit the more classic moody vibes of Pornography but stretch them out a bit more including the 25 minute trio of songs near the end of the album. There’s some hits here that are great (“Pictures Of You” and “Fascination Street”) and overall the album sells the dark Cure vibes that we love, probably the best of all the albums here.
Wish (1992) – Following Disintegration, Wish sounds absolutely hopeful (by Cure standards of course). While I sensed a pattern in the earlier discography of transitional not very good albums between the good ones, Wish doesn’t fall into it or disappoint really. From the epic soaring (“From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea” or the driving beat and wahwah solos of “Cut”) to the almost cheery hits (“Friday I’m In Love”, a song we all could swear was from the 80s). The Cure brought themselves into the 90s with a bit of sound of the decade but an album solidly themselves.
Wild Mood Swings (1996) – This album picks up mostly where Wish left off but ventures off wildly from there. I remember the piano and horns “The 13th” and the sunny vibes of “Mint Car” being the radio singles from this album which are both great tracks. Wild Mood Swings is maybe a little bit too accurate of title as the album tends to go in lots of directions from there into 80s pop (“Strange Attraction”), a cool experiment in tremolo bouncing keyboards (“Gone!”) and the sitar and strings ballad (“Numb”). Not to say all sound like different sides of what the band is and has been over decades.
Bloodflowers (2000) – Bloodflowers marks the first of three albums they put out in the 2000s by having a very 2000 era album cover. Besides a very of the era album cover, Bloodflowers is pretty uninteresting as it gets rid of most of the genre experiments of Wild Mood Swings in favor of lengthy wah guitar dirges that tend to exceed the 7 minute mark. “39” sort of borrows a keyboard intro very close to Devo’s “Girl U Want” but falls back into the territory most of the songs fall under. Never bad but never that interesting for the most part. A loud phased solo towards the end of the title track was a welcome jolt.
The Cure (2004) – The self titled album takes what Bloodflowers did, and sort of goes both directions with it. “Lost” kicks things off with the most aggressive Robert Smith I can remember, with a harsher twist of the later Cure formula. Alternately “The End Of The World” is a cheery single and so far the best song of what the band has done over the last couple decades. Songs are shorter, and everything feels a bit more refined that its predecessor (until maybe the 10 minute closer which wouldn’t feel out of place on Bloodflowers) making it a perfectly good album but still falls into the lower half of the bands discography.
4:13 Dream (2008) – It gets a little hard to judge a band 13 albums in to their career. There’s nothing really bad about 4:13 Dream. Nor does anything really transcend. The band sounds like they are taking some queues from 2000s post-rock/emo in the opener “Underneath The Stars”. There’s some genre experiments like the almost countryish “Siren Song”. There’s plenty of good stuff here as well that point back to classics like the middle trio of songs “The Hungry Ghost”, the driving “Switch” and the soaring “The Perfect Boy”. This album and the previous fill a similar space, bringing the band into a new decade while still giving the fans what they want. This album succeeds a bit more, particularly in the back half in what is potentially the last album we’ll see since it’s been 12 years.
- The Head on the Door
- Wild Mood Swings
- Seventeen Seconds
- Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
- 4:13 Dream
- Three Imaginary Boys
- The Cure
- The Top
Writer / photographer / Reviler co-founder