Monday, 22 March 2021

The Cure

Three Imaginary Boys (1979)

10.15 Saturday Night/Accuracy/Grinding Halt/Another Day/Object/Subway Song/Foxy Lady/Meathook/So What/Fire In Cairo/It's Not You/Three Imaginary Boys/The Weedy Burton

I never really got into The Cure. I knew a few singles and I think I saw them live, sharing the bill with Wire, but I can't quite remember. Their seemingly impenetrable brand of dark-clad post punk just wasn't really my thing. I much preferred the energy and fist-pumping of punk. Anyway, this was their debut album, from May 1979 and, although it went unnoticed by me at the time, it stands as one of the full-on post punk trail blazers - stabbing guitar riffs, rubbery bass lines, metronomic drums and a vocal full of ennui. Their temperamental, precious singer Robert Smith was never happy with the album, apparently, and it was compiled without his consent. That sort of added to the intrigue that surrounded this mysterious group. Their music, however, was often more listenable than one may have imagined. There is also an appealing rough and ready sound to this album. I should have give it more attention back in 1979, but I had many other artists taking my attention.

For many, this is as carefree and poppy as The Cure ever got, their subsequent albums were far more downbeat. 

10.15 Saturday Night is a classic example of the group's surprisingly accessible, catchy post punk. It has an absolute killer of a guitar solo in it too, together with an unnerving bass line. Accuracy features Robert Smith's deadpan bored-sounding voice at its most archetypal. The same applies to the Joy Division meets PIL vibe of Grinding Halt

Another Day reminds me of similar slow, sombre, moody offerings from The Buzzcocks and Magazine from the same period, a time when punk's anger and fury had dissipated into insecure student navel-gazing. It was that that sort of turned me off it at the time, but I cannot deny that the track is full of foreboding, depressing atmosphere. Smith's vocal is very Steve Harley-esque at times on this, which showed his possible influences. Harley liked a bit of broodiness too. 

Object brings the tempo up again on an edgy, riffy, punky thrash while the sub-two minute Subway Song has a wonderful bass line and a finger-clicking late-night groove about it. Its vague reggae tinges fitted in with the zeitgeist as well. The oddly incongruous, quirky cover of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Foxy Lady is something of an interesting, but perplexing curio. 

Meat Hook also ploughs that late seventies white reggae furrow, effectively. It sounds so very 1979 and the fuzzy, punchy So What is full of PIL-style post punk, bleating bad-tempered rage, along with a stuttering Buzzcocks-style vocal. Fire In Cairo is one of the album's most pleasing tracks, melodically, sounding sort of punky and new wavey simultaneously, although quite why the title's letters needed to be recited is unclear. 

It's Not You is a very Buzzcocks-esque punky number that reminds me that it was still early 1979 when this was released - punkiness was still ok. Three Imaginary Boys is an enjoyably melodic and beautifully bassy mid-paced number while the short instrumental closer, The Weedy Burton, shows the breeziness that the band occasionally showed that they could use, as indeed they did on their irresistible hit single, The Lovecats.

Seventeen Seconds (1980)

A Reflection/Play For Today/Secrets/In Your House/Three/The Final Sound/A Forest/M/At Night/Seventeen Seconds

Never mind post punk, this, The Cure’s second album, has been viewed retrospectively as the first gothic rock album. A genre was born. Having been playing guitar with Siouxsie & The Banshees, Robert Smith  came back wanting to deliver a sound similar to that of Steve Severin and Budgie. He managed it too, serving up a supremely dark yet strangely classy album. It was also supremely influential, on bands like The Stranglers, contemporaries Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen and, in reverse, on The Banshees.

It is a short album - which given its sombre soundscapes is possibly not a bad thing - and it is one that I have to say that I really like. It has a great sound quality to it and bags of atmosphere. It has to be regarded as one of the great, if not slightly overlooked, early eighties albums.

After an ambient, atmospheric instrumental opener in A Reflection, Play For Today is wonderful in its melodic bleakness, featuring a lovely deep bass sound. Indeed the same can be said of both the subtly attractive Secrets and In Your House. There is a mature competence and depth to this material that contrasts markedly with the often punky/post punky edginess of their debut album.

Tracks like the sombrely grandiose Three and the new romantic-style synth-driven and spacey A Forest both display a very Joy Division noir ambience to them. The latter is a beautifully atmospheric track. I can come up with similar descriptions for M and the magnificent and moody At Night. Smith’s voice is mournful and detached on the latter - this man, just as much as Ian Curtis, was a true master of misery. Seventeen Seconds, of course, didn’t lift the gloomy feel at all, and it would been strange if it had. The album ends as morosely as it began. This is an album for the dark depths of winter. 

As with the previous album, I really wish I had got into this back in 1980, but there was so much other music around that took up my attention. I am enjoying getting into it now, all these years later.

The Cure were also, like many punk and post punk bands, known for their stand-alone singles and it was here that the more commercial sound of the band was heard. A few of these are well worthy of a mention. 

The lyrically controversial Killing An Arab (it was inspired by a 1942 French novel by Albert Camus) reminds me very much of the John Peel show in its rudimentary, raw sound, taking me right backs to those late nights listening to the radio  in my teenage bedroom. It was one of their tracks I knew from back then, along with the supremely catchy, jangly Boys Don’t Cry. Surely The Smiths were influenced by this. It predates so much mid eighties guitar pop.

Jumping Someone Else’s Train is a lively number with more Smiths-like vibes to it and some infectious percussion-bass parts. 

The upbeat Primary and the Gang Of Four-ish, mysterious Other Voices are excellent cuts from the 1981 album, Faith (featured further down). 

Charlotte Sometimes was a surprisingly downbeat choice for a stand-alone single, with its mournful vocals and bleak, somewhat muffled sound. From 1982’s Pornography album came the drum-driven The Hanging Garden

Three more notable stand-alone singles were the staccato, quirky but appealing Let’s Go To Bed, the synthy pop groove of The Walk and, lest I forget, the incredibly catchy fun of The Lovecats

Faith (1981)

The Holy Hour/Primary/Other Voices/All Cats Are Grey/The Funeral Party/Doubt/The Drowning Man/Faith

This was The Cure's third album and was the one upon which their "gloomy" reputation was built. This begins with the sombre, resonant bass line and distant, echoey and dismal-sounding vocal of The Holy Hour. There was lots of bleak Joy Division influence on this but, despite that, it is full of dark atmosphere. The livelier Primary lifts the initial gloom briefly but this is soon put to bed on the ghostly Other Voices

A more pleasing sound is to be found on the lengthier, pleasingly brooding All Cats Are Grey, where some (comparatively) attractive and melodic keyboard sounds merge most effectively with a gently rhythmic percussion. 

The Funeral Party is suitably slow and funereal, with a Neu! style muffled sound to its keyboards and programmed drums. Doubt was a livelier track, but its upbeat tempo could not hide its very 1979-80 post punk vibe, driven along, as it was, by one of those instantly recognisable rubbery bass lines. Robert Smith's Rotten-esque sneering vocal sounded a bit hackneyed by now, too. 

The Drowning Man is classic post punk gloom as indeed is Faith. Nothing much really changes on this album. It has a strangely dignified feeling of beauty about it, though, and I quite like it, in a dark winter's afternoon sort of way. 

It is a short album and one that inspired many a "goth" band subsequently but I (and many others) feel that its overbearing misery had been done to death, so to speak, by Joy Division. It was 1981, new romanticism and bright synth pop was the sound of the day. This sort of thing was fast becoming old hat and the Cure would remain, at this moment in time, in many ways a cult band, liked by a comparative minority of cognoscenti. 

Changes were afoot, though, and The Cure went on to achieve a modicum of comparative non-cult popularity, however, as the eighties progressed. I have dipped into their output from this period. Remember that these are not reviews written by a die-hard Cure fan, but by someone who thought that he ought to explore their work from a somewhat neutral perspective. Therefore, they are not track-by-track assessments in the way that some of my other reviews are.

Pornography (1982)

One Hundred Years/A Short Term Effect/The Hanging Garden/Siamese Twins/The Figurehead/A Strange Day/Cold/Pornography

This was, apparently, The Cure's drug abuse album, when the inter-band rows saw them collapsing into near collapse. It is suitably sombre (what a surprise!) but is, would you believe, less bleak than its dismal predecessor. Its eight songs are longer and slightly more positive in their sound, albeit which is a very well-trodden post punk one. 

There is nothing much that can be said, individually, about each track. They all have that typical late seventies-early seventies metronomic, slightly muffled drum sound and that atonal, miserable-sounding vocal. Probably the best example of this is the opener, One Hundred Years. The album comes over as a bit of a period piece now, an example of its time and place. 

The drum-driven The Hanging Garden is probably the best track on offer, along with the atmospheric The Figurehead. Overall, I think I prefer this album to Faith. 

Robert Smith said of the album - 

"I wanted to make the ultimate "fuck off" record, and then sign off the band". 

Could they carry on releasing more and more albums in this vein. No is the answer to that and, to their credit, the next one saw signs of a willingness to diversify.

The Top (1984)

Shake Dog Shake/The Birdmad Girl/Wailing Wall/Give Me It/Dressing Up/The Caterpillar/Piggy In The Mirror/The Empty World/Bananafishbones/The Top

Rather like Siouxsie & The Banshes did during the same period, The Cure suddenly decided to make their music more accessible, giving it an attractive, eclectic melodic pop veneer (comparatively). A fine example of this is the gently rhythmic and nicely acoustic strains of The Birdmad Girl. It is not all as easy going, however, as the punky, visceral Give Me It shows. 

Dressing Up finds the band using an Andean-sounding pipe sound which once more gives the album its feeling of comparative variety. Had the Cure gone all Sandinista!? Maybe. 

Check out the bizarre and lively sounds on The Caterpillar and the World Music influences on Piggy In The Mirror. The jazzy, singalong single, The Love Cats, had preceded this album too.

The reputation of Faith and Pornography as the gloomy products of merchants of misery began to fade a bit here as the band became much more musically experimental. It all sort of fitted in with the carefree spirit of 1984. 

The Head On the Door (1985)

Inbetween Days/Kyoto Song/The Blood/Six Different Ways/Push/The Baby Screams/Close To Me/A Night Like This/Screw/Sinking

This was, without any shadow of a doubt, The Cure's most varied, appealing and pleasant album thus far, featuring a myriad of instrumental sounds, influences and hooks. Yes, hooks. That old misery seemed a long way away now, despite Robert Smith's still mournful vocals. Indie guitar sounds were becoming popular and there is quite a lot of that to be found on here. 

Inbetween Days is very Smiths-influenced in its sad but tuneful indie guitar rock style while Kyoto Song taps into the contemporary trend for Japanese sounds, at the forefront of which was, unsurprisingly, Japan. 

Six Different Ways almost sounds Elizabethan in places with its flute sound. The Blood is acoustically most attractive too. 

Push is one of those Cure tracks where the intro lasts about three minutes, but it has a great jangly, guitar-powered vibe to it. The Baby Screams is a rocking and vibrant as the band had ever got, A Night Like This features a saxophone and the Prince-esque (yes) Close To Me has handclaps on it!

Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (1987)

The Kiss/Catch/Torture/If Only Tonight We Could Sleep/Why Can't I Be You?/How Beautiful You Are/The Snakepit/Hey You!/Just Like Heaven/All I Want/Hot Hot Hot!!!/One More Time/Like Cockatoos/Icing Sugar/The Perfect Girl/A Thousand Hours/Shiver And Shake/Fight

What's this? A double album? Had The Cure gone all prog rock? For me, and probably many others, a double album of The Cure may seem a little off-putting. However, this offering contains easily enough variety to offset that, although it is still too damn long (I'm just not a fan of double albums). 

It is, though, The Cure's most carefree and enjoyable album, by far. 

The Kiss is thumping and robust while Catch is plaintively melodic. If Only Tonight We Could Sleep is an Eastern-influenced slow number complete with sitar, as if George Harrison and his mates had come into the studio. Why Can't I Be You? is a Love Cats-ish jaunty, brassy number and How Beautiful Are You is full of blaring horns and saxophones. Is this really The Cure? Why, Hot Hot Hot !!! even finds them going deliciously funky. 

The Snakepit is catchy and Smiths-esque in that mid-late eighties jangly guitar style. Icing Sugar sounds like early Roxy Music in places, with its saxophone. Other tracks, while still containing that trademark post punk sound, are augmented by swirling strings and melodic acoustic guitars. 

This is definitely The Cure's Sandinista! - a cornucopia of different styles that some would say lacks cohesion but can also be accurately described as attractively eclectic. 

Disintegration (1989)

Plainsong/Pictures Of You/Closedown/Lovesong/Last Dance/Lullaby/Fascination Street/Prayers For Rain/The Same Deep Water As You/Disintegration/Homesick/Untitled

Robert Smith, irked, perversely, at the group's new-found semi-mainstream popularity, went back on the drugs and composed a stark, bleak return to the group's old gothic sombre sounds. Gone were the breezy experiments with world music, acoustic and poppy brass sounds and the album opened with some morbid, muffled keyboard moodiness on Plainsong. The seven minutes-plus Pictures Of You is more distinct in its ambience, with a clearer drum sound, but, as on the whole album, the old rubbery post punk bass is back, along with the archetypal Cure drawn-out instrumental introductions. It wouldn't be a Cure song unless the introduction was coming up to two minutes, would it?

Closedown sounds a lot like some of the material U2 would soon be putting out, particularly in its drum sound and Smith's vocal seems to be getting more Morrissey-like, or maybe the latter's sound was always Smith-like? 

Lovesong, despite its intrinsic solemnity, also has a pleasant melody to it that makes it almost catchy. It has a lovely bass and organ sound underpinning it. Last Dance has some eighties synth-style drums and another relatively tuneful melody to go along with its haunting atmosphere. Lullaby is strangely sensual, featuring some nice strings (not all of them had been jettisoned). Prayers For Rain could almost be The Doors in places.

This album was probably the best of the group's sombre material - and my favourite of those ones - having taken them ten years to get there. It was the one that garnered the most critical kudos and had the most rounded sound to it. Personally, it is their lighter, more accessible offerings that I prefer, however. 

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