Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Cure - 10 of the Best

Great list from The Guardian:

1. 10.15 Saturday Night
Miserable sorts looking to knock the Cure often crow over how erratic they can be. I can see their point: there certainly aren’t many other bands I can think of that bob so wildly from masterpiece to medicority. They’ve released some of my favourite ever albums – records I wish could be hidden in time capsules so that future citizens of Earth will hear them and hopefully feel the same way they made me feel. And they’ve made others which have been disappointing enough for me to wish Viking-style burials upon; a fleet of fiery CDs drifting in the ocean that can no longer trouble my ears. A tattered copy of Disintegration, a present from my older brother, is one of my prized possessions. On the other hand, my dad gave me a copy of 4.13 Dream shortly before he told me he’d been having an affair and was leaving home; I’m still more resentful about being saddled with 4.13 Dream.

But who cares about consistency? The Cure have always been guided by their restlessness, and it’s led them to many moments of greatness. It also means that, because they’re so changeable, they have more than one way of being brilliant. On their 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys, for example, they’re still a post-punk band, coming on like Wire with smudged make-up, courtesy of cold, razor-like guitars and poppyish melodies. Opener 10.15 Saturday Night nails the nervy horror of sitting by a phone that never rings, with Robert Smith’s heavy fretting exacerbated by the irritating “drip drip drip drip” of a leaky tap. “I’m wondering where she’s been / And I’m crying for yesterday,” he bellyaches, before he’s drowned out by a needling, nagging riff.

2. A Forest
Smith wasn’t particularly taken with Three Imaginary Boys. The band’s label, Fiction, had the final say on its tracklisting and artwork, and it didn’t sound right either. “I didn’t even like it at the time,” he admitted. “There were criticisms made that it was very lightweight, and I thought they were justified.” Far more interesting was the sound being made by touring partners Siouxsie and the Banshees, for whom Smith would moonlight as a guitarist. But with their second album, Seventeen Seconds, the Cure made their first sprawl into smothering gothic rock. And no track on the album feels more like it’s been cursed by dark magic than A Forest. Smith has since backpedalled on the story that it was inspired by a dream he’d had as a little boy about being lost in the woods, but there is still something about it that feels like a twisted fairy tale: the organ’s ghoulish murmur, the ghostly guitars, the sudden flashes of synthesiser. “Suddenly I stop, but I know it’s too late,” pants a scared-sounding Smith. “I’m lost in a forest, all alone.” You’ll feel just as uneasy as him.

3. The Drowning Man
There has always been a literary bent to the Cure’s work: their controversial debut single Killing an Arab, for example, tapped into Albert Camus’s existentialist novella The Stranger. Smith used his bookcase for inspiration on their brilliantly melancholic third album, Faith, too, this time lifting from Mervyn Peake’s fantasy series Gormenghast. The Drowning Man’s spooky rattle is inspired by the fateful plight of Lady Fuschia Groan, who is devastated to discover that her lover, the sneaky Steerpike, is responsible for killing her father. Overcome with grief, she is perched on a windowsill when a knock on the door startles her into banging her head on the ledge and drowning. The scene is brought to life with one of the Cure’s murkiest scores, all icy splashes of noise and the hiss of snaky guitars as Smith sings her down into the watery depths: “One by one her senses die / The memories fade and leave her eyes.” He pinches and tweaks lines from Peake’s prose, too. “Everything was true / It couldn’t be a story,” he sings at one point, echoing the heartbreaking moment when Fuschia realises the evidence is overwhelming, and her betrothed is a scumbag. The truth doesn’t set her free; it is the beginning of the end.

4. One Hundred Years
Has there ever been a more terrifying start to an album than this? Listen, now, to Pornography’s desolate opener One Hundred Years, and you’ll be convinced that some spectacular storm is brewing. “It doesn’t matter if we all die!” yelps a crazed Smith as black clouds gather above, over dry clattering drums and the shrill howl of guitars. Smith has often referred to Poronography as the first instalment in a trilogy of albums that also includes Disintegration and 2000’s Bloodflowers. It’s a canny idea, but it’s possible, too, to regard it as the finale in some dread triptych that starts with Seventeen Seconds, gathers misanthropic pace with Faith and culminates here, with the Cure at their most magnificently bleak. “Stroking your hair as the patriots are shot!” barks Smith, like he’s being forced to watch gruesome images of violence à la A Clockwork Orange. “Fighting for freedom on television / Sharing the world with slaughtered pigs!” The terror doesn’t stop there, either. “The ribbon tightens around my throat / I open my mouth and my head burst open,” he yells, a rush of noise wailing dementedly behind him, before concluding: “We die one after the other / Over and over.” A song thick with frenzied fear that’s made for the end of days.

5. A Strange Day
Pornography, according to Smith, was supposed to be the “ultimate ‘fuck off’ record”, an album so unremittingly harrowing that the Cure would never be able to follow it. It certainly proved too upsetting for some. Rolling Stone, for example, memorably declared it: “the aural equivalent of a bad toothache. It isn’t the pain that irks, it’s the persistent dullness.” Think of A Strange Day, then, as some hellish hallucination brought on by the gas given to you in the dentist’s chair: the moment when Smith peers far into the future and brings back dreadful tales of the world’s end. It’s a few minutes of eerie calm among the ugly din of Pornography, with its sick, churning synthesiser and sidewinding guitar. But its subtlety doesn’t make it any less scary. In fact, it’s creepier, to hear Smith so disturbingly peaceful about what he’s seen. “Give me your eyes that I might see the blind man kissing my hands,” he sings serenely, making like a feverish Colonel Kurtz. “The sun is humming / My head turns to dust as he plays on his knees.” The horror, the horror.

6. In Between Days
It’s easy to play the snobby masochist when it comes to the Cure, and insist that only the painful, poisonous songs matter. But there’s a huge thrill, too, in hearing Smith make wonderful pop music that can touch bright young things out in the real world, too, and not just the sulky recluses hiding in their bedrooms. After reaching morbid saturation with Pornography, the band turned briefly to strange psychedelia on 1984’s The Top, before releasing the sleek and dreamy The Head on the Door in 1985. “Yesterday I got so old / I felt like I could die,” Smith sighs wistfully on the sublime In Between Days, but he’s not singing with the same apocalyptic glee that he did on One Hundred Years: this is warm and bittersweet, streaked with regret and remorse and lost love. And where once there were dense, nightmarish soundscapes that smothered your ears, there is now bouncy bass and a gorgeous melody that is free to skid and slide around. “Go on, go on, just walk away / Your choice is made,” pouts Smith, cutting off his nose to spite an ex. But he can’t hide just how hopeless he is without her: “Yesterday I got so scared / I shivered like a child.”

7. Just Like Heaven
And now for another of the Cure’s giddy wonders, as Smith uses the slushy memory of a seaside jaunt he took with his then girlfriend, now wife, Mary Poole, and turns it into a soppy love song. Smith has claimed that the first verse (“Show me how you do that trick / The one that makes me scream”) is rooted in boyhood memories of practising magic, and Just Like Heaven feels like it’s the result of some sorcery to flush the senses: the fuzziest corner of the Cure’s friendliest album, 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, it’s a tinselly spell of buttery guitars and glistening melodies. And Smith, far from playing the doom-mongering prophet, comes on like a lovesick hobbledehoy; he’s so smitten that a simple snog turns him into a wheezy mess. “Spinning on that dizzy edge / I kissed her face and kissed her head / And dreamed of all the different ways I had to make her glow.” Unabashedly lovely.

8. The Same Deep Water as You
By 1988, Smith was terrified. He was about to turn 30 and felt he still hadn’t released a masterpiece. Relationships within the band were sour, too. Founding member Lol Tolhurst had been drinking so heavily during their last tour that they’d had to recruit a second keyboardist to carry his load. This, decided Smith, wouldn’t do at all. Working by himself and taking lots of LSD, he wrote the bulk of Disintegration, and if making the LP didn’t heal all wounds (Smith took a monk-like vow of silence and refused to talk to his band; Tolhurst was fired during the mixing) it is arguably their loftiest peak. It’s often hailed as a sequel to the torrid sounds of Pornography and a rejection of Kiss Me’s brighter charms, but I’ve always felt it couldn’t exist without either; that if the Cure hadn’t learnt to write those catchier, stadium-sized songs, they’d never have been able to roll all that misery and melodrama into the sweet, sinister ball they do here. And unlike Pornography, Disintegration is beautiful: an album of twinkling beauty and glacial grandeur, from the frosty chimes of Pictures of You to the spacious, whispered menace of Lullaby.

The Same Deep Water as You, meanwhile, is one of the Cure’s most breathtaking compositions: for nearly 10 treacherous minutes Smith slides deeper into a treacherous love affair until he slowly slips under the surface. “It’s lower now and slower now / The strangest twist upon your lips,” he sings out from among the slithering keyboards and sepulchral guitars, readying himself to answer the siren’s call. “I will kiss you / And we shall be together.” Listen with your eyes shut and it’ll make you shiver.

9. Fascination Street
I still don’t think I’ve ever heard anything as deadly as Fascination Street. It all starts with that intro: the dangerous throb of rumbling bass and writhing, gliding guitars, as wickedly seductive as anything the Cure have ever done, that rolls on for nearly two-and-a-half decadent minutes. By the time Smith finally starts to sing, he sounds impatient, as if being part of that preamble has made him tired and testy. “It’s opening time down on Fascination Street,” he yelps, his voice frayed around the edges. “So let’s cut the conversation and get out for a bit.”

Like much of Disintegration, it comes from a dark place, inspired by Smith’s fatigue at the prospect of a night out on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. “I was getting ready to go there and I thought, ‘What the fuck do I think I’m going to find?’” he said. “It’s about the incredulity that I could still be fooled into looking for a perfect moment.” That’s why everything here sounds like it’s just turned nasty, as if all the optimism has curdled and soured. “I feel it all fading and paling and I’m begging / To drag you down with me to kick the last nail in,” begs an increasingly tetchy Smith, while the music behind him grows steadily sleazier and seedier. “Pull on your hair / Pull on your pout,” he sings later, but the game’s already up: he knows he’s desperately trying to force a moment that’s never going to come.

10. This Twilight Garden
Since Disintegration, the Cure have often been good but they’ve seldom been great. 1992’s Wish is solid but unspectacular; Bloodflowers, released in 2000, falls short of matching Pornography and Disintegration’s exhilarating doom. Both 1996’s Wild Mood Swings and 2004’s self-titled LP are decent but patchy, and 2008’s 4:13 Dream is scuppered by fussy production. Look beyond the studio albums, though, and you’ll find their most essential release of the past 20-odd years: the marvellous B-sides compilation Join the Dots.

Some of the Cure’s best moments have taken place off-album, whether it’s classic B-sides like The Exploding Boy and A Chain of Flowers, standalone singles such as The Lovecats or extra-curricular projects like Burn, recorded for the soundtrack of macabre fantasy film The Crow. But the ethereal This Twilight Garden, the B-side to Wish-era single High, stands out to me for another reason: it’s a fork in the road, a chance not taken, a tantalising glimpse of a sound that the Cure could, and perhaps should, have followed further. Unlike the harsh, horrifying worlds they’re often lauded for creating, it is dreamy and delicate, with echoey guitars and soft pillows of rippling noise that you want to hunker down and hide away in. “No one will ever take your place / I am lost in you,” croons Smith. Robert, I know exactly how you feel.


  1. My top 10 Cure songs probably change daily, but This Twilight Garden is always hovering nearby. Great read.

    1. My top 10 Cure songs are pretty much the last 10 Cure songs I heard...Unless I happened to hear Dreadsong.

  2. I enjoyed reading this list, even if I don't entirely agree with it.

    I find it funny that Same Deep Water as you is almost 10 minutes...I remember it only being 3-4 minutes tops.

    Also This Twilight Garden has featured so heavily in my play lists that I had forgotten it was a b-side.

  3. Journalist is bang on about his criticism of 4:13 Dream, production wise it's terrible (as are about 50% of the songs sadly)

  4. Yet and still, the Cure's lesser songs are so much better than most other band's best. Nice list. Enjoyed reading.

  5. I don't have a top 10 list but my favourite is Watching me fall. For me one of the best songs ever...

    4:13 Dream is more like a nightmare.

  6. Wow he's really on about that pornography nonsense. I forgot about how weird the Cure aspired to be. I mean I know that's obvious but my favorite mental version of the Cure is the weirdest one and the one that would get right to the existential point of the reasons why.

  7. I love this persons writing. I never actually paid much attention to Fascination St lyrics, more like I was thinking about prayers and deep water but that explanation of Fas.St was fascinationing.

  8. Makes me feel like going to New Orleans... the windy city of dreams that never sleeps

  9. 2 late is one of the best b-sides, in my opinion.