The Cure – Top Ten ahead of 2016 tour

30 years of gloomy splendour

30 years of gloomy splendour

With a 2016 tour announced and rumours of new material it looks like The Cure are back. Getintothis’ Del Pike looks back on their illustrious career and compiles a career-spanning Top Ten.

The word is out, The Cure are back.  The black-clad legends, fronted by the Gothfather himself Robert Smith, have announced that they are taking to the road once more on their first major tour since 2008. They have announced London and Manchester dates for next December (see below).

The Cure have made a career out of dividing audiences since they released their debut album Three Imaginary Boys in 1979; a stark, low-fi offering crammed tight with edgy, angular tunes, a cranky Hendrix cover and an instant classic in the form of 10:15 Saturday Night. The album formed a template for indie bands everywhere, such as Hot Hot Heat, who could almost have been a Canadian Three Imaginary Boys tribute band.

Anyone who thought they knew The Cure on the basis of this album couldn’t have been further from the truth. Their following three albums Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography were exercises in epic funereal splendour, each album growing darker as Smith spiralled into deep depression. 1982’s Pornography, a classic by anyone’s standards, is still as horrific and blood-curdling as it was on its release.  One Hundred Years feels (as its lyrics suggest) ‘like a hundred years’.  The pounding drums of lead single The Hanging Garden punctuate images of dying animals and shapeless creatures kissing in the rain – hell on earth.

Always eager to catch their listener unawares, their first notable chart hit, the Radio One-friendly The Lovecats, spun another massive curveball. Suicide-inducing laments were replaced by an insanely jazzy pop hit that saw the previously morose Smith swinging away in a red polka dot shirt, jigging about with stuffed cats. This alternating between jolly and bleak made it hard for anyone other than die-hards to keep up, but ensured comparative mainstream success with their follow up albums The Top and The Head on the Door. The latter, released 30 years ago this year, contained two of their landmark singles Inbetween Days and Close To Me and cemented their status as international stadium fillers, as their concert film The Cure in Orange testifies.

1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was their White Album of sorts, a sprawling double album that much like The Beatles’ effort covers many genres. The 18 tracks include heavy rock, light pop, jazz and heart-breaking balladry. Just Like Heaven might have been their most perfect love song yet and was duly covered, with good grace, by Dinosaur Jnr.

1989’s Disintegration, a career highpoint, was a return to the doom-laden trilogy of the early 80s and lush singles Lullaby and Lovesong aside, was as harrowing in parts as Pornography and Faith. The album’s centrepiece, The Same Deep Water As You, an invitation to join Smith for one last breath in his still pool, is as beautiful as it is disturbing.

The early 90s proved uneven with the multi-genre Wish not quite hitting the same mark as Kiss Me… managed and Wild Mood Swings almost failed on every level. 2000’s Bloodflowers made amends with another exercise in the gloomy Pornography/Disintegration and formed the third piece in the live Trilogy tour with those earlier classics. The self-titled The Cure in 2004 reflected the Lollapalooza generation with production by Alice in Chains and Slipknot producer Ross Robinson. 

Attracting a younger audience, The Cure felt too American and was their first album for Geffen after leaving career-long label Fiction. Their last album, 2008’s 4:13 Dream, was a return to form of sorts but would have benefited from shedding some of the weaker, formulaic tracks. Smith claimed it should have been longer and word has it that their promised new material may include leftovers from these sessions. Hmmm.

The promise of new material on the tour has also prompted rumours of a new album, which can’t be a bad thing; anything new from the mighty Cure has to better than simply a greatest hits tour. With speculation already about what will be played live, now is as good a time as any to look back on the varied and weirdly wonderful world of Robert Smith and attempt the almost impossible task of compiling a Top Ten.  Here goes…

  1. The Lovecats from Japanese Whispers (1983)

A thorn in the side of many a Cure fan, this over-joyous single featured on the mini compilation Japanese Whispers, a collection of three singles and their B-sides. Going against the grain of all that preceded it, The Lovecats proved to be a massive mainstream hit with its infectious jazz pop and mad as a lorry video. Over three decades on, even the most mean-spirited of Cure fans cannot fail to tap a toe when this pops up on the radio.

A later attempt to jolly up the charts with Friday I’m In Love in 1992 attracted a mainstream audience who probably didn’t know The Cure from Adam (Ant?) and it continues to fool listeners into thinking they know the band on the basis of this hit. This is why, rather churlishly, you won’t find Friday… on this list.

  1. From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea from Wish (1992)

For those only familiar with Cure singles, a whole sonic world exists outside of their knowledge: Robert Smith’s art of heart-wrenching, rain soaked agony.  These are songs that rip apart the very fabric of human relationships, couples laying their souls bare to one another and screaming out in pain at what they’ve become.  This track from their uneasy 1992 album Wish is a fine example of Smith decrying his undying love for a girl who he just shouldn’t be with, one who is tearing him apart each day.  Listen to this in the right mood and you might just shed a tear.

  1. Close To Me from The Head on the Door (1985)

An almost perfect Cure single that finds Smith singing a song about a claustrophobic relationship that is literally suffocating him. Hidden as it is behind plinky guitars, handclaps and heavy breathing, it could just as easily be about a kickabout in the park – the simplicity of the arrangement hides the genius within. A zeitgeist 80s video too sees the band locked inside a wardrobe teetering on a cliff and finally falling into the sea below. The 1990 re-release saw them swim out of the wardrobe 15 years later and dance with fish.

  1. A Forest from Seventeen Seconds (1980)

One of the first Cure singles to nudge the charts, A Forest finds them in deepest darkest woodlands, where the trees are so close as to smother the listener. An eerie experience even now, as Smith’s ghostly vocals whisper ‘into the trees’ repeatedly against the methodical drumming of Lol Tolhurst. An example of how The Cure at their finest can draw you into their cold world, as a spider catches a fly, and hold you there until you can just about bear it.

  1. The Same Deep Water As You from Disintegration (1989)

The wonderful Disintegration album proved to be the antithesis of the Madchester era. Whilst those who left the house enjoyed the Happy Mondays and Stone Roses, pale bedroom-dwellers listened to Disintegration. This is not to denigrate the album in any way; this gothic masterpiece is indeed The Cure’s finest achievement. At the centre of this swirling dream of spiders and loss comes a song so harrowing and hypnotic it is almost unbearable. Smith stands in a pool of water, beckoning his lover to join with him in a dance of death. The arrangement, played out against a rainstorm, is the most beautiful sound The Cure has ever made. Meant to be listened to on dark winter nights, wrapped up warm with the window open.

  1. One Hundred Years from Pornography (1982)

Any song from The Cure’s 1982 prayer to death Pornography would befit a place in this list. The weird and wonderful A Strange Day or the tribal The Hanging Garden would be fine, but One Hundred Years is the one. Darker than anything before or after, this century-long descent into hell is a reflection of Robert Smith‘s unyielding depression and is a painful but necessary listen. One hundred years away from Friday I’m in Love, yet only one year before The Lovecats.

  1. 10.15 Saturday Night from Three Imaginary Boys (1979)

From the tapping drum sticks and single-string picking to the metronomic beat that drives through the remainder of this incredible opening track of their debut album, this was a class arrival. Almost a novelty record if it wasn’t so bleak, with its ‘and the tap drips, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip’ refrain.  Mentioned by Michael Head in Shack’s John Kline, so it must be good.  An exercise in how to write a brilliant, brilliant song and throw it straight in as a debut. Brave, raw and marvellous.

  1. Boys Don’t Cry from Boys Don’t Cry (1980)

This standalone single from 1979, that doesn’t really sound anything like the material on the first two albums it is sandwiched between, became something of a cult hit. A U.S. release of the Three Imaginary Boys album, retitled Boys Don’t Cry and with a readjusted and edited track list, brought this tune to the Britain’s attention when the album was granted a UK release in 1980. A 1986 remix released to promote the brilliant Standing On a Beach compilation brought a legendary kids miming video, and an iconic sleeve of a rear view of Smith that would adorn posters and t-shirts til’ Kingdom Come.  Strangely the original cut of the song appeared on the album it existed to promote.  An indie landmark that is great to dance to. Try it.

  1. Inbetween Days from The Head on the Door (1985)

A perfect pop song, simple as. Only Robert Smith could make an opening lyric like ‘Yesterday I felt so old I felt like I could die’, sound so jubilant. With its swirling washing machine of a video, this opening track from one of their very finest albums is faultless. This also presented the iconic image of Smith that we all recognise with his energetic shock of hair, smeared lips and baggy suit. If you were lucky enough to be about 18 when this came out, you’ll appreciate how important this single was. Totally of the time and yet timeless all at the same time.  You know what we mean.

  1. Just Like Heaven from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)

The heavy, gothy Cure also do the best love songs, if you just take the time to find out.  This is quite simply one of the finest ever written.  Written by Smith as a wedding present for his beloved Mary, the song is almost a re-telling of the Little Mermaid story. Smith finds a girl who makes him insanely happy. She appears from seemingly nowhere, promises him the world and after a night of kissing and dancing he wakes on the shore, only to find the sea has taken her away. It plays out like a dream in which you fall completely in love with a creature of your own imagining only to wake and feel the reality of lost love. A song guaranteed to make you smile and put on repeat, it may not have the integrity and weight of other Cure songs, but neither is it dumb. New Order shamelessly stole the melody on All the Way from their 1989 Technique album, more homage than theft we like to think.

UK dates for The Cure’s 2016 tour are Manchester Arena – November 29 / London Wembley Arena – Dec 1 with support from The Twilight Sad.