Category Archives: Cure

The Cure Discography

Happiness is a sickness. This is The Cure. The band started out as proto-punks with the promising Three Imaginary Boys, but really found their moping stride on the dark, gothic Seventeen Seconds. Faith and Pornography followed, powerful albums that represented some of the gloomiest music this side of Joy Division.

Pornography nearly broke the band. Instead, they re-formed around Robert Smith and Laurence Tolhurst to record brighter music that mixed dark internal musings with giddy arrangements: “Let’s Go To Bed,” “The Walk,” “The Love Cats,” “The Caterpillar.” Head On The Door provided something of a commercial breakthrough for the band, aided in part by music videos that introduced many viewers to Robert Smith’s lipsticked alter ego. Since then, the band has been able to pack arenas while attracting a legion of goth-rockers (and plain music lovers) around them.

Along with The Smiths, The Cure turned self-examination into an art form. They also provided  the disenfranchised, misunderstood, neurotic and painfully shy with a wonderful soundtrack for our perfectly tragic lives. Thank you. We wouldn’t have wished it any other way.

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The Cure: Three Imaginary Boys (1979)

Kronomyth 1.0: PUNKICILLIN. A lot of new wave bands started out as punks: Adam and The Ants, The Damned, The Stranglers, XTC. I’d even throw The Police and Devo into that group. The Cure, however, started as a really good punk band. Three Imaginary Boys, their first record, is one of the best records to come out of the late 70s English punk movement. “Accuracy,” “Grinding Halt” (a personal favorite of mine), “Object,” “Fire In Cairo” and “It’s Not You” are some of the best punk/pop songs this side of The Buzzcocks. The gloomy and dense Cure albums that followed have little in common with these Boys save for a few dark turns on “Subway Song,” the atmospheric “10.15 Saturday Night” (selected as the album’s single, although it’s not nearly the best song on here) and the spooky, slinky title track. Unfortunately, Three Imaginary Boys was packaged without the boys’ full approval, from the unauthorized album cover (which I actually like) to the unwanted inclusion of “Foxy Lady” (sung by Michael Dempsey and very reminiscent of XTC’s “All Along The Watchtower”) and the sloppy 12-bar blues at the end (eventually credited as the album’s thirteenth track, “The Weedy Burton”). Whether or not this is the album that Robert Smith would have released, it’s the album that launched The Cure and caught the ear of punk fans after the Pistols went silent. Despite some youthful mistakes (“So What,” “Meat Hook”), Three Imaginary Boys is a varied and very good first album of English punk with just the right amounts of attitude, energy and oddball antisocialism. It’s kind of a shame they didn’t stick with punk.

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The Cure: Seventeen Seconds (1980)

Kronomyth 2.0: A HEAVENLY SEVENTEEN. The opening argument for The Cure’s new, dark manifesto is two minutes of instrumental music that creeps like a cool mist over a moonlit cemetery. In other words, this is the first record that actually sounds like a Cure record in all of its psychedelic, gothic glory. The vision is still a little murky here, but all the familiar pieces were beginning to take shape: Robert Smith’s pained and vulnerable voice, the flanged guitars, atmospheric keyboards and seductively slinky bass lines. Songs like “A Forest,” “In Your House” and “Play For Today” begin to carve out a distinctive and effective style for The Cure that builds on the sound of contemporaries like Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Wire, and adds the gilding of a beautiful melancholy to it. The lyrical imagery invokes darkness, night and cold; lovers are lost in the forest, dreams are dead. It isn’t nihilism so much as a natural affinity for the night and the dark reflections it inspires. Suspended in the act of introspection, time loses meaning as the remembrances of sweetness and sadness are eternally savored. Seventeen years become seventeen seconds that feel like an eternity in the gothic midnight of the mind. With Laurence Tollhurst and Simon Gallup on board, the core lineup of The Cure was now intact. Subsequent albums would refine the vision, delve into darker places with lurid detail and finally emerge at the end of the mind’s tunnel into a brighter, better place. Three Imaginary Boys, as good as it is, remains something of a false start. Seventeen Seconds is the beginning of a much longer, deeper journey and a logical starting place for longtime fans.

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The Cure: Boys Don’t Cry (1980)

Kronomyth 2.5: THE CRUSH. The most important musical revolution in my lifetime was happening 3,000 miles away and all I could do was listen to late-night radio and save up money for expensive import records. Eventually, of course, the revolution was repackaged for the Americans. We got The Clash, prettied up to perfection by mixing the strongest album cuts with singles, and, soon after, Boys Don’t Cry. This compilation features a good half of Three Imaginary Boys (the better half, natch) plus the early singles, “Boys Don’t Cry” b/w “Plastic Passion,” “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” and “Killing An Arab” b/w “10:15 Saturday Night” (shorter than the elpee version). The difference between their first and second album is day and night; Seventeen Seconds is a much darker work. You wouldn’t re-encounter anything as catchy as “Fire In Cairo,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” or “Grinding Halt” for years. If you enjoy their early “punk” phase (and I do), Boys Don’t Cry makes for a better compilation than Standing On The Beach. For some reason, the compact disc reissue omits “Object” and “World War” in favor of the snotty “So What.” Future Cure fans may find some of the early punk posturing offputting (e.g., “Plastic Passion”), but the fact remains that Boys Don’t Cry delivers more Cure “hits” per square inch than any record up to Japanese Whispers. These days, an out-of-print copy will cost you the same as Three Imaginary Boys, so better to get your history straight from the source. Graybeards like myself, however, will remember this fondly as our first Cure crush.

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The Cure: Faith (1981)

“Faith was the sound of extreme desolation because that’s how we felt at the time.” – Robert Smith, in a 2011 interview.

Faith is the second in the band’s dark trilogy begun with Seventeen Seconds and ended with Pornography. In many ways, Faith is the most beautiful of their early records, rich in sonic detail, infused with delicate sympathy. It’s the enigma of Robert Smith as an artist that he could make such a lovely record out of lost faith, isolation and death (the dominant themes of Faith). “The Funeral Song,” one of two tracks that appear to be about the recent death of Ian Curtis (“Faith” would be the other), and “All Cats Are Grey,” for example, could almost pass for Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark. (Maybe OMD were darker than I gave them credit for?) From the opening of “The Holy Hour,” the music is gauzier and the production more sophisticated, at times almost hypnotic (“Other Voices”). The songs themselves are presented as dream-like vignettes that rise from a mist, take hold of a moment in time through vivid (sometimes too vivid, in the case of “Doubt”) imagery and then dissolve into the dim reality of a church bell (“The Holy Hour”) or some quiet musical coda (“All Cats Are Grey”). While Smith may not have felt that The Cure were strictly a goth band, Faith is the quintessential goth record. It elevates misery into an art form, it savors sadness as absinthe, it revels in its rejection by the world. I would tell you it’s the best thing they’ve done so far, but each new Cure album seemed to set the standard higher, and I do prefer Pornography as the perfect expression of their lurid nightmare vision. Note that the original cassette versions of Faith included the soundtrack to Ric Gallup’s short film, Carnage Visors, which The Cure used on occasion to open their shows (and an appreciation of which requires faith indeed).

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The Cure: …Happily Ever After (1981)

Kronomyth 3.5: A DOUBLE DOSE OF THE CURE. Happily Ever After brought American audiences up to speed with The Cure by fusing Seventeen Seconds and Faith on a single double elpee. It’s a big, beautiful slab of angst and sonic artistry that would have blown me away as a teenager if I’d heard it then (“Grinding Halt” had at least filtered down to me), only I don’t recall seeing this album in record stores—maybe A&M didn’t make a lot of copies, or underpromoted it, or both. Unlike the earlier Boys Don’t Cry, this is a straight repackage of their second and third albums. In fact, once out of the record sleeve, you’re essentially holding Seventeen Seconds in one hand and Faith in the other. Hearing the two records in a single setting, you can hear how The Cure managed to add new details and warmth to their music even as they pared down from a quartet to a trio. Seventeen Seconds is a dark and cold record, Faith’s is a womb-like darkness: it envelopes you, embraces you. As much as I enjoy songs like “A Forest,” Happily Ever After doesn’t really make me happy until “Primary” rolls around, and from then on it’s pure magic. Although you could grumble that A&M didn’t add anything except a new (lame) cover, at least they spared us Carnage Visors. These days, Happily Ever After is superfluous in lieu of deluxe repackages of Faith and Seventeen Seconds, although a compact disc version exists for those with fond remembrances.

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The Cure: Pornography (1982)

Kronomyth 5.0: SEX AND DEATH. The Cure continues to perfect their PoePopGothRock on Pornography, provided your definition of perfection includes gloomy, glommy ruminations on suicide and murder. With an opening line of “It doesn’t matter if we all die,” Robert Smith leads us into a strange world where paranoia and poetry play an equal part in creation. If you’ve heard any of the early Cure albums, you’ll know they’re difficult by design, with uncomfortable imagery (e.g., the slaughterhouse setting of “The Hanging Garden”) and lots of psychological self-eviscerating as Smith battles dark, uncontrollable urges in a madhouse of pounding rhythms and warped melodies. And, yes, right now you’re thinking “Add a punchbowl and you’ve got a party,” but Pornography really is a pleasure, albeit of a different kind. The opening “One Hundred Years” and “A Short Term Effect” usher the listener into a lurid world where melodies (and time) are distorted in the carnival mirrors of morbid reflection. After those two tracks, I happily followed The Cure as the music grew progressively darker, through the hanging garden, past the figurehead and into the cold, strange day. It ends at the edge of nightmares on the final, title track, where murky shapes and disembodied, discombobulated voices paint over the last exit in deep, impenetrable black. Reading later reviews of The Cure’s music, you get the sense that most listeners were happy to put the past of Pornography and Faith behind them, yet I would tell you this chapter is just as essential to appreciating the band as Head On The Door. Malady was their muse, suffering their supper, and if the giddy songs that followed were fueled by an almost desperate energy, it was because the next dark turn was right around the corner. I’d stop short of calling Pornography a great record because it is a bit of an underdone downer in the middle, but in many ways the album is an early Gothic masterpiece.

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The Cure: Japanese Whispers (1983)

Kronomyth 6.0: THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER AFTER …HAPPILY EVER AFTER. Japanese Whispers collects the trio of post-Pornography singles (“Let’s Go To Bed,” “The Walk,” “The Love Cats”) and their backsides. It represents a radical departure from the gloomy past, introducing the giddy (if still idiosyncratically analytical) sound of The Cure’s next phase. At this stage, The Cure were in a kind of stasis/hiatus, releasing singles in lieu of a proper album. But what singles they released! You’ll find the rich, dark sonic structures of the past on songs like “The Dream,” “Just One Kiss” and “Lament,” but the real story is the domesticated bliss exhibited on “Let’s Go To Bed,” “The Walk” and “The Love Cats.” They are absolutely charming, not the first word to come to mind when describing Pornography or Faith. I always had the sense, listening to Pornography, that Smith had entered an even darker world by album’s end. Apparently, he was walking toward the light at the end of a dark tunnel. Everything before Whispers is bit of a downer, really, as brilliant as it is. Beginning with “Let’s Go To Bed,” Smith and Tolhurst began writing the band’s happily ever after: manic to be sure, but driven by a secret joy inside. The image of cats/pets plays prominently in the lyrics, suggesting that Smith had indeed found some form of domestic happiness, or at least had got a pet to pass the time (they do make you happier). Maybe the band should have recorded all of their albums as singles (Head On The Door does sort of feel that way), since it brings out the sweetest side of Robert Smith. I know, Japanese Whispers is technically a singles compilation (i.e., product), but it’s an important transitional record that, for latter-day Cure fans, will speak their language more than the dark musings of the past.

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The Cure: The Head On The Door (1985)

Kronomyth 9.0: CLOSE TO PERFECT. Somewhere outside of London (?), The Smiths and Siouxsie And The Banshees were being hurled one at the other in the eye-on collider of Robert Smith’s imagination. Everyone’s favorite gothic moptop had already come a-courting on songs like “The Lovecats” and “The Caterpillar,” but even they didn’t prepare you for the sweetness of “Inbetween Days,” “Close To Me” and “Six Different Ways.” With just a few synthesizers (including the Yamaha DX-7 and E-mu Emulator II) and a five-piece band that now included drummer Boris Williams, Smith converted his boiler room of intense emotions into a psychedelic candy store of sounds. Scratch the marzipan surface and, yes, it’s still the same bitter fruit you’re chewing on: fear, anxiety, loathing. But Smith has somehow found joy in his despair, and the result on The Head On The Door is the giddy realization that we can be happy in our miserable state. It’s a liberating thought, and Smith uses his newfound freedom to expand his musical borders with some very unCure-like elements, from saxophone (“A Night Like This”) to nylon-stringed guitar (“The Blood”). The contrast between light and dark is what’s most striking on this album, and it remains a kind of fulcrum on which tastes teeter between The Cure’s dark past and their bright future. I personally love the record and think it’s the best thing they’ve done, but I’m an inveterate fence-sitter, more throw pillow than man most days. 20 years later, long after the last hope that The Cure might labor in obscure darkness again, The Head On The Door was released in a deluxe double-disc edition with home recordings, studio demos and live tracks. The handful of home recordings are illuminating and (a word I would have thought to safely sequester before writing a Cure review) charming; Smith’s informal version of “Inbetween Days” is a little slice of homespun heaven. Of the remaining demos, many of which never made it onto record, “The Exploding Boy” and “A Few Hours After This” could have become contenders for a coveted album spot. The added live tracks, which focus on the original album’s darker aspects, are interesting as well, if only because you don’t hear an audience get excited at the prospect of hearing songs called “The Blood” and “The Baby Screams” every day.

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The Cure: Standing On A Beach – The Singles (1986)

Kronomyth 10.0: LIFE’S A BEACH, AND THEN YOU DIE. Standing On A Beach collects the first 13 singles from The Cure in chronological order, which might seem a kindness but, in fact, plays out more like a gloomy history lesson. I bought this because I was in love with “The Lovecats.” I ended up playing the crap out of that song, “In Between Days” and “Close To Me.” The rest of the record is dour, difficult—in other words, exactly what you’d expect if you’d already heard albums like Faith and Pornography. Poor me, I’d just bought Head On The Door and imagined that all Cure albums sounded like that. They don’t. They’re dark, complex records that deal with difficult subjects (“The Hanging Garden”) and can seem unduly noisy (“Primary”). I did enjoy “The Caterpillar” from The Top and the unbreakable “Boys Don’t Cry,” which was re-released as a single for this album and finally charted. Yet I would ultimately rank Standing On A Beach as one of the more depressing greatest hits albums you’re likely to encounter, simply because The Cure’s early albums were so, well, depressing. On a more interesting note, this was issued in several different formats including an extended CD release (oddly re-titled Staring At The Sea) and a double cassette release that featured an album’s worth of B sides (on the off chance that you still own a cassette player). Beachcombers beware: If you’re really interested in the early Cure, pick up Seventeen Seconds, Faith or Pornography instead and leave the singles for the seagulls.

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