The Cure: “Primary” (1981)

The Bunnymen had their drum machine and The Cure have their flanger pedal on this opening salvo from Faith.

Kronomyth 2.9: BFF 2B 4ever.

All hail the mighty Boss BF-2B Bass Flanger pedal! Seriously, I remember when my brother bought his first flanger pedal and, yeah, it’s kind of hard not to fall in love with it in the beginning. I mean, everything sounds sooo deep with a flanger, every note resonates with meaning. You sort of get full of yourself. I would tell you that The Cure are totally full of it here, but it’s hard to argue with two flanged bass guitars; it’s like standing between Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell in a nightclub.

Primary originally started out in a less claustrophobic form that referenced primary colors (thus the title). You can hear that version on The Peel Sessions. It got darker by the time Faith appeared, and the closing reference to children dressed in red and yellow sleeping in a blue room is the only thematic link left. As I understand it, the song is about a man who sees his children sleeping and looks back over his marriage with regret. Then again, Robert Smith was only 22 years old, so maybe it means something entirely different. At any rate, the picture sleeve and subsequent music video featuring three girls is likely a red, yellow and blue herring.

The band tacked on an instrumental bit, Descent, for the B side. No lyrics, no polish, just the ever-present flanger. It might have become the sketch of something good to come, but here it’s just a few minutes of random music. “Another Journey By Train,” the flip side from “A Forest,” was more or less the same. The Cure didn’t really have a great track record where B sides were concerned.

Note that a 12-inch single featured an extended version of “Primary” that simply extends the instrumental sections between verses. Bassically, they slow their steps and things start to blur…

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Original 7-inch single version

A1. Primary (Robert Smith/Laurence Tolhurst/Simon Gallup)
B1. Descent (Robert Smith/Laurence Tolhurst/Simon Gallup)

Original 12-inch single version
A1. Primary (12-inch mix) (Robert Smith/Laurence Tolhurst/Simon Gallup)
B1. Descent (Robert Smith/Laurence Tolhurst/Simon Gallup)

The Players

Simon Gallup (bass), Robert Smith (bass, guitar, voice), Laurence Tolhurst (drums). Produced by Michael Hedges and Robert Smith.

The Pictures

Cover by Porl and Undy.

The Plastic

Released on 7-inch and 12-inch single on March 20, 1981 in the UK (Fiction, FICS/FICSX 12), Australia (7 Records, MS-480) and New Zealand (Stunn, BFA 014) with picture sleeve; reached #43 on the UK charts (charted on April 4, 1981 for 6 weeks).

1 thought on “The Cure: “Primary” (1981)

  1. I love that you named the flanger pedal and pointed out how mesmerizing they can be and possibly (probably) overuse. Primary is one of my favorite tracks, but their heavy use of flangers in A Forest is way more sublime, to me.

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