Back in the mid 1980s, I heard about this amazing band, they had been around awhile but they were part of this weird early 80s band that teenagers seemed to like. Were they post punk, British synth, heavy metal – what exactly were they? But again, they did not fit neatly into any category. Their early hits did not sound a lot like the sound that would evolved by the end of the decade. It would transition from glossy pop-rock to darker, goth-rock. This yin and yang of dueling pop and goth personas would be with the band throughout their career.
I didn’t really pay attention until Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987) arrived. It was a big seller and gave the band a much higher profile. Looking back on it, the band seemed to want to cover an expanding amount of ground. It had pop songs but also a variety styles. It seemed more commercial than their previous albums, it was on the right track, but it lacked the kind of depth the band would soon find.
Two years later, Disintegration arrived and any questions about whether this band had the juice were answered.
Disintegration is a masterpiece of goth-rock. I hate to use the label because this album covers a much wider soundscape. If you listen to that CD from beginning to end, you hear a symphony of dissonance feelings and downward descending emotional dreams. Disintegration always reminds me of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti in tone, which seemed to take the blues, and shred it through the black magic/satanic grinder with minor chords and dark atmospheric tones.
Disintegration starts with a slow, downbeat song, illustrating the mood to follow. Most of the songs on the CD have very strong melodic structures, even if the notes descend in darkness. I’ve read that Cure’s leader Robert Smith, was determined to skip the pop lightness of the previous CD and return to the gloom of their earlier period. He succeeded.
If you can make it to song four, “Lovesong”, you’ve hit pay dirt. It is still moody, but the music is glorious in its construction. It contains several melodic runs that pull you into the song. “Lullaby” and “Fascination Street” follow to keep the vibe going. Most songs click in at six to seven minutes and wear you out emotionally by the end of the disc.
The sessions for Disintegration yielded enough material for extra tracks on the CD singles. These are worth collecting. The 2010 release contains an entire concert and a disc of rarities including all of these extra tracks. If you are a fan of this album, get the rarities.
In 1990, the record label released Mixed-Up, a CD of remixed tracks. For the completist, this is an interesting collection of songs covering their career.
Wish (1992) was a return to livelier, more upbeat music. Smith even managed to write a pop song in “Friday I’m In Love” and a bouncy rocker in “High.” Smith did not abandoned the Cure’s darker sound (“Apart”, “Trust) but toned it down a notch and offered a bit more variety. The opening chords of “Open” even with serious musical riffs give you a slightly more open feeling than the lower gear of Disintegration.
In 1993, the Cure released two live CDs, each focused on their two different sounds. Paris included more of their dark material, and Show had a poppier vibe.
Wild Mood Swings arrived in 1996, and it was worth the wait. Strangely, reviews were mixed and sales were disappointing. Hardcore fans wondered what happened to the band. Part of the answer was in the departures of several longtime members left. There was also a four-year break after Wish, which is not always a positive sign. Wish was not the more typical return to goth/rock follow a more commercial pop release. Wild Mood Swings has the most eclectic mix of songs they’ve ever recorded. I recommend this album because of the diversity, where other fans stayed away. The opening guitar notes of “Want” sound like a slowed down siren repeating throughout the song. “This is a Lie” is refreshing, built on a synth riff like a merry-go-round. “The 13th” is a bouncy horn and guitar ditty, unlike anything the Cure has done in awhile. “Strange Attraction” is very pop song, which does not seem to go over with hardcore fans. The same for “Mint Car” which sounds more like the Jam or the Style Council of the 1980s. The familiar dark songs are done without several layers of atmospheric dread, like “Numb,” and fans stayed away. “Treasure” is quite beautiful.
Bloodflowers (2000) Much like Disintegration, except brighter and bristling with energy, Bloodflowers is a high water mark for Robert Smith and band. This album has a rich and deep sonic soundscape, meaning layers of synthesizers and guitars, swirling instruments and quirky guitar fills. Even the slower, murkier songs do not pull you into the undertow of dread and darkness. For me, this is a superb blending of goth with brighter, but restrained, energetic rock. The Cure almost invented a new style of goth-progressive rock with complex arrangements that went beyond the conventional rock song structure into directions that bands like Yes and ELP explored – different styles of music, but bravely bending the boundaries of classical and jazz musical structures. “There is No If…” is a beautifully sad ballad, but very heartfelt and musically accessible. A song like “The Last Day of Summer” with a soft acoustic foundation and guitar fills almost paints a romantic tale with the beautiful guitar and piano playing. Smith does a great thing on this album, letting the guitars breath, each one has an interesting series of effects that are distinguishable and bring out the great sonic qualities in each song. “Where the Birds Always Sing” is one example, the musicianship is phenomenal, the layers of guitars shimmer with exotic tones and rhythms. Smith mixes more acoustic guitars into his instrumental mix as one layer of his soundscapes, using electric guitars for fills, leads and ringing effects. The lead song, “Out of This World” opens with a long instrumental into, Smith singing so softly you can almost miss what he is saying, he lets the piano rolls and phased guitars gently rock you along. But don’t think this is a wimpy album, there is thunder in songs like “Watch Me Fall” and “Bloodflowers.” Maybe you see why I like this album so much.
The Cure (2004) I found this album to be rather light weight, certainly lighter than Bloodflowers, but not as good. I’ve read people compare this group of songs to Wish in terms of tone, maybe true, but the songs are not as strong. “End of the World” and “Anniversary” are quite good, but the entire album feels incomplete compared to past albums.
4:13 Dream (2007) The last Cure album to date. “Under the Stars” A stripped down sound, but emotionally powerful song. “New York Trip” is a song that sounds familiar, like they’ve done this before, with very trippy guitar work. “The Reasons Why” is another song that sound vaguely familiar, very good guitar and vocal work, and easily one of the best tracks on the album. “Freakshow” has very psychedelic guitar work, very wah-wah, and a bouncy beat. “Siren Song” hearkens back to the quieter, distortion drenched songs on Disintegration. “The Real Snow White” has a really neat guitar riff as does “The Hungry Ghost.” The Cure can still write a nice single like “The Perfect Boy.” Overall, not their best album, some originality, but mostly you’ve heard these songs in other forms, but there is plenty to like here. For a band that has such a long legacy, it in inevitable that some of the sound and lyrics feel recycled. The album focuses on some variations in beat, with a very active bass line leading the way. Smith unleashes the aggressive and distorted guitar all over the album.
The Cure were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. Will there be more new music from the Cure? Probably, but time will tell.