#6 – The Cure

It’s sometimes unsatisfying keeping a blog. I often have the experience of speaking into a void, a bottomless pit, unsure if any response I hear is just an echo. (Can you tell I’ve been listening to The Cure a lot recently?) I can check my stats, but they tell me that the most sought-after post I’ve written was my one uncharacteristic foray into stand-up comedy, and the google query that most leads readers to my site is “golden shower kite runner” (seriously, google that and my blog entry is third!). Honestly, it can get a bit dispiriting at times.

Which is why I’m dedicating this blog entry to the five people who I know for sure read my blog regularly: Jazmine, Sara, Adam and my parents. Everyone else, start leaving comments, and I’ll try to work you in to future posts. The Fab Five, though, will be receiving direct associations with various Cure songs – in a totally non-depressing way, I swear.

Before the make-up, the Cure were just another post-punk outfit from a working class British town. Hard to imagine, I know.

First up, Mom and Dad. I love you guys. Not only did your endless love provide me with a stable and supportive childhood, but your seemingly endless record/CD collection laid the foundation for the music/pop culture obsessive I have turned into. (Making you proud?) Somehow, out of the 6,000+ musical tomes I had to choose from, I one day stumbled across Staring At the Sea, the Cure’s 1986 collection of all of their singles from 1979 to its release date. I’m not sure it’s an album you all even know you have, but a lot of those songs resonated with teenaged Carter. Mostly, it wasn’t the dark depressing early 80s stuff that became the subculture-defining material of the Cure. It was their complex, rock-oriented stuff. For example, their Albert Camus-inspired “Killing an Arab” – check out this awesome live video from 1979 before all the make-up! Robert Smith looks like a young John Cusack. And the classic from that era, “Boys Don’t Cry” – shown here in 2004; what a contrast in Smith’s appearance.

There was always an edge of melancholy in the Cure’s work as these early singles show. Up through 1982’s Pornography, Smith delved more deeply into the despairing parts of his lyrical persona. And at some point, got sick of being so down all the time. With “Let’s Go to Bed,” he turned an emotional corner. Suddenly, the synthesizers were creating peppy melodies and he was at least on the verge of some companionship. On “The Love Cats” (here in a cool later acoustic version), Smith started stretching out musically with a walking jazz bassline, brushes on the snare, piano unfiltered by synths, producing something “wonderfully, wonderfully, wonderfully pretty.”

The Cure, at the height of their 80s popularity and fashion sense.

By 1985, everything coalesced into their grandest statement yet in The Head on the Door, and for that we turn to Adam. Remember Lawry, Adam, with the power hour DVD? Every time I hear “Close to Me” I think of this classic video and sitting around taking a shot of beer to it and trying to replicate those awesome handclaps. It’s one of the great singles from the 80s, and is smack dab in the middle of a fantastic album. Lead track “In Between Days” is another one of those great singles (whose name I never knew the name of) that bridges the gap between melancholy, angsty lyrics and synth-driven pop music. Yet, on this album Smith also starts developing a signature sound of the Cure’s album tracks: the lengthy introductions. Check “Push” (with a 2:23 intro before the lyrics come in…on a 4:34 song) and “Sinking” (with a 2:07 intro) as examples of a band reveling in a sonic bed, creating atmospheric musical textures without concern for solos or traditional pop song conventions.

On 1987’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, Smith took this experimentation of sound even further. “Just Like Heaven” from that album may still be the Cure’s greatest single, and I know it was a tremendous influence on Jazmine and I when we were writing songs together, sometimes even directly emulating its structure and feel. It combines the feeling of blissful love with heartaching longing, knowing that heaven is always just like a dream. And it throws an absurdly catchy melody on top of that. But the album stretched out to encompass more dark atmospheric meanderings like “The Kiss,” “Like Cockatoos” and “The Snakepit,” and laid those songs side by side with the unabashed pop of (the curiously underrated) “The Perfect Girl,” “Why Can’t I Be You?,” and “Hot Hot Hot !!!” It’s an ambitious, sprawling, schizophrenic record showing off the diversity of the Cure’s songwriting talents.

In the wake of the Great Recession, Robert Smith has had to fire his stylist and clearly lacks the capacity to care for his own personal hygiene.

Sara, for you I have “Friday I’m in Love,” which for some reason reminds of our years of carpooling across LA County. Probably because it’s on the radio all the time out there. It was the last of the Cure’s mainstream commercial successes in 1992, and the beginning of their transition to reliable elders, putting out decent if unspectacular records for the next 20 years.

But for myself, I must keep 1989’s Disintegration. It is one of the most stunning achievements of the 1980s. A spotless, cohesive masterpiece from start to finish. As the term “disintegration” implies, when listening to it, you melt into the album’s textures. It throws its arms around you, saying “There, there. Things suck, but you’re not alone.” As a hopeless romantic, “Pictures of You” is one of my favorite songs of all time – Smith’s meditation on a love disappeared and relived through memory. The shimmering guitar matches the desperate lyrics perfectly (“If only I’d known of the right words, I could’ve held onto your heart / If only I’d know of the right words, I wouldn’t be breaking apart all my pictures of you.”). But the album keeps going. “Lovesong,” their biggest US hit, has a New Order-esque melodic bassline and is a surprisingly dour testament of love to Smith’s then-new bride. “Lullaby,” with its creepy delivery and spider imagery is somehow both entirely of the 80s and utterly timeless. The arrangement is intricate and subtle, and Smith is at his best. And album tracks like the 9-minute “The Same Deep Water as You” (complete with rain and thunder bookends) build clear emotional portraits that transcend language.

Disintegration is the reason that, despite peppy pop songs like “Friday I’m in Love” or “Just Like Heaven,” the Cure will always be synonymous with goth culture, despair, longing and angst. So many of the band’s followers identified with those feelings as teenagers, but failed to understand that this was the despair of a mature adult, grappling with universal issues of identity and longing in a mature, adult way. The legions have imitators (like My Chemical Romance) often stay situated in the teenage realm and fail to achieve the deep, raw emotional connection of The Cure, trapped forever in the superficial ennui of adolescence. The Cure’s legacy is multifarious and vast, but their output may never be replicated. They are singular icons, deserving of a place in the canon of rock history.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Aurora on November 9, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    For the record, I read regularly but never post comments. I have your blog on my google reader (thanks for showing me that btw!). I was just thinking about your Joy Division/New Order post this morning on my way to work and trying to come up with my pro-Joy Division arguments.


  2. Posted by peter on November 9, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Thanks for the kind words…I didn’t know we had that album…we do have so many…glad it was discovered by you and obviously put to good use. I always liked the cure…never thought about the R&R hall of fame for them…but I won’t deny their creds…I’m trying to guess what #5 is…


  3. Hooray, thanks for the shoutout! I appreciate being associated with “Just Like Heaven” which is truly a fantastic song. I also really liked that acoustic version of Love Cats you posted.

    I have to second the love for Disintegration, which is definitely my favorite Cure album. It pretty much perfectly straddles the line between their more brooding atmospheric elements and their excellent pop sensibilities. I particularly love the title track, which is one of my favorite Cure songs. “I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery, stains on the carpet and stains on the scenery/ Songs about happiness murmured in dreams, but both of knew how the ending would be.”

    Ahh, gets me every time.


  4. Posted by Derick on November 11, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I Will Be Heard Yet!!

    Though you neglected to put me in your Cure post (was it the Anti-Rush Sentiment?! Because when it comes to overwrought teenage emotional unpredictability I am the KING of this family!) I will force myself into it:
    I give to Derick Pictures of You, because if perfectly fills the “Sensitive song filled with tenderness and heart that will perfectly encapsulate how it will feel once you leave me” spot on ALL of his romantic Mix CDs from high school (and even his year off).

    Well…I can’t fault you for not knowing that about me so instead I will give myself this:

    Though I already parted with Close to Me, I will give away the Close To Me (Closer Mix) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phMX4DBafG4
    a bizarrely laid back and 90s version of the now classic song.

    no thats not quite right either.

    I can’t take Boys Don’t Cry because thats on Staring at the Sea (Mom and Dad get the Whole album?! the WHOLE album?!!?! Come On!!).

    okay…. I’ll dig into their ” decent if unspectacular records” for my pick… I give myself this:

    To Derick I leave the song Mint Car (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08eGLLM27to) the best track from their 1996 album Wild Mood Swings (Perfect Cure album name!) which his senior year girlfriend put on a mix CD around the apex of their romance. Few Songs of The Cure reflect the sunny beautiful attitude that Robert Smith must have kept about love. Derick is halfway through a road trip extravaganza and I know the sun will shine on his Mint Car (okay, its powder blue but still) and hopefully his relationship as well.

    there, that feels better. Its a little cheezy but hey, I’m not the one with a blog.


    • Awesome, bro! Nice writing, and good song suggestion. I’ve never heard this one and it is shockingly positive for anyone, let alone Robert Smith. Thanks!


  5. Posted by Sara on November 11, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    aw, look at you! you’re too nice. I do happen to love “friday I’m in love” — I’m sure we’ve bopped around to that in the car countless times. though I will say that “pictures of you” is one of my all-time favorites as well… I couldn’t agree with your breakdown of it more. when I worked in the pomo theatre dept doing lighting freshman year, the master electrician played the same mix cd of of his favorite the cure songs over and over and over and over for months… and even that couldn’t kill my love for this band.
    I can’t believe they’re not already in the rrhof… shocking! do you remember in the office when we discovered that someone (was it koko?) had never heard of the cure? what a heartbreaking day.
    and what a great post! much love!


  6. Posted by Face Head on August 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    John Cusack should play Robert Smith if ever there’s a Cure rockumentary.


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