I decided recently to try whenever possible to listen to the discography of the bands I am about to see live a) not to look ridiculous when the people beside you sing by heart all the words of the most famous songs of that group b) to have a bit of perspective and enjoy in due respect the set list I am going to hear.
I did it for Wilco (cf. show review) but also for The Cure who were playing in London Wembley Arena as part of the current world tour. But first let’s focus on their studio discography.
Three Imaginary Boys (1979): A bit like the first U2 LP, I would recommend to listen to this record on its own, i.e. not anticipating any future evolution or sign of greatness for the band. And a good record it is! One can find in this first LP the influences of the times in a post-punk vein to make it short. But the pink lamp/fridge/hoover cover and also the way songs are structured show that this band is different from their peers. There is nothing goth or any other ludicrous label associated with this band but one can already feel a singularity in these stories, associated with a very lean trio dynamic. You will also find in this album probably the less groovy ever Jimi Hendrix cover (“Foxy Lady”)…but as well one of the best. A very promising debut, still great to listen to after all these years. Best tracks: “10:15 Saturday Night”, “Meathook” and “Three Imaginary Boys”. 8/10
Seventeen Seconds (1980): The first record of the so-called gloomy trilogy but in reality there are as many similarities with the first record than with those to come later. The band and their leader Robert Smith are not reaching greatness yet…but it does not mean this record does not stay on its own. One can feel the start of a very personal atmosphere in music but never at the expense of a sense of melody and commercial potential. There are a few standards that will stay forever in all The Cure’s sets and this is probably the first album where one can hear Robert Smith’s very original guitar sound. By the way, I have never understood why he is regularly forgotten when one mentions guitar’s main innovators… Best tracks: “Play for Today” , “A Forest” and “Seventeen Seconds”. 8.5/10
Faith (1981): Faith could be considered as the first The Cure album where one can find their very personal atmosphere and overall themes. This is the place where Robert Smith starts to be a really singular voice and the moment when people realised that there was more than a standard post-punk band. It is very difficult to distinguish a track above the rest as this album is very much a moody one. Having said this, “Primary” remains one of the best songs ever. Another very singular factor is the use of a 6-string bass, which gives this scary and warm sound throughout the record. Not a bad place for those who want to start with a record by The Cure. Best tracks: “Primary”, “Other Voices” and “Faith”. 9/10
Pornography (1982): This LP is a peak in The Cure’s discography but also one of the best of all times in rock history, period. This is not the kind of music one would play at a dinner’s party unless your friends are goth or unless you want to part ways with not so good friends as each one of the eight tracks here is very intense and deserves to be listened to with concentration and almost worship. The quick and easy thing to say is that this is the final step in the Seventeen Seconds/Faith/Pornography trilogy but the reality is more complex. Robert Smith had to take a step backwards after this album as he was touching a kind of limit in his commitment. This is what he did by touring as a guitarist with Siouxsie and the Banshees and by working with Steve Severin on their side project The Glove before returning to something less heavy with The Cure. Best tracks: “One Hundred Years”, “The Hanging Garden” and “Pornography”. 10/10
The Top (1984): “The Top” is probably my preferred album by The Cure and I admit I must be one of the few here. It is commonly agreed amongst rock critics that this is a transitional album and that it was more a Robert Smith/ Lol Tolhurst record than anything else. It came also after the pop/jazz singles period favoured by the band with tracks such as “Let’s Go to Bed”, “The Lovecats” or “The Walk” (all collected on the excellent compilation “Japanese Whispers”). However, for me, this album is close to a perfect balance between Robert Smith’s pop sensitivities, a tough atmosphere inherited from the trilogy described above but also new sounds (Spanish guitar, middle-eastern moods, etc…). Close to perfect and as fresh now as when it went out. Best tracks: “Shake Dog Shake”, “Birdmad Girl” and “The Caterpillar”. 10/10
The Head On The Door (1985): For you French readers, if you were interested by rock and pop music at that time, it probably brings back memories. This was indeed the album with which The Cure became famous there. It was due in particular to the song “In Between Days” and its accompanying clip which could be seen in heavy rotation on tv but also for those facts always difficult to analyse when a so-called underground band becomes massive: right timing, more mature sound, one radio hit (hello R.E.M….). Quite a good album but not my favourite of theirs as to me the sound is indeed too polished and perfect. Difficult to explain really…knowing that there are a few songs in this album which are amongst their best. Best tracks: “Close To Me”, “A Night Like This” and “Sinking”. 8/10
Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (1987): This record was probably the most expected one of The Cure’s discography as it came two years after the huge global success of “The Head of the Door”. Would Robert Smith and his band become a pop band far from the underground beginnings or would The Cure go back to their original sound? My feeling by listening to this record again is that the band came back with a sort of gentle middle finger, meaning let’s go back with a 18-track double album where we will play whatever style of music we enjoy. But let’s be clear here: this is not a vibe/jam sort of album as the 18 songs stand on their own and can still be played and enjoyed today in live gigs. Of course, there are a few moments of relative weakness but the overall quality and diversity is amazing. Take the first two songs as an example: you have first the deep and demanding “The Kiss” with its 3.52 seconds wah-wah guitar solo intro and then the beautiful pop song “Catch”. The album goes on like this throughout all the tracks and deserves to be listened again in one go to get an immense rewarding pleasure. Best tracks: “The Kiss”, “How Beautiful You Are…” and “Just Like Heaven”. 9.5/10
Disintegration (1989): Their last album from the 80’s…and their best ever? Although The Cure started in the 70’s and are still well alive, especially on stage, they will forever be considered as a typical 80’s band. …and what better way than ending that decade than with such a masterpiece? This record is probably that where Robert Smith and his band perfected at best the art of creating amazing songs without losing their pop side. All twelve tracks (with an average length of 6 minutes!) are beautiful and fascinating and the three tracks I kept below could change on a daily basis depending on the mood of the day. As mentioned in South Park, is “Disintegration” the best album ever? Best tracks: “Lovesong”, “Fascination Street” and “Disintegration”. 10.5/10
Wish (1992): I remember being slightly disappointed when this album came out as I felt there was not the same balance as for “Disintegration” but this is an album that has aged very well with time. I know late-style The Cure (long intros, heavy usage of the wah-wah guitar pedal, screaming voice) is not everyone’s cup of tea but I personally think that this is actually what kept on making the band still very relevant. There are also a few very radio-friendly songs in this album so a kind of ideal record to re-discover. Best tracks: “From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea” “Friday I’m In Love” and “Cut”. 8.5/10
Wild Mood Swings (1996): The beauty of this review is that it made me listen again to records not heard for ages. I had basically no real memories about this album despite it being a very good one. Not really different from “The Head on the Door” in terms of balance between long moody songs and short pop ones. Robert Smith would start a sort of cycle here, meaning he would take his time between albums but would focus on quality…and quantity as The Cure’s albums will keep on being quite long and often over 1 hour-time. Best tracks: “Want”, “Mint Car” and “Numb”. 8/10
Bloodflowers (2000): Robert is now on a “one-album-every-four-years” mode as indeed there is probably no real need for constant new material in a career full of many gems. The band and their leader took a huge amount of time to finalize this album which Robert Smith consider as part III of a trilogy including “Pornography” and “Disintegration”. They actually played the three albums in a row, as can be seen in the “Trilogy” DVD. However, considering this album as good as the other two would probably not be a fair statement. “Bloodflowers” is indeed a very good album by The Cure with all the great things one likes to find in their albums (long songs, dark themes, great guitar playing) but something is missing probably on the melody side. Still better though than 90% of all music production. Best tracks: “Out Of This World”, “Watching Me Fall” and “39”. 7.5/10
The Cure (2004): A self-titled album produced by the infamous Ross Robinson responsible for crimes against humanity such as Korn or Limp Bizkit? No, please do not run out as this is actually a pretty solid album. Of course, the more it goes, the less innovator Robert Smith and his band will be but this is an album where the musicians play on their strength, with a probably edgier sound that their last efforts. Maybe not the record I will spontaneously listen to very frequently but I really enjoyed (re)discovering it again. Best tracks: “Lost” , “The End Of The World” and “Us Or Them”. 7.5/10
4:13 Dream (2008): …and here we go for the latest (and last?) The Cure album. This, their thirteenth album, did not bring any musical revolution in 2008 and I am pretty sure that many of you forgot that this LP actually existed. A quite good one I must say although it sounds as if Robert Smith did not really decide if he wanted to make a gloomy and heavy record or a light and poppy one. The band are at the top of their game but melodies are not really memorable and a couple of songs a bit weak. A nice record overall but not the one I would recommend for newcomers. Best tracks: “Underneath The Stars”, “The Hungry Ghost” and “Sleep When I’m Dead”. 7/10
And that’s it really. There are of course many compilations, live or rarities albums or boxsets to discover for die-hard fans but this review was focused on the studio albums.
- Wembley Arena, London, 1st of December 2016
Let me first recognize that my mission to listen to all The Cure records (including live, compilations, etc…) miserably failed as I am finishing this post more than two months after the gig. However, I must say that I realised again how strong The Cure’s discography was and how creative Robert Smith is. So time well spent!
The show in itself was not that surprising as the band was the same as the one I enjoyed seeing late 2014 at the Hammersmith Apollo. However, I was again flabbergasted by the quality and dedication of the band after so many years. There is to me a constant freshness in their music that makes it as if it was conceived yesterday.
I found however the concert not as extraordinary as the previous one first because The Wembley Arena is not really a friendly theatre and secondly because the setlist was a bit expected and focused on the most famous songs. But these are tiny caveats really as I went home once again delighted and impressed to spend a wonderful evening with such an amazing band. Long live The Cure!