All That Glitters is Gold - Fascination Street: The Cure
This is All That Glitters is Gold, a recurring piece about some of my favorite artists, albums, tracks, and live shows. Here I will write about the music I love, most of which inspired me to start Alt Revue in the first place. I'm excited to highlight this music and talk about how it has impacted me. I hope you enjoy getting a glimpse into some of my favorites!
I'm going to be honest, I didn't want to tackle this one. It felt so big to me, so monumental...I mean what can you really say about The Cure? They are one of the founding fathers of alt music as we know it. They're adored and followed by legions of fans and had have tons of success, but for the most part they don't seem to give a fuck about that. This was further evidenced by Robert Smith's Recent reaction to being enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which he was obviously thrilled about. But what can I say, I'm a glutton for punishment.
All kidding aside, for Smith and company, it's always been more about the music and being themselves than it is about sales. What's great is, it still works! Though the band has been around since the late 70's, they are still very much with it. They just headlined Glastonbury and they are headlining Austin City Limits this year. They are not a nostalgia ploy, they are bona fide superstars with drawing power. They have four RIAA Platinum certified studio albums, with some of their live albums being certified Platinum as well.
I have had the pleasure of seeing The Cure live, once in Chicago in 2016 and they were absolutely incredible. I'm scheduled to see them again on Weekend Two of Austin City Limits (ACL)! With news coming that they'll be releasing a new album in the near future and their impending headlining shows at ACL. I thought it would be cool to take a look back at the 13 albums the band has released between 1979 and 2008.
Three Imaginary Boys (1979) - It was in 1979 that The Cure made their debut with Three Imaginary Boys. To kick things off they went with "10:15 Saturday Night", an alt song that sounds little like their eventual sound. This was due to the band's inexperience and working with more experienced producers at the time. Robert Smith would later go on to be critical of this album, because of how different and how tied the band was with creative control. Anyway, on despite Smith's opinions on "Accuracy" you can start to see the first inklings of The Cure's signature sounds, especially on the leads.
That said, musically "Grinding Halt" sounds like something The Smiths would make, especially in the guitars. Maybe they're a bit too distorted but still the formula is there. Thought it should be pointed out that The Smiths didn't form until 1982. It just goes to show how different the sound is here. "Meathook" also has some semblances of later work from The Cure with it's deep bass lines, quirky verses, and signature Smith vocals. It feels somewhat out of place on this album because of what surrounds it. That said all in all, The Cure and Smith's signature goth aesthetic is really not here.
Tracks to Start with - "Accuracy, "Another Day" and "Meathook"
Seventeen Seconds (1980) - With Seventeen Seconds, Smith got co-producer rights on the album and more creative control and he hasn't looked back since. That said, Smith was concerned with anti-image when the band recorded this album. He wanted it to be the antithesis of Three Imaginary Boys and man is it. It's dark, it's brooding, it's goth and I love it. Seventeen Seconds starts off with a slow instrumental piano laden track called "A Reflection". "Play for Today" starts up next and Smith doesn't begin singing until a minute into it. Think about that, a band doesn't begin singing on an album until a minute into the second song on the album, that would be unheard of today. I love the boldness of it, because that instrumental at the beginning of "Play for Today" just shows off the Cadillac that is the new vibe of The Cure. The signature Robert Smith guitar is there. It's effects laden and can absolutely tear a house down. It's not overdriven and it's not fuzz. Rather it's a lot of flanger and delay (and other fun things) and it's unlike anything else out there (especially at the time).
One thing about this album is there are multiple tracks that are mostly instrumental (some may feature Smith muttering in the background). That's not necessarily radio friendly, but I think it works well creatively. One song that does stand out here and does stand the test of time is "A Forest". It's still one of the bands most popular and most requested songs. It's undeniably great. Another track where it features tight melodies and Smith's vocals almost as secondary is "At Night". What I love about this one is the brooding keyboard work, when juxtaposed against the guitars it really sets the mood.
Tracks to Start with - "Play for Today", "A Forest", and "At Night"
Faith (1981) - This album is similar to Seventeen Seconds in it is very much of the goth rock genre and is pretty abstract. There are two tracks that stick out from this categorization, they are "Primary" and "Doubt". Another track in particular that I wanted to touch on is "The Drowning Man". The melody in this one is just great. Smith's vocals are more in the background to the melody, so in that way it's reminiscent of Seventeen Seconds in a way.
This album continues the track that The Cure was on at the time. They hadn't fully evolved into themselves by this point. The music and melodies were getting there, but in many cases where those melodies were present the vocals were not prominent at all. On the songs where the vocals were prominent, the sound tended to swing back into their Three Imaginary Boys days (i.e. not so much goth rock).
Tracks to Start with - "Primary", "Other Voices", "Doubt", and "The Drowning Man"
Pornography (1982) - Pornography kicks off with a dark track titled "One Hundred Years". It features dynamic percussion, vocals from Smith, and guitar work. It's definitely must listen. "The Hanging Garden" may be the first song from The Cure at this point in their career where they put everything together and you get that signature sound. What's important about Pornography is that Smith's vocals are much more pronounced than they had been on previous albums which was a key point in their sonic evolution. "Siamese Twins" is also an important song for the band as it is the first to feature the chimes effect that The Cure is so famous for.
While this album was one of the band's most successful commercially to date, it would not gain acclaim until much later. Pornography represents an important turning point for the band as first, after the band dropped the album, bassist Simon Gallup would leave the band. Additionally, after some discussion with record executives, Smith decided to take The Cure's sound in a new direction that was a bit brighter than their previous work. While this album may have been a turning point, it is looked back upon with much reverence for its impact on music.
Tracks to Start with - "One Hundred Years", "The Hanging Garden", "The Figurehead", and "A Strange Day"
The Top (1984) - The Top represents a massive change in sound compared to The Cure's previous work. The album starts with "Shake Dog Shake", a track that is much more radio friendly than the hard lined goth rock the group was putting out before. "Dressing Up" stands out on the album because the prominence and range shown of Smith's vocals. It's most certainly a fun track that is worth your time. "The Caterpillar" which is featured on this album would go on to be among The Cure's classics. It's known for its distinct melody that is instantly recognizable.
The Top sounds so different compared to The Cure's previous work. Gone are the long instrumental intros. Gone are the Smith's hushed vocals in the background while the melody dominates. Here The Cure has definitely gotten brighter as mentioned previously, but they have also gotten more overt with their sound. The Top also saw The Cure experience previously unmatched success on the UK Charts, as it peaked at number 10.
Tracks to Start with - "Shake Dog Shake", "Dressing Up", "The Caterpillar", and "Piggy in the Mirror".
The Head on the Door (1985) - The Head on the Door opens with one of my favorite tracks from The Cure, "In Between Days". It has a fast and engaging melody throughout, and Smith matches this with his vocals. It has also become one of The Cure's most beloved hits among fans. My favorite part of this song both lyrically and musically happen simultaneously. It's absolutely brilliant when Smith's vocals pairs with the melody and he sings: "And I know I was wrong / When I said it was true / That it couldn't be me / And be her in between / Without you / Without you".
The Head on the Door also has another favorite of mine, "Close to Me". This song might feature the best use of clapping of any song ever. Also, the use of the horns near the end of the album is exquisite. Full disclosure, my buddies in college and I started a tradition freshman year of listening to this song before a night on the town. I know it sounds dorky, but I kept this tradition for a long time while in college.
The Head on the Door saw critical success for the band unlike anything they had seen before. While The Top peaked well on the charts in the UK, The Head on the Door ascended all the way to number 7. The Head on the Door reached number 59 on the U.S. Billboard Charts. This was the highest the band had charted in the U.S. on a studio album to this point in their career. Musically, for the most part, the tracks on The Head on the Door were much less goth rock than the band's preceding albums, but rather had more of an alt-rock feel to them.
Tracks to Start with - "In Between Days", "The Blood", "Push", "The Baby Screams", "Close to Me", "A Night Like This", and "Sinking"
Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (1987) - This album has special memories for me. The Cure are my wife's favorite band of all time. Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me also happens to have her favorite song, "Just Like Heaven" on it. It was for this reason that I got the 2013 Record Store Day Limited Red Vinyl version of the album as a gift for her. This release was limited to 4000 pressings. If you simply must have it, it can still be found on Discogs for around $50. "Just Like Heaven" is still one of the band's most popular songs and has been covered by everyone from Dinosaur Jr. to AFI.
Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me features another of The Cure's most famous tracks on it, "Why Can't I Be You?". This song moves so fast, it's a solid track that features great vocals by Smith and some fantastic keys by Lol Tolhurst. Another track where Tolhurst's keys really shine is "All I Want", especially when they're combined with Smith's vocals and guitar play. Speaking of Smith's guitar, I believe in doesn't shine brighter on this album than it does on "Hot Hot Hot!!!". The album featured three singles "Just Like Heaven", "Why Can't I Be You?", and "Hot Hot Hot!!!". I also think it's cool to point out that the band The Airborne Toxic Event have a song titled "Strange Girl" that is about the track "The Perfect Girl" on the album. It contains references in the lyrics to the song.
Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me is one of The Cure's most successful albums. It reached number 35 on the Billboard Charts in the U.S. It went all the way up to number 6 on the charts in the UK. Commercially, the album reached Gold Status with the RIAA in 1987 and was certified Platinum in 1990. I believe that there was a three part movement for The Cure to ascend to all-star status. This climb began with The Head on the Door, continued on with Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, and they finally reached the top with Disintegration.
Tracks to Start with - "Catch", "Why Can't I Be You", "How Beautiful You Are", "Just Like Heaven", "All I Want", "One More Time", and "The Perfect Girl"
Disintegration (1989) - Ah, Disintegration...The Cure have been touring the last year and celebrating it's 30th anniversary, which is a pretty cool achievement to say the least. It's had staying power critically because of some of the fantastic tracks on it. I'd like to start with another of my personal favorites "Pictures of You". This song has the trademark chime effect that Robert Smith has been so fond of. It's also been a favorite of advertisers over the years.
Another reason why Disintegration has been so beloved is because it has what is perhaps the band's most popular song "Lovesong" on the album. "Lovesong" is another track that has been covered by numerous artists, perhaps most famously by 311 (which I hated and chose not to link here). No worries though, I have had endless debates with my brother on the validity of that cover.
Commercially, the album peaked at number 3 in the UK and number 92 on the Billboard Charts. While it's rating on the Billboard Charts may not seem impressive, the album was certified 2x Platinum by the RIAA. Even the haters have to admit, that's a ton of units! Despite all of the success, Smith stated that Disintegration turned the band into a stadium rock band, which made him miserable and he threatened to end the band. This can be read about in further detail in Jeff Apter's 2005 book: Never Enough: The Story of the Cure.
Tracks to Start with - "Plainsong", "Pictures of You", "Lovesong", "Last Dance", "Fascination Street", and "Disintegration".
Wish (1992) - While Wish begins with "Open", I'd much rather talk about "High". To me, "High" is such a criminally underrated song by the band. It's not often counted among their top level tracks, though I feel it belongs there. It's perfect in its rhythm and Smith's vocals flow so well with the melody. I also particularly love "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea", as it feels ahead of its time. The guitar and entire rhythm section feels like something that would come out years later. I will admit, it's a tad long, coming in at just under eight minutes, but it's worth it.
Wish has served as the band's only number 1 charting album in the UK, (at least so far). It was similarly successful in the States, as it reached number 2 on the Billboard Charts. A large part of this success is due to the smash hit "Friday I'm in Love". The song is likely top four among songs from The Cure. It also had crossover success beyond alternative circles, going on to be one of the most beloved songs of the 90's.
Tracks to Start with - "High", "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea", "Wendy Time", "Doing the Unstuck", "Friday I'm in Love", "A Letter to Elise" and "End".
Wild Mood Swings (1996) - Wild Mood Swings showed a dip in commercial and critical success from some of it's predecessors. Wild Mood Swings reached number 9 on the UK charts and number 12 on the Billboard Charts in the U.S. It also reached Gold certification by the RIAA in the U.S. Though this dip was the case, it remains among Smith's personal favorite Cure records. Starting with Wild Mood Swings, The Cure has yet to have the critical and commercial success they have had in the past. Especially during the period of Disintegration through Wish.
Though Wild Mood Swings may not have been as successful as their previous work, I still think it's a good album. Wild Mood Swings starts off with a great track in "Want". It has all the longing and dower window dressing that we've come to expect in songs from The Cure. I'm also a big fan of "This is A Lie", the strings are so emotive, they instantly grab your heart. When Smith's vocals join in, it's perfection. Though it is a "downer" of a track, I still love it. "Strange Attraction" has the rhythm (especially in the bass!) to be a classic from the band. Why it hasn't reached this status, I will never know. "Mint Car" was one of the singles off the album and is probably the most well-known from this album. It has been featured on some of the group's greatest hits collections and for good reason. It has an instantly recognizable guitar line right off the bat. Smith turns in a strong vocal performance here as well. If you haven't checked this one out, it's definitely worth your time.
Tracks to Start with - "Want", "This is A Lie", "Strange Attraction", "Mint Car", "Gone!", "Numb", and "Return".
Bloodflowers (2000) - Bloodflowers received mixed reviews from critics, which is fine. However, I think some of what was written may have been a bit unfair or overgeneralized. So, I'd like to add my two sense. I absolutely love the ethereal "Out of this World" that kicks off Bloodflowers. It's slow moving, but feels heavy. It's much different than the band's older slower tunes, which I think is what holds the appeal for me. Sure there are familiar elements, such as Smith's leads, but the acoustic vibe is great. I also enjoy "Watching Me Fall" musically and vocally. I think it's a strong track that shows the band's ability to shape and adapt with time. I will say I am not necessarily the biggest fan of the rhyme scheme used in the first verse, as I think Robert Smith is capable of so much better.
The leads on "Maybe Someday" are so unlike the guitar featured in many traditional songs from The Cure. They feature more overdrive, which makes them pop when they get paired with Smith's traditional playing. I'm not going to talk about commercial or critical success with this one. What's important to understand about Bloodflowers, is that it's important to the band. So much so in fact, that in 2002 The Cure played Pornography, Disintegration, and Bloodflowers in their entirety in Berlin. This concert was later released as The Cure: Trilogy. What is important here is that Smith views Bloodflowers as a part of something bigger. When you view it with Pornography and Disintegration you can see it. You just need to look.
Tracks to Start with - "Out of this World", "Watching me Fall", Where the Birds Always Sing", "Maybe Someday", and "There is No If...".
The Cure (2004) - If you listen to The Cure one thing you'll notice immediately is that it is a heavier album than traditional music from Smith and Co. Part of the reason for this can likely be placed on the fact the album was co-produced by Smith and Ross Robinson (who is famous for having produce bands such as Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, and KoRn). Smith would label the album "Cure-Heavy". This heaviness comes right out the gate with "Lost" which features Smith screaming like I've never heard before. It's a pretty cool track though and it's awesome to see Smith stretching himself creatively.
"Before Three" doesn't sound so much "Cure-Heavy" as it does "Classic-Cure". It very much feels like it could be at place on any of the band's earlier albums. Some of the highlights of the track include Smith's utilization of a fluttering falsetto in his vocals, the driving leads that push the song forward, and the backbone-esque bass guitar. "The End of the World" is written in a way that delicately uses musical peaks and valleys perfectly. The guitar on this one is a bit more in overdrive than Smith's traditional flange/delay combo, which is fine. "Us or Them" might just be the heaviest song by the band. The heavy guitars and deep prevalent bass are something reminiscent of nu-metal artists KoRn. It's very strange to hear, but it's not a bad thing. All this in mind, my favorite track on the album by far is "alt.end". I love the synth work and guitar on it, it's classic Cure. I'm sure if you give it a shot, you'll enjoy it too.
Tracks to Start with - "Lost", "Before Three", "The End of the World", "Us or Them", "alt.end" and "(I Don't Know What's Going) On".
4:13 Dream (2008) - Right off the bat in "Underneath the Stars" we have the familiar chimes effect that we have come to know and love from The Cure. Smith's vocals shift in and out of focus on this track, the effects are pretty great. His guitar is also a constant throughout that hold the melody down when paired with the drums. This is a must listen. "The Reasons Why" takes a little while to get going, but it's a nice blend of modern and classic Cure. I think my favorite among all the tracks on 4:13 Dream is "Sirensong". It's classic Cure, but with a gentle twist. In particular the melody is captivating.
4:13 Dream had mostly favorable reviews looking back. What's perhaps most interesting is the disparity in the commercial success it had between the U.S. and the UK. In the UK 4:13 Dream never reached higher than number 33 on the charts. Meanwhile, in the States, the album did reach number 16 on The Billboard Charts. Smith per the usual was a champion on this album contributing vocals, guitar, 6-string bass, keyboards, production, mixing, and engineering.
Tracks to Start with - "Underneath the Stars", "The Only One", "The Reasons Why", "Sirensong", "The Hungry Ghost", and "The Perfect Boy".
The Cure have had such a lasting impression on music, influencing musicians such as Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins and Paul Banks of Interpol. Not to mention the millions of us that have felt like outsiders at some point. Robert Smith is the King of the Outsiders. He speaks up for us through his lyrics. They make us feel not alone. The Cure's connection with depression and angst is so strong, it's meme-worthy. In all seriousness, The Cure have been pioneers in the post-punk, new-wave, and goth-rock genres...Just think about that, it's rare for most bands to be a pioneer in one genre and The Cure have lead the way in three! Frankly, I think they are taken for granted at times. It was nice to see them inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and it's great to see the headline ACL. But when it comes down to brass tax and you want to talk about the top alt acts of all time? The Cure simply have to be in the conversation.