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“Show me how you do that trick…” – from the song, ‘Just Like Heaven’
For nearly 40 years, The Cure has weaved their dark magical spell-combining elements of Goth, New Wave and Post-Punk. The Robert Smith-lead group has created such a rich and diverse body of work that it can be intimidating for a newbie to know where to start. Well rest easy, because this die-hard fan has you covered. Let’s take a look at The Cure’s essential albums.
Essential Tracks: ‘Bloodflowers’, ‘The Last Days of Summer’, ‘The Loudest Song’, ‘39’, ‘Maybe Someday’
Arguably their last truly great album, ‘Bloodflowers’ is a moody collection that mines the group’s Goth aesthetic. What it lacks in pop singles it more than makes up for in hypnotic soundscapes.
Essential Tracks: ‘Shake Dog Shake’, ‘The Caterpillar’, ‘Wailing Wall’, ‘Give Me it,’ ‘Piggy In The Mirror’, ‘Birdmad Girl’
Easily the band’s strangest album, ‘The Top’ was recorded in a period of band internal discord, with Smith picking up the pieces and forging a sound that mirrored the group’s frayed interpersonal dynamics.
From the seasick melody of ‘The Caterpillar’, to the harrowing ‘Shake Dog Shake,’ and the exotically atonal ‘Wailing Wall’, ‘The Top’ is an acquired taste, but has ripened like a fine wine over subsequent listens.
Essential Tracks: ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, ‘10:15 Saturday Night’, ‘Jumping Someone Else’s Train’, ‘Plastic Passion’
This U.S./Australian reissue of the band’s debut album ‘Three Imaginary Boys’, offers a superior and more cohesive track listing. While The Cure’s growing pains in developing their nascent sound is on full display, Smith’s knack for pop smarts laced with melancholy was clearly apparent. And with the lovelorn title track, he endeared himself to mopey teens the world over:
Essential Tracks: ‘A Forest’, ‘M’, ‘A Reflection, Secrets’, ‘Play For Today’, ‘In Your House’
‘Seventeen Seconds’ showed the band’s maturation from spikey post-punk into a more mournful-yet dance friendly sound. But it’s the classic track ‘A Forest’ that would define The Cure’s sound going forward: its dark atmospherics unspool slowly, allowing almost 2 minutes to pass before Smith’s haunting wail appears:
‘The girl was never there
It’s always the same
I’m running towards nothing
Again and again and again’
Essential Tracks: ‘Faith’, ‘All Cats Are Grey’, ‘Primary’, ‘The Funeral Party’, The Drowning Man’
‘Faith’ is so consumed by gloom that it rarely allows the listener to come up for air. That’s not a negative, however. Tracks like ‘The Holy Hour’ and ‘The Funeral Party’ have a somnambulistic pace, lulling the listener into layers of gauzy, wintry sound.
But thanks to Simon Gallup’s sinewy bassline, ‘Primary’ has an insistent punkish delivery that aids Smith’s aggressive vocal delivery. The title track is a haunting beauty, featuring some of Smith’s bleakest wordplay:
‘No one lifts their hands
No one lifts their eyes
Justified with empty words
The party just gets better and better’
Essential Tracks: ‘Open’, ‘Apart’, ‘From The Edge of The Deep Green Sea’, ‘Friday I’m In Love’, ‘Trust’, ‘Cut’, ‘End.’
While ‘Wish’ is The Cure’s best-selling album, it still feels underrated, known mainly for containing the band’s hit single ‘Friday I’m In Love’.
But less appreciated are experimental numbers showcasing guitarist Porl Thompson, including the feedback drenched ‘Cut’ and the labrythinine guitar maze that is ‘From The Edge of The Deep Green Sea’. And the piano-laden ‘Trust’ is one of the band’s finest lovesick ballads, with Smith at his doomed romantic finest:
‘There is really no-one left
You are the only one
And still the hardest part for you
To put your trust in me
I love you more than I can say
Why won’t you just believe?’
Essential Tracks: ‘The Kiss’, ‘Torture’, ‘Catch’, ‘If Only Tonight We Could Sleep’, ‘Just like Heaven’, ‘ One More Time’, ‘Like Cockatoos’, ‘Shiver and Shake’, ‘Fight’.
The Cure’s adventurous double album showcased a beehive a creativity, which paid off handsomely, breaking them big in North America and worldwide thanks to the hits ‘Why Can’t I Be You?’ and ‘Just Like Heaven’.
It covers a wide swath of musical terrain: the group dabbles with jazz on songs like ‘Icing Sugar’ and psychedelia on the Jimi Hendrix flavored ‘The Kiss’. While there are moments of filler (‘Hot, Hot, Hot’, ‘anyone?), its overall quality and high batting average is undeniable.
Essential Tracks: ‘Close To Me’, ‘In-between Days’, ‘Push’, ‘The Blood, Kyoto Song’, ‘Sinking’, ‘A Night Like This’
Smith and co. wholeheartedly embraced synth pop on this classic disc. Tracks like ‘Close To Me’ and ‘In-between Days’ had a playfulness only hinted at in earlier efforts. But fans of the band’s darker sound weren’t left in the cold thanks to songs like ‘Kyoto Song’ and ‘Sinking’.
‘A Night Like This’ splits the difference-a pop confection infused with film noir atmosphere and sultry jazz saxophone.
Essential Tracks: ‘One Hundred Years’, ‘A Short Term Effect’, ‘The Figurehead’, ‘The Hanging Garden’, ‘Cold’, ‘A Strange Day.’
This album sounds like it’s recorded by musicians on the brink of collapse, and for good reason. ‘Pornography’ was borne from deep depression, addiction and in fighting amongst Smith, Gallup, and keyboardist Lol Tolhurst.
But great art comes from angst, and the album is a musical long night of the soul. The fraying opening track ‘One Hundred Years’ starts off with the immortal downer line: ‘It doesn’t matter if we all die’, and it’s a white-knuckle ride until the end.
From the fractured ‘A Short Term Effect’, and aptly titled ‘Cold’, it’s a spectral distillation of dread, and a Goth rock touchstone. One of the darkest albums ever made.
Essential Tracks: Too hard to choose. It’s simply perfect from start to finish.
The Cure’s definitive masterpiece (and one of the best albums of the 1980’s), ‘Disintegration’ is a towering achievement not just in composition and depth of material, but for production as well.
The band seized on all their most definitive elements: epic sonic pity parties, haunting torch songs, and dense atmospherics. The opening track ‘Plainsong’ is a perfect example, where twinkling chimes give way to an oceanic wash of guitar and keyboards, but Smith’s keening vocals still have room to soar.
‘Pictures of You’ and ‘Lovesong’ mine the band’s penchant for romantic balladry, while ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Fascination Street’ have the qualities of a dark fable.
One of the album’s greatest strengths is its track sequencing, songs glide into each other with perfect precision, most notably when the track ‘Prayers For Rain’ ends with thunderstorm sound effects that bleed into follow-up track ‘The Same Deep Water as You.’
‘Disintegration’ is also notable for Smith’s lyrics, the haunting track ‘Homesick’ a perfect example:
“Just one more and I’ll walk away
All the everything you win turns to nothing today
And I forget when to move when my mouth is this dry
And my eyes are bursting hearts in a blood-stained sky”
The album’s timeless feel is still apparent. I think I’ve listened to it at least once every month ever since I bought it way back in 1989. It still sounds incredible. The liner notes states “This album was mixed to be played loud, so turn it up”. I wholeheartedly endorse that recommendation to appreciate it’s widescreen sound.
“And let’s move to the beat, like we know that’s it’s over…” – from the song, ‘Fascination Street’
So that concludes my list of top ten Cure albums. I suggest picking up ‘Disintegration’ first and working your way back. It should be a part of any serious music fans collection.
Now it’s your turn: what would your definitive ranking of The Cure’s discography?
Tell us in the comments.