The announcement of next year’s 40th anniversary gig by The Cure underlines just omnipresent the Cure have been in our lives. The band built around Robert Smith have soundtracked the fallout from post punk, through the darkening so called ‘Goth’ days to the eighties Day-Glo lysergic pop to the ever schizophrenic battle between their light and dark with huge worldwide success. Of course this top 10 is not scientific. There is so much great music to sift through and so many phases of the band that everyone has their own version of, also much of the Cure’s greatness has been in creating albums that are all consuming experiences but here we go…
1. A Forest
One of the great post punk singles, A Forest, was a cornerstone in the deconstruction of rock from the period. This most perfect of pieces of music hooked around that perfectly cyclic bass line and was a perfect example of creating atmosphere and tension around a piece of music. Of course the profound influence of Joy Division is in there but The Cure took it somewhere else and made it their own. Haunting to this day, this is still one of the great singles of the time.
2. One Hundred Years
The opening track of the defining Pornography album – a journey into the heart of darkness in a terrifying and dense work that was a real soundtrack to our year at the time. This was music as dense and dark as we had ever heard and a key influence on future goth, metal and even black metal. Harrowing and addictive the album was made on the verge of a nervous breakdown and on LSD and is a scary psychedelic adventure and a brutal piece of genius. We saw them live a few times on the tour – once at Birmingham Odeon remains one of the defining gigs of the period with the band, now all black exploding hair and clothes, becoming Goth pin ups and starting the eternal argument about whether they drove goth or were driven by Goth or of Goth actually existed at all.
3. 10.15 Saturday Night
In the early days the Cure were a manic, off kilter, post Buzzcocks styled breatless, nervous breakdown, art rock band with a knack for writing perfect pop songs full of tension and release. The Three Imaginary Boys debut album is full of these gems with a stripped down sound with no waste and off kilter hooks. Like other fellow travellers the Scars they were part of clutch of bands pointing to another future in a different kitchen beyond punk whilst retaining its fast forward to the future aesthetic and being mainstays of John Peel where we first fell in love with them.
4. All Cats Are Grey
Often overshadowed by the previous Seventeen Seconds album, the bands third album, Faith, is a darker near relative. The emptiness of the sound and the beautiful gloom are fantastically attractive and the way the song hangs onto that grinding bass riff alternating with the synth line bring light and shade the new darkness and are further explorations of the then modern sound that created atmosphere from electricity.
The twin bass driven song was the first single from Faith and its almost punky, linear rush is a neat nod to the Stranglers – an often unmentioned influence on the band – and a tense and terse brilliant single that saw the Cure on Top Of The Pops with their post Banshees tour punky cool look of pin stripes, DM’s, leather jackets and tight cropped flat-topped frontman – a sharp and angular look before the lipstick explosion and a sharp and angular look that matched the band’s then very modern linear sound.
6. The Caterpillar
When the Cure went pop it was such a swerve that it took some getting used to. Of course they had started off as wonk-pop – that first album was linear future pop so in some (deranged) senses the band were returning to their genuine muse. The first sign of the new Cure was Lets Go To Bed – a curveball but a necessary breakout from the intensity of Pornography and for the sanity of Robert Smith. By the time they had got to Love Cats, the frontman was in his pomp writing Syd Barrett style heavily kohl’d eyes pop weirdness. Of all the hits the Caterpillar remains a firm favourite an intense and claustrophobic song that is part Syd and part Alice In Wonderland and ever bit as tripped out as it is perfect pop delevared by the exploding hair smudges lipstick perfect kooky pop star.
As if to prove that they could still deliver the dark – the band’s 1989 Disntigration album was a return to the darker introspective shades of Pornography but without that album’s monolithic darkness. Minor key bass driven melodies abound with long term Cure right hand man Simon Gallup proving his adeptness at the bass – the instrument at the heart of so much Cure music and also so much post punk. Smith’s voice somehow retains its sense of wonder and resignation – it’s one of those voices that with very little variation manages to convey so much and is perfectly English in its tone.
8. Friday I’m In Love
A controversial choice in the canon. The nineties single was an example of text book pop – a list song that is perfectly addictive. The video was the band at the height of their white chunky trainer era and I was actually there during the filming of the video as the band spent the day running through the various Tim Pope dictated positions on what was the least lunatic film clip by the director whose kooky film clips were so much part and parcel of the pop Cure and their sneaking of wonk into the cosy Duran mainstream.
9. In Between Days
From 1985’s The Head On The Door, this was another of Smith’s perfect pop moments with that classic ruse of downbeat lyrics of loss, ageing, loss and fear against the rush of acoustic guitars that give the song a brisk energy and the lilting melodies that gives it a unique and perfect tension that in some ways is a summation of all the periods of the band rolled into one.
Late period Cure has seen the band settle down into monolithic live shows that can last up to three hours as they wander around their impressive empire of songs. Every decade or so, though, they suddenly release an album with 2000’s Bloodflowers yet another retrun to their sombre tones. 39 is a song of ageing with Smith writing it on his birthday with resigned themes about losing your passion for life – very Cure.
The bands epynomous 2004 twelfth studio album with its Ross Robinson production saw the band attempt to get the heavier sound of the big rock bands that were dominating the scene at the time – many of whom had embraced the Cure’s own heaviness in the past as part of their own sound. The album has its own moments with this track typical in its grinding moodswings.