The Cure

     Three Imaginary Boys (Fiction, 1979)
     Boys Don't Cry (Elektra, 1980)
     Seventeen Seconds (Elektra, 1980)
     Faith (Elektra, 1981)
    Pornography (Elektra, 1982)
     The Walk (Sire, 1983)
     Japanese Whispers (Sire, 1983)
    The Top (Sire, 1984)
   Concert: The Cure Live (Fiction, 1984)
     The Head on the Door (Elektra, 1985)
      Staring at the Sea: The Singles (Elektra, 1986)
     Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (Elektra, 1987)
      Disintegration (Elektra, 1989)
  Mixed Up (Elektra, 1990)
     Wish (Elektra, 1992)
   Paris (Elektra, 1993)
   Show (Elektra, 1993)
   Wild Mood Swings (Elektra, 1996)
     Galore (Elektra, 1997)
    Bloodflowers (Elektra, 2000)
     Greatest Hits (Elektra, 2001)
     Join The Dots, B-Sides And Rarities 1978-2001 (Elektra, 2004)
     The Cure (Geffen, 2004)
    4:13 Dream (Geffen, 2008)

The Cure's Robert Smith is one of the most significant sex symbols rock has ever produced, all wet and disheveled in the throes of an angst that only makes him so wonderfully, wonderfully pretty. He was the cool older sister you never had, with his big sticky hair, his pear-shaped body, his eyelashes for hours, his voice shaking like milk as he sings his tales of adolescent torpor and dolor. All swirled up in lipstick and rouge, wearing more face than his face could even hold, he smeared his cosmetics with a conspicuously unmothered flair that made him look like he'd eaten his way through the Clinique counter. He's the biggest lesbian rock star ever, even if he's technically a straight guy. He bridged the gap between goth and new wave, between gloom and glamour, becoming a figure of fascination for millions of depressive Eighties kids. Maybe you've never been in love with Robert Smith, and maybe you've never even made out with anybody who's in love with Robert Smith, but you've definitely made out with someone who's made out with someone who's in love with Robert Smith, and that means he's under your skin whether you like it or not.

The Cure began as an arty postpunk trio, doing skewed guitar tunes about reading Camus ("Killing an Arab") and not crying ("Boys Don't Cry"). But Robert Smith was just warming up for the deluge of protogoth gloom rock that he would unleash over the next few years. Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography hold up smashingly well, offering motionless slabs of lavishly textured angst, often decorated with gorgeous synths, as Smith sobbed and sniffled his tormented poetry. But it was the 1982 single "Let's Go to Bed" that introduced the Robert Smith we know and love today. The miserable sob was still there, but now it was playing around with witty lyrics that accurately summed up at least 20 percent of any reallife romantic relationship ("The two of us together again/It's just the same, a stupid game") and a bouncy, hum-along synth-pop melody that made the situation sound more funny than hopeless.

The Cure had hit upon a perfect musical formula, shaping all its depressive moods into actual songs, and the band started to attract increasingly worshipful legions of fans in black nail polish and eyeliner. Smith also joined Siouxsie and the Banshees as a guitarist, doing double duty for two great big-hair bands, which increased his cool quotient immeasurably. His melodies got richer with The Walk, Japanese Whispers, and The Head on the Door, his king-of-the-mopey-Brits smackdown, as he proved he could outdo New Order ("In Between Days") and Depeche Mode ("Close to Me") at their own games. Best of all was the single "The Love Cats," a brazen piano ditty that revealed that making out could be kind of fun. "Should we have each other for dinner?/Should we have each other with cream?"—mee-yow!

Standing On A Beach put the Cure on a roll, and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me had the Cure's best-known, best loved, and just plain best song ever, "Just Like Heaven." Smith sings about spinning on that dizzy edge with a dream muse, and then waking up the next morning feeling alone—no, make that alone, alone—above the raging sea, one alone little dude indeed.

Disintegration is the Cure's high point for most fans, especially male ones born in the late Seventies; according to the kids on South Park, it's the greatest album ever made. Although it's dark and depressive, it spawned the hit "Love Song." Wish is lighter and frothier, a valentine to the band's younger girl fans, with bubblegoth love ditties like "High," "Friday I'm in Love," and "A Letter for Elise," which nicked the melody from Bon Jovi's "Never Say Goodbye." Smith had a long dry spell in the Nineties; he even stopped wearing makeup around the time of Wild Mood Swings and Bloodflowers. The Cure had the band's most passionate music since Disintegration, hitting an all-time peak in the twisted romantic devotion of "Lost," "Anniversary" and "Before Three": "Whispering dreams, so fucked and high/It's hard to hold this night inside." 4:13 Dream was more upbeat, with Smith claiming the title of "The Real Snow White."

Galore collects the best of the late Eighties/early Nineties Cure, plus a load of late filler. Greatest Hits has seven songs from Standing On a Beach—the seven best, for that matter—plus "Just Like Heaven," so it's a bargain. But who wants a Cure album with a title like Greatest Hits? Join The Dots is a cult collection of rarities; Galore is a feeble remix album; Show and Paris are weak live albums. These days, Robert Smith is coasting on a wave of good will from a new generation of fans who weren't even born for "Boys Don't Cry," inspiring high-profile bands such as Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai, and the Rapture. He remains one of rock's most beloved figures—a love cat with nine lives.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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