Our 10 favorite Cure songs — and yours?
After more than two decades of black hair, pale skin, and melancholy music, things are looking — dare we say it? — bright for the Cure this summer. ”The End of the World,” the first single from the goth vets’ self-titled album (released June 29), is quickly climbing modern rock charts. Plus, starting July 24, they’re taking their pop-tinged gloom across America as headliners of the Curiosa Festival (with Interpol, the Rapture, Mogwai, and others). But before the summer heat melts Robert Smith’s carefully applied makeup, we look at 10 Cure songs that make us happy to be sad.
”Killing an Arab” (”Boys Don’t Cry,” 1980) Context is key to understanding the brilliance of the Cure’s propulsive, often misunderstood debut single. A musical interpretation of Albert Camus’ classic 1946 novel ”The Stranger,” in which a narrator mentally affected by desert heat pointlessly guns down an Arab man, the song launched the Cure’s career as one of the leading bands of the post-’70s punk generation and introduced frontman Robert Smith as a brooding lyricist. Against an art rock-fused Middle Eastern guitar riff and fundamental drumbeat, Smith embodies the Camus character, singing of his numbness and alienation in an eerie monotone: ”Staring down the barrel/ At the Arab on the ground/ I can see his open mouth/ But I hear no sound… I’m alive/ I’m dead/ I’m the stranger.”
”Boys Don’t Cry” (”Boys Don’t Cry,” 1980) Another lively nugget from the Cure’s early guitar-bass-drums setup, ”Boys” finds a bratty Smith reluctantly owning up to his vulnerability in the wake of a breakup (”I tried to laugh about it/ Hiding the tears in my eyes”). Just to make things more interesting, the band lays an unconventionally peppy beat and spiraling guitar hook under his tale of woe. Call it a punk update on ”Tears of a Clown.”
”In Between Days” (”The Head on the Door,” 1985) Moving away from the starkness of punk and into a more layered, keyboard-infused sound, the Cure provide an undeniably hummable melody and buoyant beat that keep listeners from sinking too far into depressing musings (the opening line: ”Yesterday I got so old/ I felt like I could die”). The perfect Cure for those who revel in a tasty bit of sadness.
”Close to Me” (”The Head on the Door,” 1985) Leave it to the Cure to turn something grand and exciting — falling in love — into a harrowing experience. ”I pull my eyes out/ Hold my breath/ And wait until I shake,” Smith sighs atop handclaps, gasps, and a nervous, choppy beat that perfectly emulates the butterflies in the beginning stages of a relationship.
”Just Like Heaven” (”Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me,” 1987) This was the first U.S. top-40 hit for the Cure, and it still holds its own on the dial today. Romantic and blissful, it’s laced with images of a dream girl ”dancing in the deepest oceans/ Twisting in the water.” But the music is what really takes the song over the top. A textured, steadily building intro allows the players — Porl Thompson on guitar, Simon Gallup on bass, Laurence Tolhurst on keys, and Boris Williams on drums — a moment to shine before Smith sweeps in.
”Lovesong” (”Disintegration,” 1989) 311’s recent reggae-lite remake of this Cure valentine has nothing on the original, which was inspired by Smith’s devotion to his girlfriend (and future wife) Mary. Lyrically, ”Lovesong” is a beacon of hope on the mostly dark ”Disintegration.” Still, its simple, heartfelt promise — ”I will always love you” — is matched with a bassy, solemn melody, underscoring a commitment that’s not to be taken lightly.
”Pictures of You” (”Disintegration,” 1989) Okay, so now it’s background music on a Hewlett-Packard commercial. Still, ”Pictures” remains a Cure gem: the track to play when you get a little sentimental going through that old shoebox of photos in the back of your closet. Smith’s lyrics revisit scenes of a past relationship (”Remembering you standing quiet in the rain… We kissed as the sky fell in”), and the guitars, bass, and synthesizer are so dreamy you might be compelled to give your ex a ring.
”Friday I’m in Love” (”Wish,” 1992) Surprise! Just as grunge was taking over, the Cure bravely released this gloriously silly pop confection. Those who were allergic to flannel gravitated toward its bordering-on-gratuitous cheer — and ”Friday” helped ”Wish” soar to the No. 2 spot on the Billboard albums chart. Though ”Friday” isn’t a career highlight for many Cure purists — Smith himself once said those who liked it ”aren’t actually fans of the Cure; they’re not the ones who buy my records” — the playful guitar, sing-along verses, and synth washovers may have you, as the song exhorts, ”throwing out your frown and just smiling at the sound.”
”A Letter to Elise” (”Wish,” 1992) This standout track on what many deem the best Cure album is a cherished fan favorite. Playing heartbreaker this time, Smith explains to his love why he wants out of their relationship. Lushly interlocking guitar, bass, and keyboards are the flawless accompaniment to his wholehearted warbles. The ”it’s not you, it’s me” reasoning might seem questionable coming from anyone else — but from Smith, we buy it.
”The End of the World” (”The Cure,” 2004) The first single off the Cure’s new album has propelled them back into the spotlight. From the first chord, it’s got a signature Cure sound — soaring guitars whirling around synth manipulations. Now 45, Smith sounds as if he still hasn’t quite evolved from the sensitive-boy role. Those old feelings of uncertainty and desperate love lurk about his lyrics — and that’s a good thing. Your angsty inner teen wouldn’t want the Cure to cheer up TOO much.
What are your favorite Cure tracks?