With the Cure soon to embark on their first major US tour in years (and with hopes alive for perhaps their first new album in eight years, or at least a continuation of the reissue series that halted in 2010 with Disintegration), now seems like a perfect time to gaze back at the sterling catalog of one of the most substantive and influential rock bands of the last 40 years. It’s a chance for old fans to revisit their favorites as they prepare to see their well-traveled heroes on stage in the coming months, and an opportunity for new fans curious about the band’s extensive body of work to dive in and explore.
There’s plenty to discover. Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Also worth noting is that the 13 studio albums do not tell the whole story. The Cure has released multiple live albums (the best are 1984’s Concert, 1991’s Entreat and 1993’s Show), a kaleidoscopic remix collection (1990’s Mixed Up), and dozens of diverse b-sides not available on any of the albums. The vast majority of those are included on the essential 2004 box-set Join the Dots: B-sides & Rarities 1978-2001. As hardened fans will tell you, many of the Cure’s b-sides are every bit as strong as their album tracks and singles.
Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best. Obviously every Cure fan has their own take, and would end up with a different ranking. There are no right answers. A strong argument could be made for at least four of the Cure’s albums to be at the top. Regardless, it’s nice to be able to look back with some distance on the entire catalog to see where everything fits. The Cure’s fascinating musical legacy—which will surely get them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame someday—will endure for generations of new fans.
13. The Cure (2004)
Somehow, Robert Smith got into his head the notion that it would be a good idea to work with producer Ross Robinson, known for his collaborations with Korn, Slipknot and, Gods help us, Limp Bizkit. Robinson tried to fit the Cure into the edgy, almost-but-not-quite “nu metal” vibe that polluted the rock airwaves at the time, with disastrous results.
The collaboration was not a good fit—it’s like a Hot Topic exploded all over the studio and slathered everything in thick layers of contrived melodrama and cheap mascara. Robert Smith’s vocals are way too high in the mix—he spends much of the album howling incoherently over a maddening barrage of heavy guitars. The keyboards, which have been an integral part of the Cure’s sound since Seventeen Seconds, are largely absent.
Perhaps all wouldn’t be lost if there were any discernible melodies, but unfortunately most of the songs meander uselessly to nowhere. Particularly nail-on-chalkboards is the punishing ten-plus minute, “The Promise”. Still, there are a few worthwhile tracks if you have enough patience to wade through the dross to find them.
The best is a pleasant pop throwaway that would have made a great single, “(I Don’t Know What’s Going) On”. “Taking Off” is catchy Cure-by-numbers pop (it’s been done before, and better, but at least it’s a break from the relentless slog). “Anniversary” is another high point, a brooding expression of melancholy that sounds like the Cure we know and love. First single “The End of the World” is mediocre compared with other lead singles to Cure albums, but it’s not a total catastrophe.
“alt.end” is the only one of the harder-edged rockers on the album with any value. The scream-fests “Us or Them” and “Never” are simply unlistenable. The Cure has moments that work, just not enough of them. Some of the songs may have turned out better with different arrangements and mixes. It seems that Ross Robinson cheerily led Robert Smith and company into a ghastly misfire with this one. Robinson didn’t understand the Cure, and it shows.
12. 4:13 Dream (2008)
4:13 Dream is easily better than The Cure largely because Ross Robinson is no longer in the picture, and the songwriting is improved. Unfortunately, for the most part, it finds Robert Smith descending into formula.
Unlike its dreadful predecessor, 4:13 Dream is at least always tolerable, and there are sprinkled moments of Cure magic. Far and away the best track is the opener Underneath the Stars, with Smith’s effects-laded multi-layered vocals building an atmosphere of mystery and wonder. The quirky “Freak Show” is reminiscent of the hallowed “Close To Me”/“Lovecats” days, but it’s not quite convincing—it’s like Smith is checking off a box on a list of stylistic musts for a Cure album.
Tracks like “The Reason Why”, “The Hungry Ghost”, “The Perfect Boy” and first single “The Only One” are all worthy additions to the Cure’s discography, but nobody’s going to confuse them for the band’s best work. “Siren Song” is a mellow and dreamy acoustic piece with slide guitar that is quite lovely. Much weaker is the noisy guitar-freakout “Switch” and the album’s two-song finalé of bashing guitars and Smith’s discordant wailing, “Scream” and “It’s Over”. Strike those three tracks and add a couple of the superior b-sides, and you’ve got a solid album. There are enough strong moments on 4:13 Dream that it’s worthwhile adding it to your collection, eventually. No real hurry.
11. Bloodflowers (2000)
Billed as the third of a trilogy that also includes Pornography and Disintegration, the Cure’s 2000 release Bloodflowers had a lot to live up to. By and large, it fails. That’s not to say it isn’t a solid Cure album—it is—but it doesn’t belong in the same breath as the first two chapters of the supposed trilogy. It smacks of Robert Smith trying too hard to replicate something that’s impossible to force (especially with the 11-minute “Watching Me Fall”, which is simply overkill).
Yeah, like Pornography and Disintegration, Bloodflowers is relentlessly downbeat and tense, but the sonic marvels and songwriting thrills of the first two are largely absent. Still, there are some killer tunes, and Bloodflowers is far superior to the two albums that followed it (and make up #13 and #12 on this list).
The album’s strongest moment is “Maybe Someday”, a blazing rocker with a terrific vocal by Smith that’s good enough to stand alongside any of the Cure’s classic singles. The long and atmospheric opener “Out of This World” is excellent as well, as is the stripped-down acoustic “There is No If”. “The Loudest Sound”, about the wall of sullen silence that builds between a couple who have fallen out of love, rings of convincing truth.
“39” and the title song, the one-two punch that ends the album with its heaviest emotional impact and are obviously meant to be the grand finalé, don’t quite gel. They never reach the piercing intensity of the Cure’s best work—it’s a lot of Robert Smith wailing over heavy guitars about getting older and life’s neverending parade of disappointments. While it isn’t their greatest work, there are indeed brilliant moments on Bloodflowers, and the tour in support of the album was outstanding.
// Notes from the Road
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