[14 February 2013]
Sound Affects Editor
Despite his ghoulish appearance, Robert Smith is a big softie. For the past three decades, the mind, heart, and soul of the Cure has been one of the top songwriters around, and though he has a penchant for doomy goth dirges, he’s also got a real knack for writing the sort of songs you’ll play at your wedding. A ravenous reader, Smith has mastered a literate lyricism that when married to his band’s winsome melodies results in songs worth wrapping your arms around. It’s not for nothing that generations of flutter-hearted youth have dedicated countless hours listening to the group’s songs alone in their bedrooms, headphones on their heads and the rest of the world shut out.
That’s not to say that the Cure’s most moving love songs are always of the happy variety. Actually, Smith often throws in a somber twist—a “catch” if you will, if you wish to use the Cure vernacular—that adds an emotional counterbalance to the sweeter phrases. Smith is smart enough to realize his songs exhibit more heft (well, that and he’s unsurprisingly the sort of person prone to dark moods) when they contain a tragic element, a slice of longing that’s never fully resolved. Sometimes he’ll go pitch-black, plumbing the depths of his despair over his departed love with such agony that he invites the release of death. And then every once in a while, he’ll do the complete opposite and throw out a love song without a catch, one that expresses romantic sentiments with nary a hint of gloom, and unfettered by the irony favored by some post-punk peers who’ve also taken lighter detours.
There’s no shortage of artists we could’ve covered for a Valentine’s Day-themed List This, but the Cure (and Smith in particular) is certainly more than deserving of the spotlight. From mournful laments to giddy, knees-up swoons and everything in between, Sound Affects is pleased run down the cream of the British group’s romantic ruminations. There’s no way we could cover every stellar Cure love song, and songs like “Mint Car”, “A Letter to Elise”, “The Caterpillar”, “The Walk”, “In-Between Days”, and “Burn” among others aren’t any lesser for not making the shortlist. Yet rest assured that whether your heart is breaking or beaming, the following selections are choice listening fare from an act that’s been proven to deliver an appropriate soundtrack time after time, decade after decade.
Deliciously subtle and restrained, “Fire in Cairo” is smoldering desire, never fully heating up yet harboring the potential to do so. The prime New Wave minimalism of the clipped guitar chords and the steady, understated beat allow a then-teenaged Smith to take center-stage in his role as primary (later sole) lyricist. Though Smith’s lyrics were already leagues ahead of anything most boys his age tend to write down in the name of love, what’s more impressive is how he pulls off the potentially dopey trick of spelling out the song’s title in the choruses.
Key lines: “Whisper my name / And I yearn / You take me in your arms / And start to burn”
For those who require hard proof that the Cure aren’t perennially death-obsessed gloom merchants, “Doing the Unstuck” should be sufficient enough. To think, the man who a decade before opened an album with the lyric “It doesn’t matter if we all die” would also be the author of this vigorous carpe diem anthem. This song is forceful yet never forced, a joyous and sincere embrace of all the treasures to be found on an ideal day. Though to be fair, hearing a chipper Smith tell a beloved to perk up and enjoy herself does throw one for a loop initially.
Key lines: “It’s a perfect day for making out / To wake up with a smile, without a doubt / To burst, grin, giggle, bliss, skip, jump, sing and shout / Let’s get happy”
Yes, “Boys Don’t Cry” is almost painfully adolescent. But given that it was released when its authors were barely out of their teens, it’s understandable that the Cure’s second single is so imbued with the overwrought earnestness that often accompanies youthful reflections on romance. Lyrically emo before emo even existed, “Boys Don’t Cry” is cutting vulnerability that barely avoids slipping into the embarrassing melodrama that plagues lesser authors. A plaintive Smith pleads and offers apologies, only held back from completely coming apart by the unfair restrictions dictated by traditional masculine gender roles. Plus it’s got a great tune, to boot.
Key lines: “I would break down at your feet / And beg forgiveness / Plead with you / But I know that it’s too late / And now there’s nothing I can do”
“High” is a song so radiant that you might gloss over the lines where Smith’s narrator indicates that he is yet again referring to a girl whom he has parted ways with. Even if you register that, the smile won’t be absent from your face long, as the tune’s sparkling melodies and Smith’s reliable knack for romantic phrases will keep you bathed in the euphoria of being in love.
Key lines: “When I see you sky as I kite / As high as I might / I can’t get that high / The how you move / The way you burst the clouds / It makes me want to try”
The year 1983 found the Cure at its most playful. In an about-turn from the punishing bleakness that culminated in 1982’s Pornography, Smith and remaining Cure mate Lol Tolhurst started writing throwaway, fluffy pop—and pretty good pop, at that, it turned out. With its jaunty jazz shuffle and Smith milking the feline theme for all it’s worth (even throwing in hisses and purrs), “The Lovecats” represents the apex of New Pop-era Cure. The cuddly nature of this impeccable single is surely the instigating element that turned Smith into an unlikely teen pinup.
Key lines: “We should have each other for tea, huh? / We should have each other with cream / Then curl up by the fire / And sleep for awhile / It’s the grooviest thing / It’s the perfect dream”
After the frizzy, flighty detour of “The Lovecats” and its ilk, The Head on the Door brought back temporarily exiled bassist Simon Gallup, expanded the lineup to a five-piece, and resurrected some of the gothic gloom of early ‘80s Cure without dispensing with the band’s since-cultivated pop smarts. The result was the crystallization of the classic Cure sound, a sound the group would conquer ‘80s suburbia with. “A Night Like This” could be offered up as a prime example of what the Cure’s is perceived to be by general public: dour, tragic, and oppressively distraught. One of Smith’s most powerful romantic laments, there’s a violent undercurrent to the music that adds extra bite to his rueful words. This is a track so heavy you might forget that it includes a saxophone solo.
Key lines: “Oh ho I want to change it all / Oh ho I want to change”
If you are inclined to view Robert Smith as some perpetually morose humbug (did you skip over “Doing the Unstuck” on your Wish CD?), there’s evidence that for at least one day of the week he takes time off. “Friday I’m in Love” could be characterized as the Cure’s take on the Smiths: it’s a jangly slice of pop perfection, one that has no problem moving between light-hearted humor and melancholy. Smith has a ball listing off the ways the other days of the week fail to tickle his feather, but in case the songwriting device wears thin to you, hold on until the bridge, where the band kicks the song up to another level of melodic sweetness.
Key lines: “Dressed up to the eyes / It’s a wonderful surprise / To see your shoes and your spirits rise”
Smith wrote this exquisite number (the Cure’s biggest American hit) as his wedding gift for his wife Mary. Now I don’t mean to disparage any of our upstanding readers out there, but come on, what are the chances you’ll ever manage something that impressive for your bride-to-be? (Funny note: Smith confessed in an interview that his wife would’ve probably preferred diamonds). “Lovesong” is as stark and monolithic as anything else found on Disintegration, yet its to-the-point lyrical sentiments, its incredible chorus, and its note-perfect guitar solo (fly me to the moon, indeed!) all conspire to make it the brightest, most affirming ray of light to be found in the Cure’s frequently maudlin songbook. Over 20 years later, Mr. and Mrs. Smith are still happily married.
Key lines: “However far away / I will always love you / However long I stay / I will always love you / Whatever words I say / I will always love you / I will always love you”
For “Pictures of You”, listeners have a choice between a single edit and the seven-minute album version heard on Disintegration. Opt for the longer cut, for its slowly unfurling sprawl is the only way to do this fragile opus justice. Chimes ring out and Simon Gallup’s loping bass pulsates for a mesmerizing eternity until the main chords are struck and Smith finally allows access to his wounded heart. The beauty of “Pictures of You” is how Smith’s lyrics steadily open up, his positive reminisces giving way to tear-stained regret and pain, all while the band creates the sound of a heart breaking in real time. “Lovesong” may be more popular, but “Pictures of You” is the true centerpiece of the Cure’s finest album.
Key lines: “There was nothing in the world / That I ever wanted more / Than to feel you deep in my heart / There was nothing in the world / That I ever wanted more / Than to never feel the breaking apart / My pictures of you”
The title says it all. Euphoric, tender, and utterly indelible, “Just Like Heaven” is a love song for the ages. Never mind that by song’s end Smith awakens to the realization that he’s lost his love to an unforgiving ocean. Whether due to the descending guitar line, the swelling keyboards, or Smith’s sweet nothings, “Just Like Heaven” will have you falling in love. As perfect as songs get, romantic or otherwise.
Key lines: “Spinning on that dizzy edge / I kissed her face and kissed her head / And dreamed of all the different ways I had to make her glow”