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.
(Three Imaginary Boys, 1979)
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”