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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”
(The Head on the Door, 1985)
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”
(Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, 1987)
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”