The Cure
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The Cure’s ‘Wild Mood Swings’ Indulges the Glories of Genre-Jumping

The Cure’s ebulliently eclectic masterpiece ‘Wild Mood Swings’ is misguidedly maligned. What is more tantalizing than music that exalts eclecticism to such stupefying heights?

Wild Mood Swings
The Cure
6 May 1996

The Cure are among the most enduring and beloved bands from the 1970s and to this day. As they are currently on the second leg and US portion of their “Shows of a Lost World Tour“, it’s fitting that their extensive discography comes under closer inspection. As part of that oeuvre, 1996’s Wild Mood Swings is the Cure’s most maligned album of the pre-millennium era. Need convincing? Check out the Wild Mood Swings entry on Laconically spiteful comments exist amidst more thoughtful diatribes that agonizingly analyze why the album has often been branded a stinker.

Search for any variation of “Does the Cure’s Wild Mood Swings suck?” and enjoy an excursion into the rabbit hellhole of wrongheaded critiques from professional and amateur critics alike. Check out the stats for The Prayer Tour, where, according to the Chain of Flowers and the sites, the 1989 tour in support of the Cure’s most popular album, 1989’s Disintegration, sold out 50,000 seat arenas like Dodger Stadium. The Swing Tour only half-sold 10,000 seaters, and there were several canceled shows due to poor ticket sales.

However, most get it wrong when it comes to Wild Mood Swings. The album is a scintillatingly significant piece of art. Its two chief “problems” are the timing of its release and two tracks that cast an unfortunate pall over the rest of the album – at least for some people. Of course, which two songs are deemed disposable varies among listeners, but we’ll address that in a moment. Those weaker songs – whichever they may be – are a minor quibble, anyway. Just skip them, and voila! You’ve got a perfect album that is cohesively incoherent, as the case may be, given that it’s shape-shifting in the most ecstatic extremes. Most albums have at least one or two filler tracks anyway, no?

Wild Mood Swings is implicitly meant to be an updated, spiritual kin to 1987’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (hereafter referred to as Kiss Me). Released in 1996, nearly ten years after that masterwork (though some fans do not cherish Kiss Me – can you believe it? It’s rife with hooks, hits, and harmonies, after all), Wild Mood Swings once again showcased the stunning breadth of genre-jumping that the Cure are capable of. Wild Mood Swings is not just meant to showcase that breadth; it’s meant to celebrate, revel in, bask in, glorify, shout, and scream it. What is more tantalizing than music that exalts eclecticism to such stupefying heights?

At 18 songs, Kiss Me is a sprawling, thrilling mess of an album that specializes in sonic whiplash. Scorching rockers such as “The Kiss”, “Torture,” and “All I Want” push aside angsty ballads such as “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” and “A Thousand Hours”. Kiss Me‘s best songs, like “Why Can’t I Be You” chase away dizzy pop and bounce into a snarky funk that dissolves into ethereal serenades. “One More Time” slides into jazzy ditties and “Hot Hot Hot!!!” scats toward Beatnik Rap that then bursts into the sludgy psychedelia of “Shiver and Shake”. Kiss Me is the ultimate anti-concept album embodied in all its lusty glory. After all, it birthed the Cure’s most euphoria-inducing hit, “Just Like Heaven“.

At 14 songs to Kiss Me’s 18, Wild Mood Swings is not quite so sprawling, and, as noted, it’s two songs too long – for some fans, anyway. Or, you could keep those songs and embrace the (reputed) flaws. After all, those songs are redeemed by their own adventurous attributes. Either way, Wild Mood Swings might not feel as splayed out as Kiss Me, but it’s just as ebulliently discombobulating with its searing rock, jerky pop, and lush balladry on abundant, delightful display.

Kiss Me was of its time – embedded in the ’80s zeitgeist of “anything goes” music-wise. The ’80s is known for its equal embrace of genres – hard rock/synth-pop/R&B and every nuanced hue in between shared equitably in the love-fest showered upon bands. MTV and radio spat out a wild variety of sounds, and while there was some definite genre segregation, in general, there was an amorphous swirl of sounds pervading the pop culture consciousness. People who loved Bruce Springsteen songs also loved Cyndi Lauper, Poison, Prince, AC/DC, and ABC tunes. All you have to do is watch the “We Are the World” video for nostalgic evidence that ’80s pop music was one big bubbling pot of sloppy music stew, and we liked it that way.

And then the ’90s came along. Genres became rigidly segregated. MTV began pioneering reality TV, and music videos, once crucial to breaking and sustaining bands, took a backseat – way in the back.

Grunge and Britpop also happened. Whereas ethereal-sounding bands like the Cure, U2, Depeche Mode, and Echo and the Bunnymen reigned supreme in the ’80s, now it was all about earthy, crunchy guitars and yowling vocals (punk/classic rock hybrids) and also about the post-punk sounds of the previous decade given a more guitar-laden thrust via Britpop. The ’90s also brought shoegaze, which had matured from its ’80s incarnation, indie rock, and a little bit later, nu-metal. Shoegaze giants such as Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine, as well as a re-invigorated REM, plus bands like Korn and the Deftones, who were redefining the parameters of metal, began shaping the new decade.

So in one way, Wild Mood Swings was also of its time – a certain ’90s aesthetic announces itself production-and tone-wise on the album. Even the ’80s throwback tunes such as “Mint Car” have an almost Britpoppy sheen. The Cure had influenced a lot of bands from a variety of genres (the aforementioned Slowdive, Korn and Deftones, in particular, had cited the Cure as formative influences, and so had Blur, the Curve, and even rhythm and blues bands like En Vogue, plus scores of other musicians), and now they were reverberating those newer sounds back in their own inimitable way.

Wild Mood Swings was also outside of its time. Whereas genre fluidity was all the rage in the ’80s, there was not the same exuberant sense of “anything goes” in the ’90s. While individual tunes or even entire albums may have subtly meshed genres during the new decade, it seemed that pop music had become more cliquish.

It’s not that there were not cliques around musical styles in the ’80s – there were – it’s just that in the ’90s, MTV was no longer aggressively there for the masses to urge a wider embrace of genres. MTV had, as noted, morphed into a reality TV platform, and music videos, once the channel’s raison d’être, took a backseat – way back. Granted, there was also a definite expansion of hip-hop and electronica during the decade, and this undoubtedly influenced mid-’90s the Cure, possibly more so than grunge and Britpop, while shoegaze, as a genre noted for its Cure influence, also filtered back into the newer Cure sound.

This is a simplified, even reductionist way of saying that in the late ’90s, the Cure were no longer relevant. They didn’t “fit”. Did they ever fit? Well, yes, because the ’80s, as afore-noted, were about anything goes. The Cure of the ’80s were distinguished misfits among a kaleidoscope of weirdos, but also “normies”.

So while the Cure released Wish in 1992, which further entrenched the Cure’s massive popularity ignited by the release of 1989’s Disintegration (often cited as the band’s best album), the late ’90s were not as kind to the Cure. Wish also traded in on the idea of genre-jumping, though in a subtler way than Kiss Me. Wish has that coveted coherence that some feel Kiss Me and Wild Mood Swings lack. There is epic neo-psych like “Edge of the Deep Green Sea” (the most killer song live), the Beatles-esque jangle-pop of “Friday I’m in Love”, the cerebral Seussian pop of “High“, and even thrashy cuts like, um, “Cut”.

There are also meditative melodies on Wish, such as “A Letter to Elise” and the softer sounds of “Trust” and “To Wish Impossible Things” and really, the entire gamut of musical motifs that the Cure had been evolving throughout their career. Somehow, on Wish, there was a fluidity, unlike the jarring disorder of Kiss Me. For some fans, Kiss Me’s chaotic clutter may have been untidily presented, but it was refreshing. Others, however, preferred a more cohesive offering. Hence, those fans embraced Wish over Kiss Me.

Maybe the cleaner track sequencing had something to do with Wish’s wider embrace, or maybe the tunes naturally flowed into each other, regardless of arrangement. After all, Wish is book-ended by two rockers – “Open” and “End” – and the songs that are contained within those delineations do not deviate wildly in tone.

“Faulty” sequencing seemed to be an issue that marred Wild Mood Swings, too, at least for the masses and the critics. Yet, Wild Mood Swings features startlingly invigorating songs such as the ecstatic anger in “Want”.

Wild Mood Swings includes the giddy trippiness of “The 13th“, the celestial trance of “Jupiter Crash“, and tense transcendence in “This is a Lie“. The album gives listeners groovy freak funk in “Gone!“, druggy deadpan in “Club America“, melancholic rapture in “Treasure“, and rocking wrath in “Trap“. The songs swing to lullingly lush in “Numb” and “Bare“. Finally, we get the infectious “Mint Car” and the adorable “Strange Attraction”.

Embellishing it all is Robert Smith’s trademark warped warble, sounding like a melted mirror come to life. Indeed, Smith’s beloved crooked croon is the most recognizable feature in all of Cure-dom because, without it, you would not be able to tell that the band who made the salsa-drenched “The 13th” is the same one that made “One Hundred Years” or any of the nihilistic nightmare-scapes on 1982’s Pornography, one of the albums that shaped the goth genre and arguably influenced metal as well. It staggers the brain that one band is so capable of making music that careens from one extreme (edge-of-abyss anguish, as in “Figurehead” or really every song on Faith or Pornography) to the other (sky-high rapture, as in “Mint Car” or “Doing the Unstuck”), hitting all points in the middle, as well, while taking on seemingly every style in the musical encyclopedia.

Lyrically, Wild Mood Swings also zigzags zanily from theme to theme, tackling earthy as well as metaphysical topics: drugs and drink, sleazy celebrity scenes, childlike optimism, ponderous pessimism, the intoxication of lust, cosmic attraction, utopian love, dystopian love, existential uncertainty, and existential dread.

The two “stinkers” on Wild Mood Swings, for me, anyway, are “Return” and “Round and Round and Round”. These aren’t bad songs – they’re just not up to par with the others. They feel half-assed like hastily sketched fragments rather than the fully fleshed-out forms of the stellar songs mentioned above. “Return” and “Round and Round and Round” add a disproportionate weight toward the peppier side of things when such an album begs for balance. An album called Wild Mood Swings needs to truly “swing” “wildly” in “mood”. We already have “happy” songs with “Mint Car”, “The 13th”, “Strange Attraction” and “Gone”. Cast aside “Return” and Round and “Round and Round and Round” and you have an album of more palatable equilibrium: Swinging tunes doing a (tenuous) tango with brooding mood songs like “This is a Lie”, “Jupiter Crash” and “Club America”.

We might rearrange the track sequencing just slightly so that the album truly merits its namesake. Sometimes, for example, two rockers are squeezed too tightly together – like “Want” and “Club America” – or two slow songs slide too effortlessly into each other – like “Treasure” and “Bare”). Do some creative reshuffling, and you’d have a more satisfying sonic shake-up, as it were.

Or not.

Because, as we have established, Wild Mood Swings is scintillatingly brilliant.

After all, like Kiss Me, Wild Mood Swings manages a camouflaged cohesiveness – its vision of extreme musical diversity is an ironically uniting theme. The same cannot be said about the two 2000s-era Cure genre-jumper albums, The Cure and 4:13 Dream. There are some stunningly smashing songs on both albums, to be sure – and the albums still stand on their own, especially for newer, non-jaded fans – but the hodgepodge theme had lost its luster after Wild Mood Swings. Bloodflowers, with its florid fluidity, is where it’s at for millennium-era Cure cohesiveness.

An article published in 2009 on PopMatters discusses how Wild Mood Swings would be so much better without “Club America” and with one of the Cure’s celebrated b-sides, “A Pink Dream” replacing it. The Cure’s b-sides are some of their most well-crafted songs. Indeed, in 2004, the Cure released Join the Dots: Rarities and B-sides, a massive undertaking that includes four discs of b-sides, remixes, demos, covers, and many tracks previously unreleased. It contains 70 songs and featured therein is “A Pink Dream”. Obsessive fans (the Cure is the world’s biggest cult band, after all) pore over Join the Dots and fill their idle hours ruminating over what b-sides should be appended to the proper albums, either to supplement or supplant.

It might be that the addition of “A Pink Dream” would enhance Wild Mood Swings. But instead of trashing the singular “Club America”, let’s skip past “Round and Round and Round”. That appears to be the most hated of Wild Mood Swings‘ songs if fan forums and social media musings are any indications.

Is Wild Mood Swings kitschy and loungey at times? Well, yes, yes, it is. Did the Swing Tour feature a besotted Bob Smith singing to half-empty arenas? Why yes, yes, it did. The Cure’s (momentary) fall from grace demoralized him. Was former member Lol Tolhurst’s early-’90s frivolous lawsuit against the band partially responsible for the epic delay between Wish and Wild Mood Swings, resulting in an “out of sight, out of mind mentality” among some fans? Yes, yes, it was.

But do any of these things matter in the larger scope of things? No, no, they don’t. The Cure is among the best bands in the world, if for no other reason than they embody musical eclecticism so profoundly that it defies fathom.

So it’s settled: Wild Mood Swings is as brilliant as all the other Cure albums. The problem is not the album itself, but rather the era itself and the aforementioned other “issues” plaguing the perception of the album as “less-than. Lamentably, when an album is poorly received initially, that perception often lingers throughout time, accumulating “credibility” even as critical thinkers push back against prevailing “wisdom”.

Let’s face it: The herd mentality often reigns. It takes intellectual guts to go beyond the superficial and delve deeply into the sonic treasures lurking within a universally panned album.

It’s true, of course, that even Robert Smith suggested taking off some tracks of Wild Mood Swings. But he has also said, “I felt, and still do feel, that if [Wild Mood Swings] was our first album, I wouldn’t have anything to worry about.”

And to that, I say: Damn straight.

Works Cited

Cancelled and rumored the cure concerts The Cure – cancelled concerts.. Accessed: 28 March 2023.

Freema, Paul. “Robert Smith … And the Cure For ‘Wild Mood Swings’. Pop Culture Classics. 1996.

Parker, Craig J. “Prayer tour dates / set lists-north America, Prayer Tour Set lists – America”. Accessed 28 March 2023.

White, White. “The Cure’s ‘Wild Mood Swings’ Needs Some Color“. PopMatters. 23 January 2009.