In a career spanning over 40 years, The Cure emerged from the wreckage of punk, helped launch the goth movement and ballooned into planet-conquering alt-rock titans. Along the way this creepy Crawley collective recorded some of the most diverse, perverse, sleepy-sad and sickly-sweet albums in the British rock canon.
The shorthand caricature of The Cure’s sound would be Robert Smith’s pained whimper set to a gloomy backdrop, yet these perennial cult favourites have actually travelled a remarkably eclectic journey all over the musical map. Their opening suite of youthful albums was rooted in the monochrome angularity of post-punk, but during the 1980s they also embraced roaringly romantic pop, jazzy textures and super-sized stadium riff-monsters.
Alongside Def Leppard and Depeche Mode, The Cure were one of the few British bands to truly conquer America in the 1980s and 1990s. The panda-eyed, haystack- haired Edward Scissorhands of noir-punk evolved into a musical version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, swinging wildly between doom-rock epics and super-catchy, three-minute pop classics.
With more accessible albums like The Top and The Head On The Door, they stopped being sullen outsiders and blossomed into a universal cult that everyone could join. In the process, their songs wove themselves into the global pop fabric, inspiring cover versions by everyone from the Smashing Pumpkins and Dinosaur Jr to Tricky and Adele.
As The Cure’s sole remaining founder member, Smith has had boozy fights and bitter fall-outs with numerous former band members, and the fluid line-up constantly reshaped itself. But running like a golden thread throughout their career has been the singer’s enduring love of late-60s psychedelic rock. This manifested itself in a series of Hendrix and Doors covers, a fondness for trippy guitar effects, and a lyrical flair for phantasmagorical imagery that tapped a rich tradition of English literary surrealism ranging from Lewis Carroll to Syd Barrett.
It's been over a decade since The Cure released their last album, 4:13 Dream, but it seems they don't need to keep the discography rolling. They're still out there, headlining festivals and promising new music, even if it fails to immediately materialise. "We’re going [to the studio] in about six weeks time to finish off what will be our first album for more than a decade." Smith told SiriusXM in 2018. "So it’s very exciting times for us all round.”
Over 40 years since The Cure took their first steps, Robert Smith remains one of British rock’s true originals. Here, we compile the albums that defined his career.
The Head On The Door (Fiction, 1985)
With former Cure tour guitarist Porl Thompson now fully on board, their sixth album saw The Cure come of age as a focused, jangly, defiantly poppy outfit. Partly thanks to the growing power of MTV and their shared chemistry with video director Tim Pope, their singles also began to chart around the world.
The Head On The Door featured all-time Cure classics in the euphoric rush of In Between Days and the snuffly folk-pop shuffle Close To Me, while the flamenco flourishes of The Blood and the Van Halen (opens in new tab)-ish soft-rocker Push saw Smith’s songwriting emerging from the shadows with a newly extrovert swagger.
Disintegration (Fiction, 1989)
With his 30th birthday looming, Smith conceived this milestone album in a fog of depression and hallucinogenic drugs, consciously revisiting The Cure’s sombre, gothic roots.
All heavy treated guitar effects and icy electronics, seven-minute requiems such as Pictures Of You and Homesick reverberated with funereal synth-rock solemnity. Smith’s voice sounded world weary throughout, though it became a wistful whisper on the graceful Lullaby and a more raunchy yelp on the brawny Fascination Street.
Despite the singer’s half-serious quips about “career suicide”, Disintegration soon grew into a stadium-filling monster, and The Cure’s biggest seller to date.
Seventeen Seconds (Fiction, 1980)
The Cure first began to hone their signature aesthetic on this chilly second album, with Robert Smith’s emergent child-man whine and new keyboardist Matthieu Hartley to the fore.
Full of grim fairy tales and half-glimpsed creatures lurking in the shadows, the overall mood was gloomy and suffocating. Smith demonstrated his blossoming gift for left-field pop gems on Play For Today and A Forest, both taut, minor-chord speed-strums full of nocturnal angst and creeping dread. Bracingly austere but highly atmospheric, it was all recorded and mixed in a single week on a shoestring budget.
Pornography (Fiction, 1982)
Later hailed by Smith as the first in a trilogy of definitive Cure albums, Pornography ushered in the band’s trademark ‘big hair and smudged lipstick’ look. It also remains their most emphatically gothic work, right from the opening line of guitar-scraping lament One Hundred Years: ‘It doesn’t matter if we all die.’
Tribal drums and glacial keyboards lend monumentalism to the remorselessly sombre Siamese Twins and the experimental title track, which is a churning nightmare of buried voices and David Lynch-ian weirdness. It still sounds oppressively harsh and despairing, but also impressively stark and uncompromising.
The Top (Fiction, 1984)
In transitional flux following their bleak post-punk period, The Cure released a string of upbeat, non-album singles including Let’s Go To Bed and The Lovecats. They carried over this playful mood into their fifth studio album, a candy-striped feast of nursery-rhyme lyrics and light-headed arrangements. The standout track is The Caterpillar, a semi-acoustic skiffle awash with squeaks, honks and love-drunk euphoria.
Relations within the band had become toxic, and The Top was close to being a one-man-band affair. Robert Smith played most of the instruments, indulging his love of vintage English psychedelia from Edward Lear to Pink Floyd.
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (Fiction, 1987)
Originally a double LP, the first Cure album to make the US Top 40 was a stylistically diverse smorgasbord of neo-psychedelia, jaunty quirk-pop and monster-sized shoegazing (opens in new tab) spangle rock.
Too many faceless plodders pad out the second half, while escalating tensions between Robert Smith and Lol Tolhurst may also have affected overall quality levels. That said, the brassy strut of Why Can’t I Be You? and the piano-driven blast of Just Like Heaven earned their place in the pantheon of classic Cure singles, ensuring this album played a key role in helping British alt-rock to crack America.
Three Imaginary Boys (Fiction, 1979)
Still in their larval stage as a band, The Cure’s raw debut was rooted in the dry, skeletal, angular sound of the post-punk era. Between routine juvenile sketches, Robert Smith hinted at future greatness with the kitchen sink melodrama of 10.15 Saturday Night and sardonic social snapshots like Accuracy and Object.
The Pop Art cover, with its drably domestic still life, was imposed by the record label. Likewise, the ill-advised novelty punk cover of Jimi Hendrix (opens in new tab)’s Foxy Lady, sung by bass player Michael Dempsey, which Smith hated.
An expanded version of the album, with the title Boys Don’t Cry, was later released in the US.
Wish (Fiction, 1992)
Riding a wave of worldwide success following Disintegration, The Cure’s ninth album topped the UK chart and climbed to No.2 in the US.
A line-up reshuffle brought in Perry Bamonte on keyboards, guitars and co-production, swelling the group’s sound to a stadium-sized roar which ultimately leaned more towards baroque sonic bloat than memorable pop melodies.
Even so, Smith was on top of his game with hit single Friday I’m In Love and the giddy chemical-romantic euphoria of High, although he also indulged himself with too many blustery, overlong psych-rock juggernauts like From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea.
Bloodflowers (Fiction, 2000)
Described by Robert Smith as the last in a trilogy of definitive Cure albums (after Pornography and Disintegration), this midlife milestone combines the wistful melancholy of their early work with a broader canvas of immersive, widescreen folk-rock arrangements.
Aside from one or two windy epics, bombast and melodrama are kept to a minimum. Sounding huge yet intimate, Where The Birds Always Sing is a semi-acoustic symphony of bitter-sweet regret, while the softly strummed There Is No If... offers a gorgeous affirmation of evergreen romance. After an uneven decade, it was a pleasing reminder of Smith’s emotional clout.