As anyone reading along will know, I have been fascinated by The Cure lately. I have always liked them, but I think I understand their career better than ever before. They are so much more than what their media reputation would have one believe. An incredibly adventurous band with a strong enough personality to tie together an ocean of sound.
It is so common in the press to reduce things down to a one dimensional cartoon. Either through luck or savvy, Robert Smith and his band work on that level, but it’s a strange trick that they can be as experimental as they are and still hold a simple image in the collective imagination. It allows the casual fan in while giving them the freedom to really do whatever they want. You can always recognize The Cure, but they are as stylistically varied as Led Zeppelin or The Beatles.
Often viewed as a musical Tim Burton cartoon, though Tim Burton was influenced BY them, they are often reduced to goth or gloom or post-punk. Music for the sad teenager hiding in bed. They can work this way, but it is horribly reductive and only hints at what they have accomplished. They often incorporate the psychedelia of Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd, the dark artiness of The Doors, the cold drone of Joy Division, yet are probably more diverse than any of those bands. (I don’t mean more groundbreaking or better. But they are as unique and they belong to be mentioned with other great musical acts.) They are a classic rock band with roots in the post-punk scene. Play The Hanging Garden, In Between Days, The Funeral Party, and Six Different Ways back to back. Aside from Robert Smith’s vocal and a sense of atmosphere, think of how different those tracks are.
Although Disintegration might be there masterpiece, The Head On the Door might be the album that best sums up their career. At 10 songs it contains many of the various highs that their career holds in one short package. It might not contain one of their epic six minute-plus glacial paced distorted downers that the band seems to incorporate on many of their later releases, it might not do one thing as great as some other albums, but it does everything well that’s there and provides the listener with an idea of where they can go.
They really have so many great records. I love the dark animalistic blood lust of Pornography, the beauty of Disintegration, the post-punk mausoleum of Faith, the varied and sometimes poppy melodies of Wish, and really most of the things they do. Even later albums, which many fans don’t deem as great as their 80’s stuff, are full of treasures. They always do something unique to themselves with each album, even when they aren’t breaking new ground.
I have mentioned that no matter how diverse their material is, that they always have a personality and aound. First Robert Smith’s vocals are alway identifiable. If you are going to like them you need to get on board with his voice, as it is a constant. Even though he can sing with variation there is never any mistaking who is singing.
They also always create a sense of atmosphere. Even their guitar based songs are often drenched in palatial reverbs, delays, and choruses. Even on their relatively dry (for them) self titled album there is a sense of space.
I think more than anything they are involved in world building. Each song is its own little cinematic experience. The best of movies, even when they are fantasies, set up their own believable set of rules. Even if reality is different, there is an internal logic that seems true to itself. The Cure are like that. There songs rarely touch upon reality in the way cinema verte does. These little mini movies and symphonies that they create at the very least have a heightened sense of reality to them. Sometimes their work goes all the way out to fantasy. But even when they are at their realest, there is a sense that the emotions and senses are heightened. You are getting an emotion, and emotions are always slightly abstract, in the extreme. This is why they are often wrongly pegged as music for teenagers. But music should be emotional and that is why they have made so much great music. However, unlike so much of pop music, which is often aping emotion, you always get the sense The Cure are being true to themselves, that they are obeying the internal logic of their creations. Even at their most fantastic there is an element of their work that stays true to the human heart. This is why their music is outside of time and always relevant to someone.