20. Pictures of You
Disintegration was released in 1989. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in Maine, at Bates College, we all knew it was something amazing from the beginning. I think everyone I knew owned a copy of the CD within weeks of its release. It really is as good as its reputation. The band that made up The Cure at the time – Robert Smith, Porl Thompson, Simon Gallup, Boris Williams and Roger O’Donnell – were arguably the band’s finest line-up. Really, if every song from Disintegration had been released as a single, I would probably want to place all of them in the top twenty. The four singles aren’t even my favorite songs from the album (and, Spoiler, one of them is my favorite song on this list). Before Smith rented it out to sell film, “Pictures of You” was the fourth single from the album. While it wasn’t a huge smash hit or anything, its a lush, lovely, melancholy, atmospheric song that has a hundred little delights buried in it (many from keyboardist O’Donnell). The single was considerably shorter than the album version and that’s the only thing that keeps it lower on this list. I know songs need to be edited for radio, but I find the edit of this (like the single edit of David Bowie’s “Heroes”) to be significantly less satisfying than the full version.
19. Sleep When I’m Dead
Apparently this single from 2008’s 4:13 Dream was originally written for 1985’s The Head on The Door. I would be very curious to hear that original version. The unsung hero of this last (so far) Cure album is, in my opinion, guitarist Porl Thompson. Thompson creates these angular guitar figures on several of the songs that sound (to me) a bit like the kind of melodies large aggressive birds might make were their beaks replaced with electric guitars. When Thompson left the band (to paint and to become Pearl Thompson), they were replaced by former Bowie guitarist Reeves Gabrels who is from the same school of abstract guitar work. The title “Sleep When I’m Dead” makes it sound like this is going to be the curest Cure song that ever cured, but it turns out its a strong rock number about being a driven musician and dealing with the music industry. It has just enough self-deprecation and just enough vitriol to escape the cliches of that particular sub-genre of rock lyric. I wasn’t especially sold on this song when it first came out but – when I noted that Smith has included it on most of his tours since its release – I gave it a few more chances and it really grew on me. Its a terrific live track, too.
18. Cut Here
In 1995, I was performing in a Kabuki production at the University of Hawaii at Manoa called Sukeroku: The Flower of Edo. After opening weekend, I lost my voice completely. My doctor told me I shouldn’t even try to speak. I spent the week writing out everything I needed to say. I wasn’t otherwise ill so I kept going to class. Running late for class that Thursday, I ran into my friend Suesan. She wanted to stop and chat but I couldn’t say anything and I was rushing, so I didn’t take the time to write a note to let her know what was going on. I just made some gestures at my throat and maybe indicated I’d call her. The following Tuesday, my voice was back. The Academy Awards had been the previous night and Forest Gump had beaten Pulp Fiction. Suesan and I were both big fans of the latter movie, so I called her to commiserate. Her mom answered and informed me that over the weekend, Suesan had killed herself. I no longer feel bad about my last encounter with Suesan every single day like I used to, but I still feel awful about it whenever I think about it. If only I’d taken the time to write a note. Did she think I was brushing her off? Did that impact her decision? I’ll never know but I’ll always think it.
Robert Smith’s friend Billy MacKenzie of the band The Associates killed himself in the late 90’s. Smith had had a similar last encounter with MacKenzie and wrote “Cut Here,” which was released as a single from their 2001 Greatest Hits package. Smith’s lyrics here are unusually direct and emotionally raw but this is the song I know that best captures that feeling of losing somebody and hating yourself for not treating them as well as you should have.
17. Maybe Someday
The last song from 2000’s Bloodflowers on this list is “Maybe Someday.” As I’ve mentioned, no actual singles were released for purchase from this album but three promotional singles were released. “Maybe Someday” was the first and best of these. The album works better as a whole, but this particular song is equally effective on its own. While it shares the same regretful, brooding tone as the rest of Bloodflowers, it also has a wonderful subtle hook to it that really grows on you the more you listen to it. Indeed, this song could easily be higher on this list in a year as I listen to it more.
16. Let’s Go to Bed
1982’s delightful, happy stand alone single – “Let’s Go To Bed” – was originally an instrumental outtake called “Temptation” from Pornography (he added a pretty different vocal to the demo “Temptation Two”). The single version is a little pop delight and only exists because Cure drummer Lol Tolhurst convinced Smith to take another go at the band. Tolhurst moved to keyboard and for a few singles, The Cure was a two-piece outfit. Smith was profoundly aware that this abrupt turn to joy after three albums of gloom was going to alienate his fans but was basically ready to reinvent himself again. The song was a huge college radio hit and we high schoolers in Fairfield Country , Connecticut danced our behinds off whenever WXCI played it – even if we weren’t necessarily sure if he was singing about staying up late or having sex. I’m 49 now and I’m relatively certain its the latter, but who knows? With The Cure, its always possible that any given song is actually about drugs.
This is the last song from 1996’s Wild Mood Swings on this list. Robert Smith has a (deserved) reputation for writing gloomy tunes, but he has his share of more positive tracks as well. The general theme of this song is “stop moping and get out of the house for a while.” I know that there’s a lot of fans who really actively dislike this song, but I find it to be a great quirky pop song with some fun tuba work. The chorus is really wonderfully catchy, at least to my ear. If you’re a Cure fan and haven’t given Wild Mood Swings a spin in a few years, let me recommend it. Its probably better than you remember.
14. The Hanging Garden
I could live happily with a playlist that consists exclusively of songs from Disintegration and from 1982’s Pornography. How much do I like this album? “The Hanging Garden” (the album’s only single) is my least favorite song on the record and I ranked it at 14 on my list of Cure singles (“One Hundred Years” is my favorite and a strong contender for title of “R’s favorite overall Cure song – when they played it in concert here, I was overcome with emotion). Most Cure fans in 1982 heard this album and the previous two gloomy albums and were shocked by The Cure’s pop turn on “Let’s Go To Bed.” I came in the other way – I knew their poppy stuff and was shocked by how gloomy this album is. “Killing an Arab” is a song about existentialism. Pornography is an album that embodies it. It starts with the line “It doesn’t matter if we all die” and just gets less cheery from there.
I have found, over the years, that there have been times when depression is getting the best of me and the only thing that made me feel better was to put on Pornography and just embrace the misery. Science has since explained that sad songs do, in fact, make you feel better and I can attest to the fact that this album has been (yes, I’m going to write it) the cure to what ails me a number of times. “The Hanging Garden” is, as impossible as this might sound, the most positive song on the album. Its about animal husbandry.
13. Never Enough
In 1990, The Cure released an album of remixes titled Mixed Up. The only original song on the album was “Never Enough.” How much do I love “Never Enough?” When cell phone music ring tones first became a thing, I downloaded this song immediately to be my morning wake up alarm (starting at the bridge “So let me hold it up, just one more go”). There have been times in my life where I really felt “whatever I do, it’s never enough.” I’ve sung this song loud and with feeling (occasionally passive-aggressive feeling) many, many time during my life. It was a bit of a shock to hear The Cure playing a pretty aggressive guitar rock song when their previous release had been the keyboard heavy Disintegration, but it was a cathartic shock.
The Cure’s biggest American hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989. The most upbeat song from Disintegration, “Lovesong” (sometimes “Love Song,” specifically because I imagine Robert Smith envisioned the internet in his head and knew we’d all be searching for how to properly spell the title on Google as far back as 1989) is built around a haunting Roger O’Donnell keyboard progression. Smith’s lyric was (in 1989) shockingly direct – the song is exactly what it says it is, a love song to his wife Mary to celebrate their marriage. The thing that makes it really work, to my ear, is Smith’s vocal. He means it, but he’s making himself uncharacteristically vulnerable to say it. His vocal choices make it feel like we’re eavesdropping on a private moment between Smith and Mary – and perhaps we are. Its really a delightful piece of song writing.
“Catch” – the second UK single from 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me – was inspired by a Sylvester Stallone poem from Rocky 2. This led ultimately to Robert Smith writing “Dredd Song.” I’m not saying that’s what kept it out of the top 10…
I’ve loved “Catch” for years. Its a profoundly romantic, deliberately small song nestled between the frenetic semi-instrumental opening track of the album and the love-is-pain themed gloom of the third track. There’s a hint of psychedelia to the lyric and to the way the vocals are delivered (I’m thinking of the “just rolling about on the floor” echo) that I think captures a sense of descending into a dream (in fact, I think that ability to express what dreaming feels like is one of The Cure’s great musical strengths). Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me felt like a greatest hits album when it came out (seriously, every song is at least catchy and almost every song is at least very good) and even if The Cure had never released anything else, it would have cemented their legacy. And then they released Disintegration and blew it out of the water.
Coming Up Next: 1 song from 4:13 Dream, 2 stand alone singles, 1 from a greatest hits package, 2 from The Head On The Door, 1 from The Cure, 2 from Disintegration and 1 more from Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me.