More about: The Cure
You could easily say that 90% of The Cure’s discography is underrated. Beyond ‘Friday I’m in Love’ and ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, their vast, 13-album canon just doesn’t get enough love when we celebrate rock music. To celebrate game-changing frontman Robert Smith’s birthday, we’re exploring 11 of their greatest deep cuts, hidden gems and controversial favourites.
The Cure made their name as pioneers of post-punk with contemporaries like Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees, unwittingly creating the goth subculture as they went. Their sound has gone from goth to pop and everything in between, and while the purists won’t look beyond 1989’s Disintegration, the band have a wealth of great music in their back catalogue.
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Launching straight in with ‘The 13th’ from 1996’s Wild Mood Swings, and perhaps the most unpopular opinion on this list. For some unknowable reason, ‘The 13th’ is frequently voted as The Cure's worst song in fan groups. While it is a big change to their typical gloomy sound, it’s surprisingly intoxicating.
Perhaps it evokes such a love/hate reaction because it was the first single from Wild Mood Swings. Following on from Wish, the album which brought us their most famous song, was never going to be an easy feat. Choosing such an experimental single teeming with Latin-inspired rhythms and an entire horn section was a bold move that might have scared off some fans. But with time, a few brave souls have come forward to say they actually love it. Just don’t play it in front of the hardcore fans.
'Fire In Cairo'
Let’s throw it back to the very start of their career with debut album Three Imaginary Boys. Smith has said that ‘Fire In Cairo' is all about the “shamelessness” of pop music, and what lies behind it. It has all of the experimental, unpolished sound of those early days of post-punk before the genre came into its own.
Influences can be felt from the later days of The Clash when they started to get more experimental with their sound. While all of Three Imaginary Boys is a great testament to the early days of the band, ‘Fire In Cairo’ stands out as the band find their footing.
'Shake Dog Shake'
It takes a lot to be labelled as “The Cure’s most depressing song” but ‘Shake Dog Shake’ wins hands down. It opens with “Wake up in the dark/ The after-taste of anger in the back of my mouth/ Spit it on the wall/ And cough some more and scrape my skin with razor blades”. Yeah, heavy stuff. It was described most eloquently by Robert Smith himself who said it was about “me hating myself…but a fab open guitar tuning”.
‘Cut Here’ is a new release compared to others on the list, arriving in 2001 as part of The Cure’s Greatest Hits compilation. It was dedicated to friend of the band and Associates frontman Billy Mackenzie, who died by suicide in 1997. While they usually deal in metaphors and veiled expressions, ‘Cut Here’ is a direct retelling of the last meeting they had with Mackenzie before his death. It deals with grief and guilt in such a direct and striking way, showing that The Cure can always stun.
'The Perfect Boy'
As we so often do with classic artists, people say that their most recent albums don’t live up to their legacy. But these aren’t albums you can write off completely just because they weren’t the same cultural reset as Disintegration. On their most recent record, you find ‘The Perfect Boy’, just one of many reminders of why you fell in love with The Cure’s lyrics. The one line that stands out the most is the beautiful “Inescapable fate/ It’s out of my hands/ Falling into your arms”. They’ve still got it. And it’s about time they released that album they’ve been working on…
Another cut from Wild Mood Swings, we have ‘Strange Attraction’. This song tells the story of a whirlwind romance that burns bright but doesn’t last a year and contains some of Robert’s finest lyrics. It was released as an album single but has no music video. Just as the song’s protagonist falls head over heels for the wrong girl, the listener will too fall in love with such divine songwriting. Just try and listen without smiling – I dare you.
Competing against massive songs like ‘Pictures of You’, ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Lovesong’, ‘Last Dance’ often goes unnoticed on Disintegration when you think of the best tracks on the album. But any followers of The Cure’s sprawling, career-spanning live setlists will know that ‘Last Dance’ is still an important part of the band’s discography. It’s not a happy song, brimming with the same welcoming cold feeling throughout The Cure’s darkest albums, but that’s exactly what makes it so great.
Here we have it: The Cure at their most goth. ‘Burn’ features on an all-star soundtrack of gothic rock for 1994 film The Crow. The band were originally approached with the intention of using ‘The Hanging Garden’ in the movie, but Robert Smith loved the comic so much that he wrote an original song instead. Enter ‘Burn’, with its relentless drums and endlessly moody lyrics. Thankfully in recent years it has become a live favourite, featuring in their 2019 Glastonbury set and many of their recent performances. Even though the lyrics are about as dark as you can get, there’s something about watching Robert Smith’s penny whistle solo that just gives you an instant hit of serotonin.
No one does a two-and-a-half minute intro like The Cure. With ‘Push’, you wish it went on forever. Although the lyrics are interpreted differently by everyone who listens to it (not helped by Robert’s clarification that it’s about “a train journey home”), there’s something really uplifting about the song. Whether you’re pushing away the negative thoughts, or toxic people, or you just really like the opening guitars, ‘Push’ will put a smile on your face.
Another underrated gem from The Top is ‘Dressing Up’. This dreamy mash-up of layered instruments and electronic elements is all about Robert Smith dressing up and putting on his trademark lipstick and eyeliner combo before performing. It’s one of their more laidback offerings and it sounds like a trippy daydream.
'Doing The Unstuck'
This list has looked at a lot of The Cure’s more melancholy songs, but ending on ‘Doing The Unstuck’ goes to show that it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s a feelgood song about breaking the cycle of depression, sung with such passion and desperation that there’s no question about its authenticity. Basically, the main message is that it’s never too late to burn everything to the ground and start again. So, finish celebrating The Cure’s most underrated songs by kicking out the gloom and kicking out the blues. Let’s get happy.
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More about: The Cure