Three Imaginary Boys, Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography (Rhino)
Reviewed by Christopher Gray, Fri., May 27, 2005
Three Imaginary Boys (Rhino/Elektra/Fiction)
Seventeen Seconds (Rhino/Elektra/Fiction)
Even though they hit paydirt right away with "Boys Don't Cry," their first single and possibly the finest of its era, the Cure were such a mess in their early days it's a minor miracle they survived not just as a band, but as human beings. They were constantly at loggerheads with one another, could barely play their instruments, never met a drink or drug they didn't take, and were so broke they had to record 1979's Three Imaginary Boys by sneaking into the studio and using the Jam's equipment. The only thing fully formed was Robert Smith's profound suburban alienation, the "drip drip drip" of his kitchen faucet on leadoff track "10:15 Saturday Night." Smith's ennui superimposed on punk-rock structure soon became the blueprint for post-punk, and it makes Boys a lithe, punchy debut that remains remarkably vital. (More remarkably, the two strongest singles from the period, "Boys" and "Jumping Someone Else's Train," didn't even make the LP.) Smith hated it, especially the rigid post-production by Fiction Records boss Chris Parry, and 1980's follow-up Seventeen Seconds is both a vociferous disavowal of Boys and the origins of the other Cure, gauzy merchants of gloom whose explorations of depression and unrequited love approach the symphonic and pathological. Unfortunately, their musical skills were not quite up to the level of Smith's ambition, and while the murky, amorphous sound suits his lyrics to a T, much of Seventeen Seconds lapses into monotony, leavened somewhat by the pop vestiges of "Play for Today" and particularly "A Forest," three of the Eighties' most haunting minutes. Smith showed no signs of coming out of his funk on 1981's Faith, reaching a somnambulant nadir on the 30-minute "Carnage Visors" soundtrack appended to Rhino's 2-CD expanded edition. "Doubt" and "The Holy Hour" continue the pall, while the seedy majesty of "Other Voices" points the way to the partial reconciliation of the two Cures that would result in their first great album. 1982's Pornography is harsh, unforgiving, frequently disturbing, and by no means pop, but the music is suddenly gripping and harrowing, finally giving Smith's twisted psyche free rein to seep into the conscience of a generation. Loaded with all manner of B-sides, demos, live tracks, outtakes, and omissions, Rhino's bonus discs provide bountiful elaboration and occasional whimsy, making the early Cure's improbable evolution all the more fascinating.
(Three Imaginary Boys)