Newly reissued albums feature Cure at its best

Jon Dieringer

The Cure can be a very frustrating band.

The only thing that’s remained consistent about the band is the erratic nature of their line-up changes. Frontman Robert Smith is, and has been for quite some time, the only member of the first few iterations of the band. Furthermore, it is rare among the Cure discography for any album to sound like its immediate predecessor.

With The Cure having such a varied past, Rhino’s remastered, two-disc reissues of each album in its discography go great lengths to sort things out. The April 26 reissue of albums two-through-four, Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography, represent The Cure’s only prolonged sense of consistency from album to album, as well as a marked shift from their debut.

Seventeen Seconds is what Smith considers to be the “true” first Cure album because he was unsatisfied with the straightforward, pop-punk direction of Three Imaginary Boys, which resulted largely from bassist Michael Dempsey’s influence. He was sacked in favor of Simon Gallup, a member of a local band who shared Smith’s musical ambitions.

The result is a far less memorable album than the one it was a reaction against. Smith had yet to develop fully as a vocalist and sounds lost among the gloom that pervades the new sound.

Furthermore, it is written in Johnny Black’s liner notes that the band found the sound they were looking for on the first day of recording and “everything was pretty much left untouched for the rest of the session.”

This lends itself to the album feeling rather static throughout, a stretch of exceedingly depressing songs — apparently for depression’s sake — that do little to distinguish themselves from each other.

There are still a few tracks that stand out: the single “A Forest,” “Play for Today” — an interesting peer to the work Joy Division was doing at the same time — and “M,” a song that could have easily been a cathartically downbeat pop tune under the direction of the previous Cure.

The bonus disc adds home demos and live tracks, but what’s most notable is the inclusion of two songs by Cult Hero, a sort of test band between Smith and Gallup before the latter’s official joining of The Cure.

The follow-up, Faith, is a definite improvement. Having laid the groundwork for the more gothic sound on Seventeen Seconds, The Cure was free to explore it, making for a much more interesting album.

Following a relatively droll opener, “Primary” has a driving post-punk energy that has more life than the entirety of Seconds. “The Funeral Party,” once the opener of side B, is a passionate dirge that marks a precedent for some of the more romantic Cure songs to follow.

Of the three albums, Seconds is relatively the most optimistic. There is a strong theme of belief and knowledge running throughout, one that embraces faith more than it rejects it.

Pornography, then, is quite a shift. Opening with the lyric, “It doesn’t matter if we all die,” and ending with “One more day like today and I’ll kill you . . . I must fight this sickness,” it epitomizes goth rock even better than The Cure’s masterpiece Disintegration.

The album marks where Robert Smith finally starts to sound like Robert Smith, his vocals helplessly unrestrained and all over the map, both emotionally and musically.

The most widely known Cure albums today are easily the singles collections, and the singles tended to be more tender and upbeat than the entirety of The Cure’s output. For listeners unfamiliar with The Cure’s early years, these reissues are a revelation.

Contact Pop Arts reporter Jon Dieringer at [email protected].