Behold Robert Smith: God of goth, icon of style, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, and, defeater of Mecha-Streisand. He’s also among the most prolific songwriters of his generation. He became the lead singer of The Cure by default when the band’s audition process didn’t produce anyone promising. Soon he was the primary songwriter and engine. By stepping in front of the mic, he went from being merely the “drunk rhythm guitarist” to one of the most iconic vocalists in the history of rock music.
In Smith’s most productive period (1979-1992) The Cure released a staggering five EPs and nine proper albums, including the masterpiece, Disintegration. But even that doesn’t do justice to Robert Smith’s output. From 1982 to 1984, he was also the lead guitarist of goth rock pioneers Siouxsie and the Banshees. In 1983, he recorded with Steve Severin under the moniker The Glove.
Additionally, Robert Smith produced an astonishing collection of bonus songs, covers, and unreleased demos as The Cure, all of which were finally collected in 2005 as Join the Dots: B-Sides and Rarities, 1978-2001. With almost five hours of material, Join the Dots is exhaustingly complete, and I do mean exhausting. But Smith isn’t just a great songwriter; he’s remarkably consistent. Several songs on Join the Dots are surely only rare because of technical limitations. In the ’70s and’ 80s, records and cassettes didn’t have much storage capacity, so The Cure were obliged to cut good songs. Some of those rejects, as we shall see, are among The Cure’s most interesting work.
These are The Cure’s 10 best deep cuts.
“Another Journey by Train”
On The Cure’s first album, Three Imaginary Boys (repackaged as Boys Don’t Cry in the USA), the band aspired to be a kind of punk-Beatles. A fine example of this is the third single, “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”, a fun song that doesn’t sound much like later Cure. During live performances in 1979 and ‘80, The Cure would often segue out of the song with the instrumental “Another Journey by Train”. As opposed to the sparser arrangements of Three Imaginary Boys, “Another Journey by Train” is dramatic, even adventurous, using waves of sound to capture a specific mood. With this emphasis on setting a scene, the song presaged the gothic sounds that The Cure would soon explore.
Flexipop was a British music magazine, founded in 1980 and shuttered in 1983. It might have gone broke because they gave out complimentary “flexidiscs” with each issue, and it was for one of these flexidiscs that The Cure produced, “Lament.” The mix on the Flexipop edition is harsh, almost jarring. The Cure smoothed out some of the rougher edges when they released “Lament” again as the B-side to their 1983 single, “The Walk”. To my ear, though, this second version goes too far and smooths out some of the personality. The wackier Flexipop mix is to be preferred.
“Mr. Pink Eyes”
Smith wrote this rollicking ode to his own reflection after a night of heavy drinking and included it on the 1983 single for “The Love Cats”. The piano gets your feet tapping, but it’s a little too frantic to be danceable. As the song progresses, the instruments develop a habit of falling into chaos. “Mr. Pink Eye” is delirious, goofy fun and much more enjoyable than the hangover that inspired it.
“Just One Kiss”
The Cure have a gift for anxiety — for impatiently tapping drums and fidgety guitars. “Just One Kiss” is in this mode. Released in 1982 as part of the single for “Let’s Go to Bed”, “Just One Kiss” is The Cure at their most melodramatic, and I mean that in a good way. The emotions are big. “Somebody died for this/ Somebody died for just one kiss.” It’s silly and grand, like one of the old gothic poets writing love letters while skulking about in graveyards.
“The Exploding Boy”
After Pornography, The Cure shifted away from gothic drama towards a brighter, poppier sound that would come to be called New Wave. The 1985 single “In Between Days” was one of the band’s biggest hits yet, and it was sold with “The Exploding Boy”. Here, the acoustic strumming and soaring sax cut against the darkness of the lyrics. Smith’s perspective wasn’t any sunnier, but he was repackaging his ideas for a wider audience.
“How Beautiful You Are”
Not all the best deep cuts must be obscure. “How Beautiful You Are” is a B-side off the great double album, 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. It’s one of The Cure’s better known records, but I’m here to argue for the greatness of “How Beautiful You Are”, a song that I’m defining as underrated because it doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page. “You want to know why I hate you?/ Well, I’ll try and explain,” Smith begins, his phrasing a master class in rock star vocals. The song works because of the urgent beat, but it’s the finer touches that really elevate the track: the doubling of vocals here and there, a bit of accordion. “How Beautiful You Are” remains right up there with “Lovesong” and “Fridays I’m in Love” as the best pop songs of The Cure’s discography.
Listening to the earliest post-punk songs, it’s tempting to imagine an alternate path for The Cure, like a more aggressive Joy Division without the tragic end. “Pillbox Tales” was recorded in 1979, but not released until the 1986 remix of “Boys Don’t Cry”. The lyrics set the mood: “Electric line, racing time/ Fire down the wall.” This is pure sonic adrenaline, with a heartbeat made of thumping guitar.
“Fire in Cairo”
Among the early songs, “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Killing an Arab” got the first radio play, but when it comes to effortless hooks, you can’t do much better than this B-side from Three Imaginary Boys. Smith’s voice smolders as he repeats, “Burns like fire, burns like fire in Cairo…” The song is sexy without featuring much sex. It lingers in a state of yearning, lost in those fiery eyes.
Smith’s adventures in movie soundtracks had mixed results. On the one hand, there’s “Dredd Song”, written for Sylvester Stallone’s 1995 action flick Judge Dredd. “Dredd Song” is, well, dreadful; cheesy and rote, a reminder that even a genius can stink up the place. On the other end of the spectrum is “Burn”. It was written for the movie The Crow, based on a comic that included The Cure’s lyrics. “Burn” is dark and driving, perfect for the movie, and still thrilling when heard on its own.
“Fear of Ghosts”
The Cure’s biggest hit is “Lovesong”, released as a single in 1989. Packaged with that single was The Cure’s grandest curiosity: “Fear of Ghosts”, nearly seven minutes of gothic psychedelia. With sitars, choirs, and strange percussives, “Fear of Ghosts” starts out like an instrumental, until an ethereal voice materializes. The lyrics are impressionistic and dark. Almost as soon as you make out the words, the voice fades away. It’s a lovely song, with a presence that lingers after it’s gone.