Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Cure

  • Boys Don't Cry [PVC, 1980] B+
  • Pornography [A&M, 1982] C
  • The Head on the Door [Elektra, 1985] B
  • Staring at the Sea: The Singles [Elektra, 1986] B+
  • Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me [Elektra, 1987] B
  • Disintegration [Elektra, 1989] C+
  • Wish [Fiction/Elektra, 1992] C+
  • Galore: The Singles 1987-1997 [Elektra/Fiction, 1997] Neither
  • Bloodflowers [Fiction/Elektra, 2000] Dud
  • The Cure [Geffen, 2004] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Boys Don't Cry [PVC, 1980]
The sound is dry postpunk, with touches of Wire's spare, arty melodicism, more Pink Flag than 154. Never pretty, it's treated with a properly mnemonic pop overlay--scan the titles and you'll recall a phrase from all but a few of these thirteen songs. Intelligent phrases they are, too. Yet what are we to think of a band whose best song is based on Albert Camus's The Stranger, a book that was holy writ for collegiate existentialists before Robert Smith was even born? The last thing we need is collegiate existentialism nostalgia. B+

Pornography [A&M, 1982]
"In books/And films/And in life/And in heaven/The sound of slaughter/As your body turns . . ."--no, I can't go on. I mean, why so glum, chum? Cheer up; look on the bright side. You got your contract, right? And your synthesizers, bet you'll have fun with them. Believe me, kid, it will pass. C

The Head on the Door [Elektra, 1985]
In the wiggy abstraction of his self-regard, Robert Smith has evolved into a Brit art-pop archetype. Eccentric though his songs are, they offer nothing arresting in the way of imagery ("like a baby screams" and "it's so smooth it even feels like skin," which latter is admittedly pretty good, are as meaty as it gets), much less character or incident. They're not really observed--it's more like they're experienced at a distance. Yet they're not dreamlike, though while he's at it he does report on his dreams--it's more like he doesn't know the difference between loneliness, solipsism, and satori, with lots of stuff about loved ones (girlfriends, I mean) who one way or another aren't there, or real, or something. His characteristic vocal technique is the unacknowledged sob. Yet his music, which on this album runs from New Order rip and electrodisco pseudo-strings to guitar sounds and many lands, isn't rendered any more normal by its exceedingly skillful deployment. And his originality is winning--he's clearly not just intelligent but hyperaware, at home in his alienation, and hence hero, even sex symbol, to a generation. Or at least its arty, collegiate market share. B

Staring at the Sea: The Singles [Elektra, 1986]
Caught in his least lugubrious moments, Robert Smith stands revealed as a guy who gets a lot of skin because he believes he can live without it. He just won't play the "stupid game" that hooks the definitive "Let's Go to Bed," with its rotating I-don't-if-you-don't challenges--care, feel, want it, say it, and of course play it (and now let's go to bed, it's getting late). Guys who don't make passes because they wear glasses hate him for this, as do guys who don't get laid despite their muscular bods and heads. Above the fray, I think he's kind of amusing myself--a real cool type. B+

Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me [Elektra, 1987]
Samey samey samey is the strategy--repeat repeat repeat repeat the same four-bar theme for sixteen, twenty-four, forty-eight, sixty-four bars before Robert Smith starts to whine, wail, warble, work. Because Smith hasn't veered this far pop since he was a boy, most of the themes stick with you, and in a few cases--my pick is "Just Like Heaven," which gets off to a relatively quick start--his romantic vagaries have universal potential. But especially over a double album, the strategy gets pretty tedious unless Smith happens to be whining, wailing, warbling, or working to you. B

Disintegration [Elektra, 1989]
With the transmutation of junk a species of junk itself, an evasion available to any charlatan or nincompoop, it's tempting to ignore this patent arena move altogether. But by pumping his bad faith and bad relationship into depressing moderato play-loud keyb anthems far more tedious than his endless vamps, Robert Smith does actually confront a life contradiction. Not the splintered relationship, needless to say, although the title tune is a suitably grotesque breakup song among unsuitably grotesque breakup songs. As with so many stars, even "private" ones who make a big deal of their "integrity," Smith's demon lover is his audience, now somehow swollen well beyond his ability to comprehend, much less control. Hence the huge scale of these gothic cliches. And watch out, you mass, 'cause if you don't accept this propitiation he just may start contemplating suicide again. Or take his money and go home. C+

Wish [Fiction/Elektra, 1992]
Maybe they're SoundScan scammers like Vince Gill and Skid Row, reaping unwarranted cred from a revamped accounting system. Or maybe they're cool alternatives like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, poised to prove the sales appeal of self-dramatizing pessimism. Maybe they're even riding the actual-hit "Friday I'm in Love," which actually sounds cheerful, though by Sunday it's over, actually. In any case, let it be noted that these new wave survivors, a specialized taste of undiscriminating undergraduates for years, have just now scored their biggest album ever, a redolent 13 years after they didn't actually kill that Arab. I ask you, where were the Moody Blues after 13 years? (Riding their second--and final--No. 1 album, since you didn't know.) C+

Galore: The Singles 1987-1997 [Elektra/Fiction, 1997] Neither

Bloodflowers [Fiction/Elektra, 2000] Dud

The Cure [Geffen, 2004] Dud

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