Ranking the albums of The Cure in order of greatness
The Cure are, undoubtedly, one of the most unique bands to have emerged from the creativity pool of the eighties. Having formed in the late seventies as part of the post-punk explosion, the band’s sound has evolved from their more vicious roots into something moodier, gloomier and altogether brighter. It has left the band as one of the most pivotal groups of Britain’s illustrious rock ‘n’ roll past. Hell, they can even stake a claim to having invented an entire genre.
That said, The Cure are a lot more than just goth poster boys. The group have developed a trademark sound that continues to play tricks on itself, forever masking the morose within candy-pop flavours while sugar is drenched in the sweat and tears of gloomy goth rock. It’s a juxtaposing combination which has made The Cure quite possibly the ultimate cult band. It means doing something like rating their studio albums from worst to best, puts us squarely in the firing line of their fanbase — wish us luck.
The Cure arrived out of Crawley in Sussex with their debut 1979 album Three Imaginary Boys little did they know that in 2020 the clamour for their latest album would be an insanely loud roar. While much of that roar comes from Robert Smith and the band’s resistance to releasing the damn thing, it also speaks highly of the group’s evolution. Post-punk, it appears, was just the start.
The band’s sound grew from the riff-heavy sonics of the explosion of punk and quickly began to define a genre in the eighties as they became the all-star goth band. It’s a change that would inspire countless bands to turn their outlook a little greyer. By the time the eighties came to an end, the band’s sound had once again evolved as it began to sugar-coat their dark lyrics with saccharine pop. It was the perfect blend of savoury and sweet.
Their evolution continued throughout their psychedelic jangly phase and back into their more gloomy sound. It’s been a career arc that shows no sign of ending anytime soon. Not only is their album certainly one of the most anticipated of the year, but their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame asserted their place in the annals of history.
If you’re not sure where to start with the impressive discography of The Cure and are unsure which of the band’s thirteen albums you should begin with, then below we’ve got you covered as we rank the albums in order of greatness.
The Cure’s albums ranked from worst to best:
13. 4:13 Dream (2008)
Part of the reason for such a hyped-up wait for the new Cure album, whenever that may arrive, is that we’ve waited over a decade since the disappointing release of 4:13 Dream. The record was one of the most poppy outputs from the band but suggested perhaps they had become tired of their own signature sound.
It was certainly a disappointment for those who had waited so long for a new album but it still has some classic Cure sensibilities. The album may have talked the talk and hinted that The Cure’s pop side was once again out and proud but it failed to ever truly walk the walk, let alone stage a march.
12. The Cure (2004)
Sometimes the pursuit of evolution can lead the band astray and their self-titled LP form 2004 is certainly one of their missteps. Employing nu-metal producer Ross Robinson may have been seen as an adventurous step in music-making but he ended up picturing the band as a pastiche of their former selves.
There are certainly some hit son the record, ‘Taking Off’ is a perfectly welcomed jangle-pop tune while the epic closing song ‘The Promise’ is simply marvellous. Otherwise, the rest of the album falls flat. Fine when it arrived as a morsel of the group for their starving fans but now it rarely gets a spin on the record player.
11. The Top (1984)
As The Cure grew out of their somewhat bleak post-punk period, they grew into some fairly uncomfortable guises to begin with. While the non-album singles like ‘Let’s Go To Bed’ and ‘Love Cats’ had seen some chart success, the vision of the band’s future was blurry at best. With the ring of pop stardom calling them closer to the cliff-edge the band produced their most saccharine record to date.
The real blurry vision, however, came from the band themselves. Almost composed entirely by Robert Smith as the different members of the group squabbled, it’s a reminder that having good co-workers always produces better material. However, we will say that the jaunty skiffle rhythm of ‘The Caterpillar’ is still capable of drawing a smile whenever we hear it.
10. Wild Mood Swings (1996)
When you’re trying to follow an album like Wish with something a little bit more leftfield, chances are you’re always going to fall short. That can certainly be said of 1996’s effort, Wild Mood Swings. With a shift in personnel as Boris Williams quit and Jason Cooper and Roger O’Donnell joined, the album is caught between two styles and perhaps landed at the wrong time too.
Released in the summer of ’96 as England was brimming with football and lad culture, The Cure’s attempts to satisfy everyone with their varying sounds as they paint by numbers and attempt to deliver a meal everyone can enjoy. Sadly, despite some big wins, not everybody leaves the table satisfied.
9. Faith (1981)
Here’s the first time we may upset some Cure fans. If you’re a diehard fan then the release of The Cure’s 1981 album Faith will likely remind you of a time when The Cure became a fully-realised band. Away from their searing post-punk debut, and further pursuit of the new sound on Seventeen Seconds the band had begun to cultivate a brand new sonic landscape that would dominate their style for the decade to come.
‘Primary’ and ‘The Funeral Party’ are two standout numbers from an album which showed that The Cure were about to become real icons of the music world. It’s a sign of just how good the band’s discography is that an album of this calibre is so low down on the list.
8. Bloodflowers (2000)
Robert Smith described Bloodflowers as part of the trilogy which also includes the behemoth albums Pornography and Disintegration as being ‘definitive Cure LPs’. The reason being that the sonic landscape of the record is melancholy yet wistful and welcoming, it saw Smith paint with a far broader brush than ever before.
That’s because Smith largely brings the album out of the theatre and, instead, grounds it in the reality of the modern, now-21st century world. The songs are big and beaming but largely intimate with songs such as ‘Where The Birds Always Sing’ being the pick of the bunch. It’s still regarded as one of Smith’s finest pieces of lyrical writing.
7. Wish (1992)
Following the release of Disintegration and with a swell of new fans and a growing group of critics now applauding the band’s every move, the group’s ninth album topped the UK chart and even climbed to number two on the Billboard chart proving that The Cure had truly gone global. Of course, a line-up change was employed as the group’s sound only grew.
The band were quickly becoming headline acts and stadium-sized acts at that. It meant that they needed to flesh out their sound and on Wish, they certainly did that. The band leaned into their baroque pop image and delivered some of their most obviously pop-adjacent songs ever. As well as ‘Friday, I’m In Love’ there was also ‘High’ a song dripping in romantic euphoria. But, for our money, ‘From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea’ is our favourite from the LP.
6. Three Imaginary Boys (1979)
Often a band’s debut album is determined as the most expressive of the group’s career. It stands to reason, too. After all, many bands have worked years and years to get that elusive first record deal and so have a large body of work to draw from nevermind the energy and enthusiasm to see the vision through. The same can’t quite be said of The Cure’s debut, largely because it provided such a jumping off point for the band.
The Cure were still growing into themselves when they released their searing post-punk debut Three Imaginary Boys. An album brimming with malicious intent was also drenched in melancholy and melodrama too. While we will quickly move on from their covers of ‘Foxy Lady’ by Jimi Hendrix, songs like ‘10.15 Saturday Night’, ‘Accuracy’ and ‘Object’ which all land with some serious weight. It hinted at a bright future.
5. Seventeen Seconds (1980)
Dreaded second album syndrome didn’t strike The Cure as they delivered one of their finest records straight off the back of their debut. Seventeen Seconds was released in 1980 and suggested that The Cure were about to become one of the major players of the music scene. Smith had a new vocal whine and the band’s music was suddenly lightened up and brightened to perfection.
Though the songs were still full of grim motifs and their signature aesthetic was beginning to pierce through, Smith demonstrated that his growing ability to craft left-field pop hits was coming to the fore. ‘Play For Today’ is a brilliant number but the gigantic ‘A Forest’ is still widely regarded as one of the band’s finest ever songs. There’s a heavy dose of nightlife angst and underworld glimmers but overall the album lands as another stepping stone to their stardom.
4. The Head on the Door (1985)
As Pearl Thompson became a part of the Cure’s recording band as well as their touring group, they brought with them a collection of jangle pop riffs that cemented The Cure as pure pop stars, if only for an album. Their sixth LP The Head on the Door, was also shaped, perhaps most prominently, by the advent of MTV.
As the network began to dominate the airwaves and determine the charts, the need to make music that would appeal to the core audience was evermore present. With this album, The Cure became chart-toppers and had escaped the gloomy sounds of the past to explore a shuffling and joyful pop sound that captivated an audience. ‘In Between Days’ and ‘Close To Me’ are the perfect examples of that theory coming to fruition.
3. Pornography (1982)
In 1982, The Cure were still establishing their sound and with this album, Pornography, the group did a great job at rounding it all out. If you wanted a quick summary of exactly what the band were all about in ‘82, then you need only hear one of the first lines of the album: “It doesn’t matter if we all die…”
That song, ‘One Hundred Years’, is one of many songs that highlights The Cure’s new direction. Having followed a similar path to Siouxsie and The Banshees (emerging from punk to find a new artistic channel), the group use their post-punk sensibilities to capture the intense feeling of the band’s regeneration.
The album is only eight tracks wrong but every aspect of gothic rock is covered. There are the themes of sex through the track ‘Siamese Twins’, drugs on ‘A Short Term Effect’ and the impending dread of death on pretty much of every song. The group brings their single-minded vision to record and prove that they were a band capable of defining whatever scene they drifted into. It just so happens that they’re happiest when sad.
2. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
When 1987 rolled around The Cure had not only been post-punk pioneers but had also branded themselves with their own specially crafted goth iron. They returned to jangle-pop, shoegaze spangly joy on their 1987 record and it became the first album to break the top 40 in the US.
Recorded amid the growing tensions between Smith and Lol Tolhurst, there’s a confidence to this album which makes it better than most of their catalogue.
Purists will likely see the inclusion of the album so high up on our list as an act of war but the beguiling nature of the record means that it has had us entranced ever since the needle first dropped. Whether it was the burning brass of ‘Why Can’t I Be You’ or the piano-driven beauty of ‘Just Like Heaven’, the LP cracked the lucrative American market and announced The Cure as a serious contender for the decade’s ultimate musical icons.
1. Disintegration (1989)
If there’s one album to distil the feverish attitude of The Cure then it has to be 1989’s Disintegration. There’s something greatly grotesque about taking a burgeoning pop career and metaphorically wiping your arse with it. It is this delightful image that is conjured up whenever you listen to The Cure’s album. If it isn’t, it should be.
The Cure had, by 1989, a serious career under their belts. They had emerged from punk as one of the artistic new auteurs of alternative rock music and their sound had even gone as far as to develop the group into pop stars. A series of pop records that charted well and saw some commercial success, could easily have swayed Robert Smith et al to follow the money trail to middle of the road obliteration. Instead, they revolted with this album.
The band use the 12 tracks of the album to create landscapes that feel moodier and more menacing than ever before. In fact, ‘Landscapes’ is likely too bright an expression, The Cure were digging wells on Disintegration and were happy to throw us all down there in a bucket. Robert Smith’s delicate state of mind is explored and expressed on every track with some particular favourites being ‘Plainsong’ and ‘Pictures of You’.
If The Cure’s music is all about seeing the beauty in the darkness of humanity then there is perhaps no better expression than that of Disintegration.