A fumbling goth hit machine seems like a dichotomy as profound as an igloo in the desert. And yet, like the world’s strongest baby, The Cure defied all expectation and crept out from darkened shoegazing corner and captivated a fair chunk of the mainstream as they influenced the wave of alternative acts to come.
Central to this divide straddling ethos was the lyrical wizardry of Robert Smith. He has always been a songwriter capable of meddling a singalong pop chorus with a melee of weird and wonderful pieces of poignancy and poetic imagery. Mixing spiders and boogeymen with chart-topping success is no mean feat and The Cure’s ability to do this has always marked them out as a very singular presence within the milieu of the post-punk music generation.
Below, we’re delving into the best lyrics that the band have coined on each of their studio albums to date, from the weird and wonderful (like “It would be so perfect / If you would just fall out the window,” which sadly misses out) to the candidly earnest.
Let’s get to it.
The Cure’s best lyrics:
1. Three Imaginary Boys (1979) – ‘Another Day’
“The eastern sky grows….cold / Winter in water colours / Shades of grey.”
Punk went up like a bomb and, although its force was certainly still felt in 1979, there was already a sense that the explosion had been and gone. While a snarling vocal style lingers on their debut record, the mascara-clad melodies and deeply introspective lyrics already single The Cure out as something different.
‘Another Day’ is a short and sweet song, but this very literary imagery was a world away from a lot of what was happening in both the glitzy mainstream and the spiky cult realms that were unfurling around them.
2. Seventeen Seconds (1980) – ‘A Forest’
“The girl was never there / It’s always the same / I’m running towards nothing / Again and again and again and again…”
‘A Forest’ was the band’s first venture into the UK top 40 and it remains an eerie atmospheric classic today. In many ways the track is the perfect calling card for the band, not many other acts could’ve worked such a near mystic moody-art-school-Enya track into the launching platform of their career.
The song also represents the beauty of Smith’s lyrics. He is able to craft the classic tale of a frontman unlucky in his search for love into something almost mythical. The dark imagery of the track relishes in moody introspection and that is a style that influenced so many songwriters to come.
3. Faith (1981) – ‘The Funeral Party’
“I watched and acted wordlessly / As piece by piece you performed your story / Moving through an unknown past / Dancing at the funeral party.”
Faith is a record that saw the band delve further into gloominess and, for some fans, it lingers there a little too maudlinly.
‘The Funeral Party’ is hardly a song that pulled the album up by the bootstraps and, in many ways, the lyrics are almost drowned out in a novocaine shower of slowed down cascading synths and slurred vocals. When you bend your ear to them, however, they offer a gut-punch of poetic imagery.
4. Pornography (1982) – ‘Cold’
“Screaming at the moon / Another past time.”
The group’s fourth record found them on the brink of collapse. In-fighting, drug use and depression had flung the flailing Cure onto a slippery slope, fortunately, they had garnered enough chart support with their previous outings and crafted enough of an artistic identity to make it worthwhile.
There are a few couplets in ‘Cold’ that border on the farcically juvenile, but it simply wouldn’t be The Cure without lingering perilously close to a troubled college literature student’s notebook. They were brave enough to delve down there in order to grasp the visceral edge of youth.
5. The Top (1984) – ‘The Caterpillar’
“Dust my lemon lies / With powder pink and sweet.”
For ‘The Caterpillar’, Smith shares a songwriting credit with fellow member Lol Tolhurst and it seemed to pull the overtured atmosphere towards something more melodically sanguine. The year earlier, The Cure had released ‘The Love Cats’ as a stand-alone single and The Top built on this commercial success.
Lemon, powder pink and sweets are all words the put a vibrant, colourful image in the mind’s eye and that simple use of lexicon adds a splattering of effervescent fizz to the song.
6. The Head on the Door (1985) – ‘Close to Me’
“Oh, if only I was sure / That my head on the door was a dream.”
The mid-eighties were a hectic period for Smith, he was juggling fronting The Cure, playing the guitar in Siouxsie And The Banshees and recording his own side project The Glove. The result was a returning nightmarish vision induced by chickenpox in his youth.
“I used to get these horrible nightmarish visions of this head that used to hover in a chink of light that used to come when the bedroom lights were turned off and the door was just ajar,” Smith once explained. “The shaft of light that came from the hallway used to illuminate this patch of wallpaper and it would come to life and prophesise doom to me through the night whenever I put my eyes in that general direction.”
The vision returned owing to his mounting workload while making this record and it shines as a ray of his candid side.
7. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987) – ‘Just Like Heaven’
“Spinning on that dizzy edge / I kissed her face and kissed her head.”
With Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, the band entered somewhat of a purple patch, so much so that they were able to put out a double album chocked with hits. ‘Just Like Heaven’ is a glowing example of the band’s ability to blend the alternative overture of their work into pop perfect song structure.
There is so much poignant energy to this song that any lyrical couplet would do it, “Daylight licked me into shape / I must have been asleep for days,” is another wonderful bit of wordplay. The whole song has that sun-bleached 1980s vibe of sanguine nostalgia crystalised in an adrenalised sonic wave and the flowering poetry has a lot to do with that.
8. Disintegration (1989) – ‘Lullaby’
“Quietly he laughs and shaking his head / Creeps closer now, closer to the foot of the bed.”
Despite being crowned the eponymous music goths of the ‘80s the back catalogue of The Cure is surprisingly kaleidoscopic. With ‘Lullaby’, the band matched their aesthetic and earned the title and then some.
Lyrically, the song is frankly frightening. A bit like David Bowie’s ‘The Bewlay Brothers‘, this song could almost exist as a ‘pop horror’. The imagery is creepy, claustrophobic and entirely nonpareil. In short, this may well be the quintessential Cure song.
9. Wish (1992) – ‘A Letter to Elise’
“I can’t stay here every yesterday.”
Upon release, Wish debuted at number one in the UK albums chart and two in the US where it has sold over 1.2 million copies to date, making it their most commercially successful record.
Whether it is metaphors of clutching sand and holding back tears Smith just about reached a lyrical high on ‘A Letter to Elise’. There is much to be eulogised but, ultimately, it can be summed up as a near-perfect piece of soul pouring from Smith.
10. Wild Mood Swings (1996) – ‘Strange Attraction’
“It seems reality destroys our dreams I won’t forget you blossom / Faded red inside a tiny book of old goodbyes.”
Part of Smith’s songwriting style is just how much he can subtly cram into a simple song without it somehow becoming overcrowded. ‘Strange Attraction’ has a word count comparable to a short story, but somehow it flows along sweetly in a four-minute song.
Perhaps Smith can be so profuse with his words because nothing is off the table. In a cascade of candid emotions, he routinely happens upon the poignant like a BBC4 documentary on Lord Byron. By this point, he was even singing these tragic dirges with a sly smile.
11. Bloodflowers (2000) – ‘Bloodflowers’
“The time will never come to say goodbye / This tide never turns, you said.”
Bloodflowers found the band in an experimental mood, even more so than usual, and the record was met with mixed reviews. There is something captivating about the production that makes it seem like Smith is singing from another room, but by the same token, it is equally easy to see why it proved abrasive to some.
This marching lament on the erosion passing time and what it leaves behind is a moody riot that sees the band recapture the darkly atmospheric overtone of their early days as they emerge from under the rock of punk.
12. The Cure (2004) – ‘The End of The World’
“Stay if you want to / I’ll always wait to hear you.”
Admittedly, the band’s self-titled 12th album is far from their best and in a lyrical sense it is also a bit safer and more middling than we are used to from the boldly daring Smith, but he still manages to exhibit a canny knack of always being able to write melodically.
He is a songwriter who is always able to punctuate songs with poetry without having to meet either melody or words halfway and this is another example, albeit a simple one, of his ability to make the poignant singalong.
13. 4:13 Dream (2008) – ‘Sleep When I’m Dead’
“Give it to the bunny / And see if she kicks / Yeah give it to the puppy / And see if he sticks.”
The last station post in The Cure’s songbook provides us with a great opportunity to touch upon another element of Smith’s songwriting tropes – he has always had a firm grasp on the utterly bizarre.
I have no idea what he means by this strange verse, but it is arresting all the same. When nonsense poetry is too prolific it drops the poetical side of things and just became nonsense, but Smith was always able to embalm his kooky side with some hue of hidden meaning or the drama of mad imagery, coupling bunnies and puppies with death and darkness is an example of this worth cherishing.