The Cure are one of the most important British rock bands of all time. emerging from the post-punk movement of the late 1970s, the Crawley outfit have experienced a meandering career, with many highs, lows and everything in between.
Speaking musically, The Cure‘s back catalogue is one of the most eclectic of the last 40 years; there’s something for everyone in it. Whether it be the cold atmosphere of Seventeen Seconds, the dreamy alt-rock of The Head on the Door or the sugary pop of Wish, there are many stellar moments in The Cure’s discography, and these are just three.
Ostensibly, The Cure are carried by frontman and guitarist Robert Smith, who is the band’s only original member and has remained the driving force since their formation in 1978. Taking his lyrical inspiration from any place that he kind find, Smith’s songs have been cherrypicked from across the expansive spectrum of culture, helping to keep The Cure’s music fresh and alleviate any danger of being bogged down by genre-specific cliches.
Whilst the topics of Smith’s songs range from drugs to romance, one of the most interesting is ‘Birdmad Girl’ from 1984’s The Top. A heady piece featuring one of The Cure’s best acoustic guitar lines, and a funky bassline to boot, lyrically, it was based on Dylan Thomas’s poem ‘Love In The Asylum’. At the end of the first stanza, the poem describes “a girl mad as birds”, which gave The Cure their inspiration for the song’s title.
Unsurprisingly, the track features some of Smith’s most cryptic lyrics, including the repeated line “oh, I should be a polar bear”, which helps to reflect the album’s broader psychedelic themes. Per an account of the song by Smith himself, “The Polar Bear was a symbol (zoo-wise) for me, insensible savagery caged to be stared at. Or something like that”.
Smith’s sentiment in the song has long been regarded as having sympathy for the girl. In the track, he argues: “This girl just burns with love / She’s burning, burning deep inside”. Criticising the historical stigma toward mental illness, Smith maintains that the fictional girl is not defined by her illness, claiming instead that she is misunderstood, “She flies outside this cage”.
It transpires that ‘Birdmad Girl’ was actually written circa 1980, four years prior to the release of The Top. At the time of The Top‘s release, band member Lol Tolhurst explained: “It was inspired by a Dylan Thomas book. It was written by Robert. It talks about a madwoman. It’s funky. It was written during the Seventeen Seconds era”.
A stellar song that has a lot to say, there’s no surprise that ‘Birdmad Girl’ has long been a fan favourite of The Cure’s. Inspired by the cerebral density of Dylan Thomas and the multi-faceted lyrical argument of Robert Smith, there’s a lot to unpack, giving the song an edge that many Cure songs do not have.
Listen to ‘Birdmad Girl’ below.