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The magnetic impact of The Cure's debut album 'Three Imaginary Boys'


The Cure are a defiant band. Throughout their long career, spanning over four decades, Robert Smith and his band have largely refused to be confined to any genre, any ideal or style or just about anything else. Though they would find fame and fortune with a heady blend of dark truths wrapped up in candy-coloured joy, the group have never made it easy for their fans or music critics to summarise their output neatly. It is this defiance that has, ironically, defined them. Perhaps the most impressive thing is that the group have never shied away from such a stance.

Their debut album, Three Imaginary Boys, released in 1979, works perfectly as a pure example of the band’s refusal to work to the norms of rock and roll. Perhaps more importantly, it also works as the purest expression of their wholly magnetic sound. Now, we’re not going to sit here and say it’s the best Cure album ever made — it isn’t. But what we will say is that, without this record, there’s an excellent chance that The Cure wouldn’t have reached the heights they did. Let us explain.

The Cure arrived out of Crawley in Sussex with their debut 1979 album Three Imaginary Boys; little did they know that in the 21st century, 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 — still we wait — it also speaks highly of the group’s evolution. Post-punk, as the band were labelled, it appears, was just the start; they would soon dominate the entire music world through a colourful range of styles and ideals. In truth, the plans were all laid out on the debut.

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, never mind 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 and not only welcomed a series of different genres into the fold but defined their kaleidoscopic sound.

The Cure were still growing into themselves when they released their searing debut Three Imaginary Boys. An album brimming with malicious intent was also drenched in melancholy and melodrama too. Using the flourishing sounds of the cities around them, like the jangling indie sound of ‘10.15 Saturday Night’, the dark pop overtones of ‘Another Night’ which hinted at their goth future, the Isley Brothers-adjacent ‘Grinding Halt’, as well as ‘Fire In Cairo’ which could be released today and still sound fresh. The Cure made sure they wouldn’t be forgotten.

Through a mix of subtlety and savagery, The Cure began to enact their will. Musically, it sees the band mix paints on their palette and delivers brushstroke songs with effective elegance. Sometimes thrashing through the song like hooligans and sometimes recoiling like sweet romantics, The Cure were establishing their sound. Though it was born out of punk, it soon became so much more. It became a true original.

Of course, Smith had been involved in the punk scene from the very beginning, but as the movement fizzled out like a firecracker in a puddle, the scramble for a new sound was a very real one. Some artists chose to up the ante and kick their punk noise into overdrive, something which would eventually become known as hardcore in the US. That sub-culture would rely on authentic blood, sweat and tears but, on this side of the Atlantic, things were being highly designed. Punk was all well and good, but now the scene had learnt a few more chords, and the sonic exploration had begun once more.

Smith and The Cure leapt into action and created one of the defining if not most underrated albums of the time. Not often thought of as a typical Cure album, largely through the lack of Smith’s traditional tribal costume of fearsome hair and dark eyeliner, the LP actually showcases their style better than most. It is an album that pulls in influence from across the musical spectrum as well as using its bristling originality to bring in the audience too.

It would take a while for The Cure to become musical behemoths, but this album was their first heavy steps along the road.