Ranking Cure Albums
The problem with ranking albums from prolific artists like The Cure is that I have listened to every album again and again, and am a fan of their entire collection. From top to bottom, this was a difficult list to compile, and I may change my mind after posting this. But here it is.
Favorite albums tend to lean toward the ear in which people “discover” an artist. For me, it was sometime in 1983 when my good friend and middle school classmate Paul brought his copy of 1982’s Pornography to school and had to explain to a teacher that there wasn’t anything actually pornographic in the album. It was so much darker than the other bands I listened to at the time, and while I now love the album, I wasn’t an instant fan. I was familiar with some of their other singles and had copies of Pornography, The Top, and Seventeen Seconds, but it was their 6th studio album, The Head on the Door, that made me a genuine fan. That and the Standing on a Beach collection (renamed ‘Staring at the Sea’ for the CD release). I then married one of the world’s biggest Cure fans who helped me complete my collection and dragged me along to many shows. In fact, we saw them play in Sacramento (Cal Expo) a couple weeks before my daughter was born (we also saw Peter Murphy perform twice that same week).
So…I am a huge fan, but any ranking has to start somewhere. My wife would vehemently disagree (Faith remains her favorite). Something has to be at the bottom. Here’s how I rank their 13 (current) studio albums:
13. Bloodflowers (2000)
Every ranking needs to begin somewhere, and for me – my least favorite Cure album is easily Bloodflowers. Which is not to say that their 11th studio album is not a good album. I enjoy every Cure album. But nothing on this record really stands out to me. It’s the closest Robert Smith gets to signing adult contemporary. Standouts for me are Maybe Someday and 39. The rest kind of puts me to sleep, to be honest.
12. The Cure (2004)
The 12th studio album doesn’t deserve to be this low on the list, because I really like the album….which speaks to the high quality of the Cure’s entire catalog. My wife, who was a much, much bigger fan of the band through her teenage years, would argue that nothing good happened post-Disintegration, but I beg to differ. I really like the pop-oriented The End of the World, the very modern alt.end, and Before Three are my favorites.
11. Three Imaginary Boys (1979)
The 1979 debut album is a classic, with the legendary 10:15 Saturday Night as the opening song. Highlights for me include the jazzy Meathook, the more new-wave Fire in Cairo, and the haunting Three Imaginary Boys. I remember hearing the album around 1982 and, aside from 10:15, being uninspired. The band was still trying to find their sound, which they quickly nailed down with their sophomore outing.
10. Wild Mood Swings (1996)
Reaching #1 on the UK charts and #12 on the US charts, their 10th studio album captured some of the mood and sound of earlier, more successful albums. The intro song, Want, for example, sounds like it could be on Kiss Me or Wish. Three of the singles, The 13th, Mint Car, and Gone! took their sound in a new, much more upbeat direction with Smith even singing he was “so happy I could scream.” To me, this album is much akin to the experimentation on 1983’s compilation album Japanese Whispers (which would be in my top 5 Cure albums were it considered a studio album).
9. The Top (1984)
Their 5th studio album followed a side project with Steve Severin from Siouxsie and the Banshees (The Glove) and in parallel with Smith’s contributions on the Banshees Hyaena (another amazing album) and, in my mind, captures some of the essences from both works. The only major single from the album was The Caterpillar, which is a Cure classic, but the entire album is solid, including favorites Shake Dog Shake, Dressing Up, and Birdmaid Girl. These sessions also produced one of my all-time favorite b-sides, Happy the Man.
8. Seventeen Seconds (1980)
Another famous album that would be higher on most die-hard Cure fan’s list is their 2nd studio album. A Forest is one of their most recognizable hits, as well as Play for Today. The album was a darker turn in sound for the band, with founding member Michael Dempsey departing, replaced by second longest member, bassist Simon Gallup, along with short-lived keyboardist Matthieu Hartley. They were still experimenting with their sound, moving into the darker, more minimalist sound.
7. Wish (1992)
How do you follow your best album? Besides a compilation album, a couple songs for movies soundtracks, and a live album? You produce the 9th studio album filled with solid songs and a couple chart-toppers. This album produced the overplayed but popular Friday I’m in Love, as well as the atmospheric High and more formulaic A Letter to Elise. Standouts for me are From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea, Doing the Unstuck and Cut, all of which are simply amazing.
6. 4:13 Dream (2008)
My wife would not approve of this album this high on the list, but their 13th studio album is really good. Intended originally to be a double album with 33 songs recorded, the album was pared down to 13 with four singles, starting with The Only One and followed by the entertaining Freakshow. The lineup for the band was reduced to 4 members, including Smith, longtime guitarist and saxophonist Porl Thompson, with Gallup on bass and Cooper on drums. For me, this album feels like another extension of Kiss Me, which, as you can see below, is higher up on my list. In fact The 3rd single, Sleep When I’m Dead, was originally written for 1985’s Head on the Door album.
5. Faith (1981)
We enter my top 5 with my wife’s absolute favorite album, Faith, their 3rd studio release. Reduced to the trio of Smith, Gallup, and Tolhurst, this is the sound that really shaped the band’s sound and persona. The only single on the album was the very popular Primary, with most of the album not-quite-right-for-radio. It’s dark and moody, but standouts for me at The Drowning Man, Other Voices, and All Cats Are Grey. During these sessions, the band also produced the almost 30-minute soundtrack Carnage Visors if you’re looking for a really really long and moody Cure song to piss people off at a party. 😉
4. The Head on the Door (1985)
Their 6th studio album is where the Cure really hit the mainstream — in the US and around the world. With two breakout hit singles, In Between Days and Close to Me – and is viewed by many as the beginning of the golden years lineup for the band, with Gallup returning to the lineup, Thompson formally joining the band (he had played with them in their early years), and Boris Williams (from the Thompson Twins) taking over drums. End to end, this is an excellent album, and it was a major part of my teenage years since the day it became available and I picked up a copy at Tower Records in Fair Oaks, California (across from the Sunrise Mall). Other standouts include Push, The Baby Screams, and Screw. Soooo good.
3. Pornography (1982)
Dipping back into the dark and moody with their 4th studio album, this was Smith, Gallup and Tolhurst at the height of their goth game. The Hanging Garden, the only single from this release, is a solid song, but for me the standouts of this album are A Short Term Effect, One Hundred Years, and haunted church organ of Cold. I know that we always give more weight to the albums where we truly became fans, but this is just such an incredibly powerful album that deserves to be this high because I do think it encapsulates everything created by the band up to that point and represents the sound that made them famous.
2. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
When their 7th studio album was released, I was dating (as a teenager) my now wife, and much of this album brings back memories of that summer. In fact, my wife saw The Cure on the Kiss Me tour and we still have the tour t-shirt in our collection. While Head on the Door brought the band into the mainstream around the world, this is the album that made them superstars. The singles Just Like Heaven and Why Can’t I Be You? were both massive hits. As with several of their albums, the band experimented with different styles, moving from brooding and moody goth to alt-rock pop. Standouts for me are How Beautiful You Are, All I Want, Like Cockatoos, Fight, and Hot Hot Hot. It’s difficult to even pare down that list — every song on the album is excellent. A must-listen.
1. Disintegration (1989)
Their 8th studio album is widely recognized as their best work to date, even their masterpiece. While much slower tempo than previous recordings, and with a consistent style and production, all four of the album’s singles were major hits: Lullaby, Fascination Street, Lovesong, and Pictures of You, helping it reach the Top 10 in 13 different countries. While it only reached #12 in the US, the deluxe edition released in 2010 hit #4 on the US Billboard chart (not bad for 21 years later!). Interestingly, Smith’s goal for the album was to get away from their more mainstream sound and deliberately recreate the sound and mood of the Pornography album. With significant usage of synths and keyboards, its definitely darker and moodier than Kiss Me and Head on the Door, but much more refined and mature than the earlier gloom, achieving both critical and commercial success, with Rolling Stone magazine rating it #9 in the best albums of the 1980’s.
Hope you enjoyed this list. If you’re interested, much of their catalog is available on Spotify, but if you’re just starting your Cure journey, I would recommend you purchase a copy of the Standing on a Beach collection. Great summary of their first 6 albums.