The Cure: Greatest Hits

The Cure - Greatest HitsSynopsis: It’s simple. Without The Cure, modern rock, and modern videos as we know them, would not exist and the irrefutable proof is all right here in their new collection. Songs: Boys Don’t Cry, A Forest, Let’s Go to Bed, The Walk, The Lovecats, Inbetween Days, Close To Me, Why Can’t I Be You?, Just Like Heaven, Lullaby, Lovesong, Never Enough, High, Friday I’m In Love, Mint Car, Wrong Number, Cut Here (new song), Just Say Yes (new song); plus 6 acoustic songs: A Forest, The Lovecats, Close to Me, Lullaby, Friday I’m in Love, Just Say Yes.

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The Cure: Greatest Hits 8.0

eyelights: the early-period songs and videos. the extras.
eyesores: the later-period songs and videos. the incompleteness of the set.

Let’s face it: for a time, The Cure were omnipresent. One wouldn’t know it now, but some of us grew up with the sounds of The Cure playing everywhere and images of frontman Robert Smith’s trademark smudgy make-up and spray-netted hair.

Gosh, I remember so vividly the first that I heard The Cure. I was in high school. A bunch of us had gathered to play a Truth or Dare-type card game that my friend Élizabeth and I had created together one lazy Sunday afternoon.

I had bused all the way to the suburbs, to a buddy’s place, with her and her high school gang. One of her friends, a quirky, artsy girl, had brought her tape of ‘Disintegration’ (The Cure’s then-current album) to play for us.

I really didn’t get it. Thankfully, it didn’t stay on for long; it was cut short after 4-5 songs.

Still, it left me curious. I don’t know why it did, but I was intrigued enough that I eventually sought out their singles collection ‘Standing on a Beach’, which was backed a b-sides collection called ‘Staring at the Sea’.

Between the two of them, I got an earful of what The Cure were about. Some of it was dark, some bouncy, some weird, some creepy as !@#$. But it made them all the more interesting: there were a lot of terrific songs there.

And there was nothing else like them.

I eventually picked up ‘Mixed Up’, the remix collection that followed hot on the heels of ‘Disintegration’ and started to fall in love with them. The more I played them, the more I was hooked. And the more I wanted.

I still remember sneaking into the basement of a friend of mine while she and her parents were away (this has been arranged with her, naturally) to copy a TV special of The Cure and their MTV Unplugged onto a VHS tape. I just had to see those!

I eventually got around to picking up ‘Disintegration’ (although I don’t remember exactly when I did) and played the heck out of it. The first half was full of hooks, while the second side was dark, atmospheric, delicious.

I adore ‘Disintegration’: it remains in my top 5 of all time to this day.

Since then, I’ve picked up just about as much The Cure as I could find. At least locally. I don’t like all of it, naturally, but there’s a terrific ten-year period stretching from 1980 to 1990 that produced some truly wondrous stuff.

They’ve fallen into a bit of a rut these last few years, but I nonetheless jumped at the chance to pick up ‘Greatest Hits’, both the 2CD set (featuring an acoustic side) and the DVD, which consists of many of the videos up until 2001.

Although this video collection is incomplete (there were plenty of other videos that are conspicuously absent), it is at least presented in a chronological order, providing us with a somewhat decent account of the group’s progression.

(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)

1. Boys Don’t Cry: The second single by The Cure is a bouncy, fun, ditty about a man who tries to hold back his tears after breaking up with his partner. It wasn’t a hit back in 1979, but it was remixed and re-released in 1986 to promote ‘Standing on the Beach’. I love this song (or, at least, this version of it).

This video is awesome: three kids mimic The Cure in the foreground while the band plays in silhouette behind a curtain, as the kids’ shadows – but sometimes with red eyes. Dancing hands are sometimes superimposed on the screen. At one point, Smith breaks out and dances about. The video was made in 1986, which accounts for the way The Cure looks here. 8.25/8.5

2. A Forest: This is one of my favourite songs by The Cure: it’s driven by one of the most hooky bass grooves. It’s infectious. It’s such a classic that it’s been played at over 800 of their concerts. Unfortunately, this single edit is a whole two minutes shorter than the original.

This was the group’s very first video, and it consists of footage of them playing on Tops of the Pops in green and blue light, with insert shots of trees. Smith is without make-up, clean, expressionless. I wouldn’t recognize him on the street; he could very well be anyone else. Actually, he kind of looks like he could be Ben Affleck’s sedated younger brother. Not Casey Affleck. Just saying. Anyway, it’s a boring video. 8.25/5.5

3. Let’s Go to Bed: Here’s another catchy, fun single. The Cure used to release many non-album tracks at the time, including this and “Boys Don’t Cry”. They were some of their best. This one is less guitar and bass-oriented than in the past and features keyboard and vocal hooks (notably a series of “Doo doo doo”).

For the video, Smith is singing while some other guy is dancing and playing ball in the background. The two play the piano, paint on the wall (or on each other), pull up shades/screens with girls’ names on them and twitch on the ground. It’s wacko, playful, demented fun. 8.0/8.0

4. The Walk: Another of their wicked non-album tracks (which were all eventually gathered on compilations), this is a groovy bass-driven piece with keyboard licks. It’s super catchy, and very much synth-driven. It was also The Cure’s first top 20 single in the UK.

The video consists merely of Smith and the band jumping about, sitting in a wading pool with toys, all made up. Smith also plays with a baby doll with a kabuki mask on, and there’s an older woman doing sign language in the background at one point. It’s an odd video, but it’s different in what would have been a refreshing way at the time. 8.25/7.5

5. The Lovecats: This was The Cure’s first top 10 hit in the UK, and it’s one of my favourites because it’s so playful. It’s a bass and drum-driven number with a superb bass groove and a piano solo during the chorus. Did I mention that it’s super playful? I wuvs it.

It starts with shots of cats, and then we find The Cure playing like a demented jazz band in a white house with lots of shadows. There are also plush cats involved. By this point in the band’s career, Smith was starting to develop his peculiar tics and vocal affectations. Very cool stuff, because it makes it seem like it would be fun being around his energy. 8.25/7.5

6. Inbetween Days: Drawn from one of my favourite The Cure albums, ‘Head on the Door’, this was an international hit for the group. It’s very keys-influenced, and it’s backed by quick drums and guitar. I find it catchy but unsubstantial, but I suspect I’m alone on that one given its success.

The video features a different look for The Cure: longer hair, teased, and more make up. It’s a band performance but with one or the other musicians in the foreground, bopping about, rocked along with the camera. There are also shots of Smith’s face all lit up in fluorescent, as well as fluorescent socks and swirls of colours popping up on screen. It’s a chaotic, simple video. 7.25/7.25

7. Close to Me: Also from ‘Head on the Door’, “Close to Me” has a bouncy vibe, with xylophone and hand claps driving it. There are also horns that stand out from the mix. It’s definitely one of the great The Cure singles.

The video is even more remarkable. It begins with creaking doors closing over the sight of a pretty field by a river. The Cure are stuck together in a dresser, playing the music on a mini keyboard, plastic comb, and doing hand claps – while Smith sings and plays with finger puppets. It’s a claustrophobic setting already, but there’s lots of shaking from their playing and the dresser teeters over the cliff and into the sea. Water seeps in and they end up submerged in it. It’s unusual, original, memorable. 8.0/8.25

8. Why Can’t I Be You?: This was the first single to their seventh studio album, ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’. It’s a high-energy number with horns and light-hearted lyrics. It’s fun, as many of their singles were at the time.

The video consists of The Cure, on a set wearing various costumes, dancing, doing a choreography, and performing. There are lots of flashing lights and quick cuts, as well as ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show‘-type lips. It’s a cheapie but it’s a good time. It feels like a party. 7.75/7.5

9. Just Like Heaven: “Just Like Heaven” is the third single from ‘Kiss Me…’ and it was a smash hit around the world. It was, in fact, The Cure’s first top 40 single in the US. It’s an up-tempo number with a nice guitar lick. Personally, I think that it’s lovely, but nothing special. And yet, it’s considered by many as a perfect pop song and the strongest The Cure ever wrote. Seriously?

The video is also underwhelming to me. It shows the band performing on a rock cliff set with a grey sky. They’re all in black. There are also shots of them at night in white tuxes, with Smith dancing with a girl in a wedding dress. There are also inserts of waterfalls. Frankly, to me it looks more like a standard rock video than a The Cure video. It’s kinda boring, really. 7.5/7.0

10. Lullaby: The first single from ‘Disintegration’, “Lullaby” has a sinister vibe right from the start with breathed vocals, and then a hooky keyboard and bass groove. It is said that it’s a song about Smith’s past drug addiction. Anyway, it has a lovely rhythm and a terrific instrumental keyboard closer. I’m rather fond of this one, although I had to warm up to it. It’s their biggest hit in the UK to date.

The video is quite artsy-looking. It features Smith lying frozen in bed, all painted up (poorly), looking around the room, terrified. There are spider webs, a spider, shots of the band playing in marching band costumes and Smith’s evil doppelgänger, the spider man, creeping up. At the end, he’s being swallowed by a big furry thing. Chilling stuff. It won the Brit Award for best video in 1990. 8.5/8.5

11. Lovesong: The third single from ‘Disintegration’, “Lovesong” is one of my all-time favourite songs, mostly for the lyrics; it really expresses the elation one feels when in love. It’s simple but delectable, idyllic. I love the line “Fly me to the moon”. This became their greatest hit in the US, something they haven’t outdone so far.

For the video, Smith is sitting in a cave, curled up between stalactites, singing the lyrics. He’s all made up, looking melancholy, reflective. There are also shots of the other band members, but it feels like the Robert Smith show. There’s nothing else to it. It’s an underwhelming video, I must say, especially given the gorgeousness of the song. 8.5/5.0

12. Never Enough: This was released for The Cure’s remix album, ‘Mixed Up’, which featured wicked extended version of some of their choicest hits. This was the only new track and it sounded nothing like any of the other songs on the compilation: repetitious, dreary, not playful. I never liked the song, not even the remix.

The video begins with shots of a short man with a bowler and eye-patch trying to draw people to his seaside Freak Show. It’s a set, which we enter, finding The Cure and others in all sorts of strange guises. Then the band plays, crunched up on a small stage. Smith falls out of the stage and hangs upside down over the water. It’s all quick cuts and blurry-cam, giving the video momentum. It ends with the man with the eye-patch cackling from his ticket booth. 4.0/7.75

13. High: The first single from 1992’s ‘Wish’, “High” starts with twinkles, as though we could expect magic. It has good tempo, it’s clean, bright, and has a few interesting soundscapes, but to me, it sounds like “Just Like Heaven, pt. 2”, as though they were following a formula or trying to recreate The Cure’s hit-making sound. Naturally, it was a big hit.

The video for this one is one of my least favourite. It basically consists of The Cure playing in a Méliès-type airship high up in the clouds. It’s been processed in such a way that all colour look pastel. There is also some clean footage of Smith hanging from a kite, floating in the air. Whoopee. 7.5/4.0

14. Friday I’m In Love: I hate it when people refer to this song and proclaim “I Love The Cure”. Knowing one song does not a fan make. Anyway, it’s probably the most non-The Cure song ever: it could easily have been a country/folk song. In any case, it’s catchy, infectious, and saccharine. It’s hard not to like. It was a huge hit and it still plays far too much now.

The video shows The Cure descending some stairs onto a theatre’s stage, and then performing while tons of stagehands are bringing props and dressing the set. It’s chaotic, but fun, kind of like a party. It works with the jubilant nature of the song. 8.25/7.5

15. Mint Car: This second single from ‘Wild Mood Swings’ is an up-tempo, guitar-based song with catchy vocals. Apparently Smith expected it to be a bigger hit than “Friday I’m in Love”. It wasn’t.

The video shows Smith as a ’30s actor performing in an Egyptian film, and various others, going to soirees, …etc. Frankly, there’s too much going on too fast to describe this one. 7.25/7.5

16. Wrong Number: This was originally the only new track on a compilation called ‘Galore’, which focused on the singles released after ‘Standing on the Beach’. It’s heavier, with electronic sounds and a dance beat. And yet it’s trying too hard to rock. It doesn’t work.

The video is extremely elaborate, with lots of sets, characters, and effects. It’s ADD-addled, with lots of costume changes, quick cuts and… snakes. Frankly, it’s another one that’s impossible to describe. But who cares, really? I certainly don’t. 5.5/6.5

17. Cut Here: Intended to be the promotional single for ‘Greatest Hits’, this song of loss is a truly bland rock song with a dance beat and mild keyboard hook. To me, it sounds like the generic stuff that New Order has been filling their albums with since 2001.

The video has the band performing the track with each member shown separately, side-by-side, with the camera panning laterally to capture them playing. Effects eventually make the picture a bit interesting, but it’s bland, overall. What’s striking here is that Smith looks considerably older and unwell. 5.75/6.5

18. Just Say Yes: “Just Say Yes” is the second new track found on ‘Greatest Hits’, along with “Cut Here”. It’s basically a rock track with Eastern flavours. The only notable aspect of it is that it’s a duet of sorts, with Republica’s singer Saffron echoing Smith. Frankly, it’s not very interesting.

The video is basically a band performance on a set with curtains behind them and different colours. It’s another ADD-fest, with lots of costume changes. By this point, Smith is starting to look really dumpy. It’s distracting, especially next to the beautiful, sexy, and vibrant Saffron. I wonder if his health is on the decline. Anyway, the video makes it look like they’re having fun, but I wasn’t. 5.0/6.5

With the release of ‘Greatest Hits’, for some reason The Cure decided to record all of the compilation’s tracks stripped down, with acoustic guitars (and drums, keyboards and other percussion instruments).

Called ‘Acoustic Hits’, it was released as a companion piece CD with only a limited number of the ‘Greatest Hits’ discs. Naturally, I got a copy. Anyway, the DVD includes six of those songs, performed live in the studio:

A Forest 8.5
The Lovecats 8.25
Close to Me 8.0
Lullaby 8.25
Friday I’m in Love 8.25
Just Say Yes 7.5

There’s really not much to it: it’s essentially like a mini acoustic concert, but with each song recorded separately. The performances are static and dispassionate, but there are a lot of cuts to make it more interesting.

“A Forest” translates to this format the best of the bunch; this was originally recorded early in their career and there were less production flourishes at the time. “The Lovecats” is interesting because the vocal hook is replaced by piano.

Meanwhile, “Lullaby” was a little less good than its original version, but the performance was shown with the screen split in six, for each band member. As for “Just Say Yes”, I like these arrangements better for whatever reason.

It’s not at all obvious anywhere, but the DVD also conceals three bonus videos. You have to go into the song menu and diddle about to find them (there are instructions for each one online, for those interested in finding them):

The Caterpillar: This is the only single that was released from ‘The Top’, the band’s fifth album. It’s a deliriously fun song that begins with chaotic piano tinkles, plus dissonant strings and percussion. Then the band kicks in with hooky vocals and an almost Spanish vibe. Good times, and one of my favourite tracks of theirs.

The video was shot at the Great Conservatory at Syon Park, London. It begins with shots of butterflies, and a Chinese dragon wandering about outside on the lawns. Inside, The Cure is playing in a green space, bouncing along with their instruments. Smith is separate, singing under small trees. I love the architecture, and the space. And the video is a demented good time. 8.5/8.0

Close to Me (Closest mix): Released to promote ‘Mixed Up’, which contained the long version of the remix, called “Closer mix”, it features heavier beats, and for some reason feels slower than the original somehow. It’s okay.

The video is basically a sequel to the original song’s video, taking up where it left off. Now they’re in an “underwater” set, coming out of the dresser. There are men in foamy costumes of an octopus and other sea creatures. The octopus grabs at Smith, the others play horns. When one of the band members lets go of the comb he was playing on, it floats up to the surface. The image is distorted to suggest being underwater. It’s a bit fun, but could have been better. 7.5/7.5

Pictures of You: I really like the album version of this track, which is on ‘Disintegration’. Sadly, this a remix edit, shorter by nearly three minutes. Still, it’s lovely, with bright guitars, but heavy bass and keys. The magic twinkles are a nice touch. It’s such a delicious pop song, but precisely because of that mix of heavy and bright – sort of like sweet and salty.

For the video, The Cure are performing outside, in the snow, wearing winter gear. Strangely, there are exotic trees propped up all around them. But it’s definitely winter: the wind is strong, blowing some snow, there’s a man in a polar bear suit and they end the video with a snowball fight. It’s a grainy, grim, ugly video, and it’s not much fun. 8.0/4.0

Watching this collection for the first time in probably a decade, I was astounded by how unique, original, the early videos were. Much like New Order and Depeche Mode, The Cure were more creative when they had to make do with less.

I also discovered, in writing up this blurb, that they too had their own director, in a way: whereas DM had Anton Corbjin, The Cure had Tim Pope working on all of their videos from 1982 to 1992 – when all their best videos came out.

Unsurprisingly, Pope also worked with Siouxsie and The Banshees on a few videos, as well as with other acts. Sadly, he appears to have hit a speed bump in his career when he directed ‘The Crow: City of Angels’ in 1996 – a gross misfire.

In any case, The Cure weren’t the same even with him at the helm by then. Smith appeared to self-consciously attempt to write hit singles, and the videos had far too much money thrown at them. For me, anyway, the fun was stripping away.

The ‘Greatest Hits’ DVD reminded me of how potent and prolific the band was for about ten years, and how disappointing their output has been since (case-in-point, they’ve only released two new studio albums since 2000).

At their creative, quirky best, The Cure were the flag bearers of the alternative movement: you just couldn’t get more different from the mainstream and still get infectious pop ditties than with The Cure. Well, nothing ever lasts.

‘Greatest Hits’ is a decent enough collection as a career overview, but it’s certainly more interesting in its first half. Too bad it’s not complete. Still, it has enough goodies packed on the disc for fans and the curious to seek it out.

And maybe someday we’ll get a full collection on DVD or BD.

Post scriptum: as I wrote this blurb, I discovered that there are two home video collections that were released through the years that cover most of their output: a VHS companion to ‘Standing on the Beach’, called ‘Staring at the Sea’, and the VHS version of ‘Galore’.

Between the two, one can find all of The Cure’s videos from 1979 to 1997. Had I known, I would have sought those tapes out before starting this blurb. Oh well. And as for the videos since then? Well, they’re not compiled anywhere. And, although I’m a completist, I can’t say that I care.

Dates of viewings: October 19 + 20, 2014

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