If I’m ever asked to rank gloomy guys with messy hair from best to worst, Robert Smith of The Cure would sit comfortably atop a list populated by such greats as Alan Moore, Edgar Allan Poe, and Oscar the Grouch. Am I drawn in by Robert’s unorthodox yet lovable (if you let it grow on you) vocal style? Do I most adore his ability to construct bitchin’ soundscapes with layer upon layer of affected guitar? Or do I simply have a penchant for dismal introspection? Oh, who am I kidding, we all know it’s the makeup. He’s like a sad clown version of Paul Stanley, sans platform boots.
Now before I proceed, any long time fan of The Cure will be quick to point out that Smith has penned more than his fair share of saccharine ditties. “Just Like Heaven” immediately comes to mind and also “Mint Car” if you prefer to dabble in the 90s. For the sake of this essay, however, I propose we all forget about those tracks and turn the clock back to the year 1979. Here we find a young Mr. Smith, fresh on the cusp of adulthood, having a hard go of things. I mean, I’m assuming he was struggling since it must have been at this exact moment that he flopped open the black composition notebook he undoubtedly used for writing song lyrics and hastily scrawled the following cry for help:
“I’m running towards nothing. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.”
In a scene that plays out in my mind time and time again, here is where I play the part of Robert’s witty, slightly overweight best friend. I toss my arm around him and say, “Hey old chum, it’s going to be alright. We’ve all been there. Now finish that freaky little poem, plug in that rad Strat knock off of yours, and make music history you beautiful bastard!”
I mean, I can sympathize after all. Each year, as the warm embrace of summer is disrupted by the cool kiss of autumn, my naturally lifted spirits also falter. Before I proceed, I by no means wish to belittle the pain of those who suffer from a depressive disorder that plagues them throughout the year. I just wish to chronicle how my melancholy rears its ugly head in typical fashion as the year begins to wind down and the epic three month long holiday season in the U.S. slowly drains my will to live. The proper name for this condition is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and it can last for an indeterminate amount of time, for me typically lifting during the springtime thaw. Since my depression is a temporary thing, I just keep my head down and soldier through it all, clinging to any artistic endeavor I can find that might bring some solace to my achy soul. For me, this means firing up the old record player (all post-punk and new wave should be enjoyed on vinyl) and presenting myself with a kick ass soundtrack, custom built for wallowing in misery.
Yes, I have a ritual of sorts that I enact each year as SAD shows up at my doorstep, a fresh coat of black lipstick smeared across its maw, donning a black turtleneck while holding a stack of Cormac McCarthy novels under its arm. This annual ceremony always begins in September when I feel pulled by unseen forces to take a journey through the legendary trilogy of albums The Cure released from 1980 to 1982. Ok, so another side note, Robert Smith considers the following Cure albums to be the band’s official “trilogy”: Pornography, Disintegration, and Bloodflowers. While those are certainly epic records, many Cure fans, myself included, consider the real “trilogy” to be the albums released in the early 80s: Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography. Mostly because these records all deal with nihilistic themes and have a similar sonic aura to them. Plus, I mean, they all came out back to back. Keep it simple, I say! Anyway, these albums warm my heart by reminding me that I’m not alone in my anguish. It’s almost as if Robert comes up alongside me and says, “forget that other rubbish, it’s perfectly fine for a boy to shed a few tears.”
In the posts that follow, I will take a closer look at the albums that comprise The Cure’s early 80s trilogy. I’ll break each album down, review a few standout tracks, and attempt to illustrate how each one pairs nicely with a particular phase of my seasonal depression. In doing so, I will reveal why I find the trilogy to be so captivating and how these records act as an embalming agent of sorts, preserving my sanity for revival at a later date. So turn down the lights dear reader, grab a warm beverage, and search for Seventeen Seconds on Spotify (if you must). I won’t judge.