The Cure – Faith
Released April 14th, 1981 on Fiction Records and A&M Records
Produced by The Cure and Mike Hedges
Peaked at #14 UK
“Primary” (#43 UK)
It was always odd to me when people claimed that The Cure were for goths and mopers. The last great Adam Sandler film, The Wedding Singer, had a line where Sandler claimed that he had been “listening to a lot of The Cure lately” before delivering a bipolar proto-alt-rock song about wanting to die. I chuckled dutifully (the song is pretty funny) but never really got the joke at the time. In high school my knowledge of The Cure extended to their singles, but only really the singles from 1987 onward thanks to the 1997 Galore compilation. It always seemed to me that The Cure were more of a brightly coloured Eighties pop group, who could get wistful and sad and nostalgic but never really screamed black lipstick and dark clubs and, I dunno, bats flying in the night. As someone who dated a girl that was into black lipstick and dark clubs and bats flying in the night for quite a while in high school, I can honestly say the band never really came up in conversation.
This was purposeful on Robert Smith and Co.’s part. After making a claim for Hot New Band status with their post-punk/New Wave classic debut Boys Don’t Cry (or Three Imaginary Boys, or whatever you want to call it) they turned moody, dark, and gothic for a trio of albums. After tasting chart success starting in 1982, the band skewed more toward pop sounds, culminating in a #1 album in 1992 driven by the weirdo-romantic anthem “Friday I’m In Love.” Radio and compilation-makers focused on the commercially successful albums, pretending for the most part that anything prior to 1987’s transitional Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me didn’t exist save for maybe “Boys Don’t Cry” on late-night retro shows. This was just prior to P2P sharing took off in earnest; when we installed Napster on school computers in 2000-2001 we were at that point far more interested in finding deeply obscure metal bands that until then had only been found in whispers in the backs of guitar magazines. Checking out The Cure’s back catalog was not a priority at the time. As you might imagine, Turn On The Bright Lights caught me by complete surprise; it seemed to come out of left field at the time and I remember my roommate scrawling the title on his bedroom door in black marker. When I saw people comparing it (favourably or otherwise) to The Cure, I finally decided I needed to figure out what they meant. This is a lot to say that I came to The Cure’s goth trilogy somewhat later in life than others.
Faith is the middle record of that trilogy, and you could make a strong argument for it’s being the best. Seventeen Seconds, the first, is a band fighting its own instincts while trying to make something more true to themselves. Pornography, the third, is a harrowing listen, a masterpiece by a band with a few of them, but it is strikingly monochromatic when compared to Faith. Faith retains some of that old New Wave scene sound embedded here and there in it’s slow-crawl shuffle. It still wants to rock, whereas Pornography wants to pull the covers over its head and wait for the end to come. The single, “Primary”, is a straight-ahead darkwave rocker that shows where the band might have eventually transitioned to if they had never made their goth turn and still remained together; “Doubt”, the other up-tempo number, remains a hidden treat within the band’s discography. The Joy Division-esque bass lines remain the focus for much of the rest of the album, framing a series of textbook exercises in how to build mood and create a signature sound without falling into the trap of rewriting the same song several times. The band doubled-down on that kind of songwriting for “Pornography” and then spent two albums slowly walking it back; they started painting in tones other than grey and from there this sound gathered dust until it was resurrected in the mid-90s and again in the early 00s by successive waves of bands who picked up early Cure and Joy Division records and decided to make mopey indie rock bands. As it turns out, The Cure really is a goth icon, after all.