Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Cure - Boys Don't Cry

Boys Don't Cry (1979) ****

The original U.K. version was entitled Three Imaginary Boys; this is a butcher job issued for the American market that deletes several album cuts and replaces them with stronger singles. Well, I for one am not going to shed a tear for their cover of Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," and the added singles that are "too poppy" for the gloom'n'doom Cure fans expect to the fit the mood of this album - screw the Cure fans, the singles were singles for a reason, and that's because they're catchier and more melodic than the albums tracks, and since when are bright, catchy pop songs a bad thing?  Oh, that's right, only if you're a mope freak.  But this isn't mopey music, contrary to the Cure's reputation.  Oh sure, it's moody, but it's too energetically and punkily played for moping.  Note I said punkily, not punk.  They were influenced by punk, alright, but so was every new, hip band in 1979.  The guitars are thin (like the Talking Heads), not buzzsaw chunky, and the mood is brooding, not angry - the only real bout of agression is a bit of Stranglers-level misogyny, "Object".  Even when the songs slow to a crawl the rhythms have a sharp bounce; the guitars play truncated notes that are called 'angular', that is when melody lines and notes are abruptly foreshortened. 

A Trouser Press review called this "a unique, intelligent halfway point between the Gang of Four and the Jam," which doesn't make much sense since the Cure at this point sound nothing like either.  It's more like a unique, intelligent halfway point between early Wire (the band use minimalist hooks to make the most out of their rudimentary musicianship, resulting in a thin and amateurish but compelling sound) and Joy Division (the whole Goth thing).  Throw in some Siouxsie & the Banshees (their big sister band at that point), the Talking Heads (reedy guitar lines), Bowie (in the vocal inflections, and so what else is new?), and the Stranglers' grimy evocation of the seedy urban underbelly ("Subway Song" is thematically a rewrite of "In the Shadows").  As a basic three-piece still in the process of mastering their instruments, the sound is far too thin; some keyboards or an extra guitar player certainly would have beefed things up for the better.  But perhaps that's for the best - the stark minimalism on their debut goes easier on my ears than the overproduced maximalism of their late-period records. 

Though their big hits would arrive much later in their career, this is the most direct and easily accessible music the Cure have ever produced.  Maybe because it's simply the most energetic, and it doesn't hurt that the songs are the shortest.  The hooks of the title track and "Jumping Someone Else's Train" get straight to the point, and "Fire In Cairo," certainly has a unique chorus hook of spelling the title out, which helpfully allows record buyers to remember when they're shopping for the single.  Was it a single?  Well, "Killing an Arab," was - a banned single in certain places, but don't get worked up, it's a reference to Camus' The Stranger.  Never heard of that book?  Don't worry, neither did George Bush until Bono lent him a copy.  Nothing racist about the song, though it's easy to see why it got misinterpreted.  Probably not the wisest course of action to play with such fire during a period of history when Britain's right-wing National Front goon squad was at their strongest, but hey, nobody gives the Clash too much flack for "White Riot".   

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