Gotcha Covered: The Cure
More than maybe 95% of the bands I tend to talk about, the Cure are one of those groups I have to actually stop and consider as one that gets tangled up in conversations not worth having. And by this I mean the issue of what it means to like the Cure, which I do to just enough of an extent — not an all-time favorite, but they’ve put out a bunch of singles and at least a couple albums I’d give an 8 or 9 out of 10 — that I have to get the disclaimers ready. I suspect that even after all this time, a lot of music generalists who are reluctant to go full Batcave or otherwise steal goth valor have to, too: “Oh, I know Robert Smith looks goofy and it’s all just mope music and it is silly to like the Cure, but…”
Why is that, anyways? Are the Cure one of those bands that we still, 40 years after their first single, have to constantly renegotiate on the kind of terms that make our intentions as impossible to misunderstand? After all, they had that problem from day one, since that first single, “Killing An Arab,” eventually lost something in translation from Camus reference to racism catalyst. (At least I’m pretty sure Santigold was aware of the irony; shame there doesn’t seem to be a wealth of good-sounding footage from when she had it in her setlist circa 2009.) So here we go with the opportunity to find out what we can about a well-known musical act’s public perception from a cover version or eight — and whether that perception requires a radical change, a savvy adaptation, or a reverent reproduction of a familiar song. How guilty is their pleasure?
Dinosaur Jr., “Just Like Heaven” (1989)
This is an article about Cure covers and yes of course I’m going to rave about this one because it’s an all-timer. Dinosaur Jr.’s wah-wah-smothered, dazed-and-contused version of the then-recent “Just Like Heaven” was originally recorded for a compilation until J Mascis rightfully decided they wanted to keep it for themselves and release it as a single. It captures everything that makes the original not just great but emblematic of its original creators’ strengths, still makes it sound like it belongs in the hands of this entirely different band, and takes a moment to goof on it a little (via total metal breakdown during the first chorus and the abrupt hatchet-to-the-tape ending during the second) without making it sound like it’s at the original’s expense. Robert Smith himself even admitted to loving it, and no wonder — it’s one of those hearing-with-fresh-ears revelations where you can find how sloppy and raucous a well-crafted pop song can be rendered and still maintain its shape.
The Dismemberment Plan, “Close To Me” (1995)
Just so you know, half of the songs on this list come from Cure tribute albums, of which there are far more than I ever expected. (Not represented in this list: Disintegrated – A Cure Tribute Compilation, Fictional – A Tribute To The Cure, 100 Tears – A Tribute To The Cure, Electro Cured (An Electro Tribute To The Cure), Our Voices – A Tribute To The Cure, Here’s The Real Cure (A Tribute To The Cure), A Night Like … A Tribute To The Cure, A Tribute To The Cure (15 Imaginary Songs), Prayers For Disintegration – A Tribute To The Cure, Strange As Angels: A Tribute To The Cure, or 10:15 Virtual Nights: A Tribute To The Cure. That last one’s vaporwave!) The 1995 comp Give Me The Cure seems more interesting than most — it’s an AIDS benefit that features a bunch of Washington, DC-area indie and punk artists, some at their peak (Shudder To Think, Jawbox) and others that were just emerging towards bigger things, like Ted Leo’s early band Chisel. The Dismemberment Plan’s discography was pretty short when they contributed their version of “Close to Me”; their single “Can We Be Mature?” was more or less the bulk of it, with debut LP ! coming out late in the year. But aside from the incongruous and out-of-place turntable scratching, this is a strong early sign of their epic-sweep indie rock applied to one of the Cure’s more uptempo songs, complete with an entire string section to help make Travis Morrison’s dismay that much more emotive. Does it disrupt the original’s balance of catchy upbeat music and borderline panic-attack lyrics? Sure, but it makes those familiar chords sound pretty dramatic.
Converge, “Disintegration” (1999)
Hardcore punks with enough metal in them to necessitate a whole new contentious portmanteau genre, metalcore pioneers Converge have stuck it out for decades selling catharsis to an audience that desperately needs it. Whether the concentrated-dose brand of catharsis they provide is compatible with the slow-grind graveyard lurch of the Cure’s most melancholy, psychedelic, epic-filled album depends on who you ask. But considering Converge occasionally reintroduced the cover into their setlists some 15 years after recording it in the studio, it’s safe to say they still stand by it. All they really needed to do was convert the rhythm from a gallop to a stomp — and then, only after hinting at it and building towards it for nearly half the song’s length. Going from the Cure’s tense, persistently rumbling drone to a slow-cresting approach to explosion in Converge’s version is a hell of a contrast, and if you’re going to reveal your secret goth tendencies, there’s no more intense way to do it.
Tricky, “The Love Cats” (2003)
Tricky’s rep has so thoroughly shifted from “daring innovator singlehandedly destroying old musical boundaries” to “well let’s hope that maybe this album will be slightly reminiscent of Maxinquaye” that I feel like his discography should be re-evaluated every few years, just to see if there’s a more interesting body of work than what most critics have collectively decided he’s put out. As someone who’s (hella old enough to have) been acquainted with his music since his mid ’90s buzz years, I don’t even remember exactly when it was that he was supposed to have fallen off — just that he did, and albums like 2003’s Vulnerable were said to be proof. Which… maybe? But certain people like to complain when a Towering Male Genius lets a heretofore un- or underknown woman take up more than a peripheral piece of his spotlight, so it’s probably helpful to adjust accordingly for Yoko Ruined The Beatles Syndrome and examine what Constanza Francavilla actually brings to the table here. And on this track at least, it’s the opportunity to make “The Love Cats” a duet, which, why wasn’t it one the whole time? As devoted to being breathily, close-quarters intimate — almost uncomfortably so — as the Cure original was in finding all the jaunty lightheartedness it could in the eroticism of being outsiders, there’s something approaching a fun theatrical defiance somewhere in here, even if the defiance is quiet and just a notch or two too wine-bar mellow in the instrumentation.
Bat For Lashes, “A Forest” (2008)
Here’s another tribute record selection, and this one of a song we saw redone last year by Frankie Rose — so call this a Gotcha Covered double-dip, maybe. If you want the simplest comparison points, it’s a gimme: Frankie’s version held to a sense of “this is already a perfect record” reverence and kept up the same six-minute breathless tempo as the Cure’s original, en route to making her own version of Seventeen Seconds in full. Natasha Khan, meanwhile, slows it down, as though she’s intent on pushing that early single all the way to the other end of the ’80s, where Robert Smith’s unease with the Cure’s public perception over the decade culminated in the downtempo introspection of Disintegration. And it’s not just slower, but shorter, as if all the impulsive and isolating emotions evoked in the lyrics and the melody were both expanded and contracted at the same time like a dolly zoom.
The Wedding Present, “High” (2009)
Tribute album #3 of 4 in this roundup has a lineup of mostly no-name bands about as compelling on the whole as its “sure, I can hash something out in Adobe Illustrator, just gimme 45 minutes” packaging. But hey — the Wedding Present’s on there, covering one of the hits from Wish, so let’s give that a shot. Sure, it’s concurrent with the period when even fans were starting to use the phrase “typical Wedding Present” more often than you’d like to see for a band that revered. Still, a quick punk-bordering run-through of one of the Cure’s janglier songs is a hard thing to screw up, and David Gedge’s pained scowl on this is a level of intentionally seething frustration that comes across like sharp cringe comedy. His flatly peevish recitation of that whole “And when I see you kitten as a cat” verse is a highlight.
The Big Pink, “Love Song” (2009)
Finally, the last and least of the tribute albums on the list is severely unfortunate in at least a few respects — though it’s hard to think of a worse one than the idea of “Boys Don’t Cry” being covered by Lostprophets, of all bands (content warning for the worst shit imaginable). Pictures Of You was compiled by the NME from assorted B-sides and unreleased tracks (with Dinosaur Jr.’s “Just Like Heaven” as a ringer) to tie into their decision to award the Cure with their influential-great-music-figure “Godlike Genius” award. And it turns out to be one of those “maybe I should just listen to a best-of” deals where all the risks turn out irritating and all the faithful moves wind up redundant. The Big Pink — remember when they were supposed to be 4AD’s next big thing in shoegaze nine years ago? — try their hand at “Love Song” by splattering it against the wall and smearing whatever remains into a grotesque synth-drone nightmare that turns the hookiest track from Disintegration into the most harrowing. It’s… kind of tryhard, really.
Yo La Tengo, “Friday I’m In Love” (2015)
In short: YLT do a pretty chill acoustic Georgia Hubley-sung version of everybody’s favorite anti-gloomy Cure song for Fakebook-throwback covers/etc. album Stuff Like That There. It sounds exactly how you think it would — a positive in my book — but there is also a video. There is a video, people. Beware the Day-Sayer — for every Friday is a Black Friday.