Essential Music: Faith by The Cure

In a discussion today with a colleague about music, I recalled the wonderful years in the late 70s and early 80s when discovering new music was so different than it is now. One discovered music in “record stores” where one would flip through bins of “LPs” or “albums,” and, if one was lucky, one could ask purveyor of the store to play part of a record.

I was interested in obscure music, and, for a few years, my life was similar to that described in High Fidelity (both the book and the movie). I was friends with a guy who worked in a small record store in Jamaica, New York, and would go there and hang out after getting off the subway on my way home from work. There would be a few of us – a gnarly crowd, as in High Fidelity – all interested in the new wave music coming from the UK.

This was a time of small labels, and one of the bands we discovered at the time was The Cure. First through their UK-only release Three Imaginary Boys, then their first US release – a compilation of songs from Three Imaginary Boys and from some singles, called Boys Don’t Cry, which features that wonderful Camus-inspired song Killing an Arab. Later, the band morphed from a pop-ish post-punk band to a more gloomy sound with Seventeen Seconds, which had more “production” and a darker, euro-synth sound.

Finally, in 1981, came Faith, arguably the band’s finest album. Opening with the gray Holy Hour, it shifted back to the rhythmic pop of the early Cure with Primary, which highlighted the many wonderful short melodic phrases that made up the band’s early sound. Next come Other Voices (with hints of Joy Division) and All Cats are Grey, with a darker sound, yet stronger rhythm, and that ended side 1. (Remember when albums had sides?)

Side two features four gloomier songs: The Funeral Party, with lush vocals and a dirge-like tempo; Doubt, a fast-paced guitar-and-drums song, with very gruesome lyrics; The Drowning Man, a brilliantly minimalist guitar riff track, and probably the second-best song on the album; this track is based on Mervyn Peakes “The Gormenghast Trilogy.”

Finally, we get to the title track, Faith, a dirge. The final song is, perhaps, the band’s most powerful track, culminating what is a dark yet somehow optimistic album.

Catch me if I fall
I’m losing hold
I can’t just carry on this way
And every time
I turn away
Lose another blind game
The idea of perfection holds me
Suddenly I see you change
Everything at once
The same
But the mountain never moves

Rape me like a child
Christened in blood
Painted like an unknown saint
There’s nothing left but hope
Your voice is dead
And old
And always empty
Trust in me through closing years
Perfect moments wait
If only we could stay
Say the right words
Or cry like the stone white clown
And stand forever
Lost forever in a happy crowd

No one lifts their hands
No one lifts their eyes
Justified with empty words
The party just gets better and better

I went away alone
With nothing left
But faith

On the b-side of the cassette version of Faith was Carnage Visors, the soundtrack to an animated film that the band projected at their concerts in lieu of an opening act. At nearly 28 minutes, this piece made me wish they did more long pieces like this. I saw The Cure in a concert in New York in 1981, and they projected the film, but I seem to recall that they didn’t play the music live, alas.

I would listen to this album on my Sony Pressman, a precursor to the Walkman, that weighed as much as a brick, but let me hear music on the go. (Oh, how far we have come.) It was the perfect soundtrack to walking to and from my home and friends’ houses in the suburban night. It was one of my favorite albums of that period, in spite of its gloom. I have to say, the “goth” aspect of The Cure didn’t exist at the time; even when I saw them in concert, I didn’t see what would later be a growing goth movement (which I did see, a year or two later, at a Siouxsie & the Banshees concert). Together with Seventeen Seconds, and the earlier pop tracks, The Cure was a defining group for me in that period. Listening to Faith again today – something I haven’t done in years – reminded me just how good the music of that time was. While the melodies are stark, they are imbued with a sense of darkness, yet not the terminal darkness of Joy Division.

The band changed a lot shortly after this. Their 1982 album Pornography was the final record in this sort-of-trilogy (Seventeen Seconds, Faith, Pornography), and took the gloom a bit further. Around that time, singer Robert Smith cultivated a bizarre goth-makeup-weird-hair persona, and turned toward MTV-friendly pop music, until he became a parody of himself. But for a few years, The Cure was one of the most original bands around. If you listen to just one of their albums, Faith is the most unforgettable; if you grew up with it, you’ll certainly never forget it.