Following the demise of punk in Britain in 1978 and 1979, a new musical movement in the form of post-punk has emerged. With this new sub-genre of music emerging and evolving, darker elements began to creep into the music with heavy bass lines and ominous lyrics being part of this new sound. One of the bands that would help bring this new sound to the masses were the Cure as they would eventually become the most successful band of the Goth music movement.
Formed in 1976 by Robert Smith as the Easy Cure with bassist Michael Dempsey and drummer Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst in Crawley, England. They started out as a post-punk band with another guitarist in Porl Thompson, who would join the Cure in 1984, as they re-named themselves the Cure as a trio. In 1978, they met Polydor Records scout Chris Parry who had formed his own label Fiction as the band signed a deal with Parry. The band released the single Killing An Arab in 1978 that got attention for its controversial title as the band was recording their debut album called Three Imaginary Boys.
Produced by Chris Parry with a lot of original songs written by Cure with the exception of a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady. Three Imaginary Boys is an album that featured the Cure at their earliest formation as the band played a stark, stripped-down sound that was reminiscent of the post-punk music of the late 1970s. Featuring dark, somber lyrics by Robert Smith, the album would pre-date some of the darker yet atmospheric elements the Cure would bring to the music in the years to come. The result is a fascinating yet intriguing debut album the Cure.
Opening the album is one of the band’s famed songs in the single 10:15 Saturday Night that is led by stark, spurting guitar that is followed by melodic, wobbly bass line from Michael Dempsey as it builds up momentum for a bopping, mid-tempo rhythm that is driven by Lol Tolhurst’s drums and Smith’s washy guitar. With Smith’s soft, wailing vocals singing to some nocturnal-laden lyrics to set the mood for the entire album. Accuracy is a smooth, mid-tempo track with a steady drum fill from Tolhurst that is carried by spurting guitar washes from Smith and Dempsey’s sturdy bass lines. Smith sings dark lyrics that features eerie descriptive in its simple tone. Grinding Halt is a fast, upbeat track with swooning bass lines and bopping drums as Smith sings lyrics about a world where nothing exists as if everything has stopped that is carried by melodic guitar wash.
Another Day is a haunting yet somber track led by melodic guitar arpeggios that turns into a washy, mid-tempo track with smooth, walloping drums by Tolhurst. Smith sings in his wailing vocals as he sings about the mundane yet fascinating world of a day being unfolded. Object is a rocking track led by driving guitars and an intense rhythm that is carried by its sound as Smith wails through the song’s angry yet melancholic lyrics. Subway Song is a smooth, mid-tempo track led by spurting guitar and bass melodies that drive the track as Smith sings quietly with his eerie lyrics about a dark subway. Even as the song features Tolhurst’s soft’s cymbal taps and slow drum fills along with a harmonica wail to play up the dark tone of the song as it ends with a menacing sound. Next is a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady sung by Michael Dempsey that acts as an outtake as the band presents in a punk-like fashion with fast guitars and drums.
Meathook is a smooth, mid-tempo track with swanky guitar tracks and loopy bass lines as Smith sings in a hollow vocal style with imagery-laden lyrics about losing a girl to a butcher. The song has a strange, dark sense of humor that would be prevalent for many of the Cure songs in the years to come. So What is a fast, upbeat track with driving guitars and bass lines with Tolhurst’s pulsating drums as Smith sings abstract lyrics filled with melancholia and satire. Fire in Cairo is another upbeat track with a bopping rhythm and wobbly bass line as Smith sings dark lyrics filled with heartbreak and chaos. It’s Not You is an up-tempo, guitar-driven track with sturdy bass lines and hammering drums as Smith sings angst-ridden lyrics with his snarling vocals.
The album’s title track is a slow, dream-like track with washy guitars and hollow drums as Smith sings haunting lyrics that describes a nightmare happening as it includes a wailing guitar solo. The last track on the album is a fifty-four second instrumental called The Weedy Burton that has the band playing something upbeat with melodic guitar spurts and wobbly bass lines that is followed by Tolhurst’s steady drum fills.
The 2004 deluxe edition of the album from Rhino and Fiction records features the original album in a newly-remastered presentation supervised by Robert Smith. Also in the album is a second disc filled with loads of material including demos, live rarities, outtakes, and three remastered songs from the U.S. version of Three Imaginary Boys called Boys Don’t Cry. The only two tracks that don’t appear in the second disc as part of the reissue is the B-side Plastic Passion that appears in the 2004 B-sides/rarities box-set Join the Dots. The other track is the single Killing An Arab that is still available on the 1986 singles-compilation album Standing on the Beach/Staring at the Sea. The reason Killing An Arab isn’t in the deluxe edition is due to the controversial nature of the song as Smith felt it was inappropriate to play it following the events of 9/11.
The first four tracks are demos and a live track that were recorded in late 1977 and January of 1978 that would feature future guitarist Porl Thompson in these recordings as the Easy Cure. The first is a demo of I Want to Be Old is a fast-paced song with punk-driven rhythms and guitar riffs as Smith sings in a snarling vocal. The second demo is for the B-side I’m Cold is another fast-paced track with Thompson’s wailing guitar and driving bass lines as Smith sings dark lyrics with an angry, melancholic tone. A live version of Heroin Face, from a show at Crawley in December of 1977, is presented in a scratchy sound with hollow bass lines and drums that includes driving guitar tracks as Smith sings in a snarling vocal style. The demo for I Just Need Myself is another fast-paced song with wailing guitars that is presented in a speedy-punk rock style as Smith sings in a fast-snarling vocal style with biting lyrics. Next is a homemade demo of 10:15 Saturday Night performed solely by Smith who sings and plays the song on a wailing keyboard with a guitar.
The next two tracks are group demos from early 1978 featuring Thompson as it shows the band’s progression from punk to post-punk. The first is The Cocktail Party as it is presented roughly with a bopping rhythm and Smith’s hollow vocals. The second is Grinding Halt as it’s also presented in a rough form that includes a wailing solo from Thompson early in the song. The next four tracks are demos recorded in May of 1978 at Chestnut studio as the tracks It’s Not You, Fire in Cairo, 10:15 Saturday Night, and Boys Don’t Cry as each song is presented in a clearer demo though the performances were still sketchy along with Smith’s high-pitch vocals. Yet, the Chestnut demos proved that there’s potential in the band as the performances are very lively in its rough state.
The next three tracks are studio outtakes recorded in October of 1978 of songs that were previously unreleased. The first is Winter, a somber mid-tempo track led by arpeggio-laden guitar chimes and a steady, swooning rhythm as Smith sings dream-like yet morose lyrics as it’s a wonderful rarity. Faded Smiles (aka I Don’t Know) is a fast-paced song with driving guitars and pulsating rhythms as Smith sings in a snarling vocal style with some intense yet biting lyrics. Play with Me is a mid-tempo yet upbeat track with swanky guitar and loopy rhythms as Smith sings strange yet abstract lyrics with his calm vocal presentation.
The next three tracks come from the U.S. version of Three Imaginary Boys entitled Boys Don’t Cry that features two of the band’s early singles. The first of the three tracks is the mid-tempo World War that is carried by a slow, steady rhythm and Smith’s snarling vocals as he sings with dark imagery about war itself with wonderful description. Boy’s Don’t Cry is a wonderfully upbeat song with melodic guitar wails and a steady, bopping rhythm as Smith sings in a calm vocal style that is surrounded by humorous yet melancholic lyrics about heartbreak. Jumping Someone Else’s Train is another upbeat track carried by Smith’s washy, swanky guitar spurts and fast-paced bass lines that is followed by swift, pulsating drum fills. Smith’s snarling yet fast-paced vocals drive the song along with its eerie yet abstract lyrics as it’s one of the band’s defining singles.
The last three tracks are live tracks recorded at Nottingham on October of 1979 as it includes Subway Song, Accuracy, and 10:15 Saturday Night as they’re each presented with a broader sound to showcase the more-realized live sound of the band. Particularly as the songs sound much better though they’re still rough in its mix.
Released on May 11, 1979, the album drew excellent reviews from critics in Britain while the U.S. version entitled Boys Don’t Cry came out in February of 1980 in America. Despite the acclaim the album received, Robert Smith wasn’t entirely happy with the record as he decided to have more control about the band along with its image and sound. A tour with Siouxsie & the Banshees were Smith also played guitar for the band gave Smith an idea to take the Cure’s sound to another level. This new change would lead to Michael Dempsey’s departure as he would be the first of many to leave the band.
Three Imaginary Boys is a superb debut album from the Cure as it showcased the band’s early post-punk sound that included lyrical ideas and elements that band would showcase in the years to come. Compared to the three albums that would follow the band later on, it’s the weakest of the four though it is an interesting album to see where the Cure started off and how they would later evolve. Even through the demos and rarities that is presented in the deluxe edition while the album in its remastered form is truly captivating for its sparse production and stripped-down performance. In the end, Three Imaginary Boys is a phenomenal debut album from the Cure.
The Cure Studio Albums: Seventeen Seconds - Faith - Pornography - The Top - The Head at the Door - Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me - Disintegration - Wish - Wild Mood Swings - Bloodflowers - The Cure - 4:13 Dream
Compilations: Staring at the Sea/Standing on a Beach - Mixed Up - Galore - Greatest Hits - Join the Dots
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