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The Smiths Vs. The Cure
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Queen Is Dead, we finally settle the oldest dispute in mope rock.
By Mike DiBenedetto and Peter Malamud Smith
The Smiths' Morrissey and The Cure's Robert Smith have been at each others' throats since the early ‘80s. Given that both of them were mopey, sexually ambiguous English boys who sang melancholic ballads over jangly guitars, the whole thing must've seemed pretty odd to your average Wham fan.
But if we look closer at the two bands, we can see that one is awesome and one actually is totally lame. We're just divided about which one's which. So today, to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead (and also because we've wanted to do this for a while), two Nerve writers will finally settle this debate. May the gloomiest man win.
The Smiths Are Better Than The Cure
I've always loved The Smiths. I've always wanted to like The Cure, and sometimes I actually think I do like The Cure. Danceable post-punk sound, arty lyrics, pop instincts — what could be wrong with that? Then I actually listen to a Cure album and remember why I don't like them. This must be the most monochromatic band on earth. Let's take a look at a classic Cure song, "Plainsong," which opens Disintegration, roundly considered their best album. By the time the vocals come in two-and-a-half minutes into this thing, I've heard the same slow, majestic chord progression for forty-two measures.
The Cure - Plainsong
And now that I've joined him on his blasted, featureless heath, what does Bob Smith have to say to me? Does he have an arresting image? A clever turn of phrase? A sharp insight about the human condition? No, he's got a witless goth cliché that would've embarrassed Lord Byron: "You said, 'And it's so cold/ It's like the cold if you were dead.'"
Why am I here? Why doesn't this guy write songs where anything happens? It's not like these songs aren't pretty; I just wish they were more eventful. (Plain song is right.) Even "Pictures of You" goes on for seven-and-a-half minutes, and that was one of Disintegration's singles, for God's sake.
People who don't really listen to The Smiths accuse them of this same lugubriousness all the time, but compare "Plainsong" to their "William, It Was Really Nothing." "William" bursts in with energetic chords, changes key unpredictably, crescendos; Morrissey sets a scene, introduces his characters, cracks a joke; then it's over. Look at the tonal palette of this song: it's funny, it's wry, it's sad, it's hopeful. And if you started playing "Plainsong" at the same time, Morrissey would be done before Robert Smith even started singing. To paraphrase Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, it takes The Smiths less than two minutes to accomplish what it takes The Cure hours to not accomplish.
The Smiths - William, It Was Really Nothing
Now, you can say I'm stacking the deck here, picking a great Smiths song and an average Cure song. Fair, and there are actually some Cure songs I really like — "Close to Me," "Why Can't I Be You?," "Friday I'm In Love." These are economical pop songs with great hooks; of the last, Robert Smith once said, "People who bought this single are not real Cure fans." Check. — Peter Malamud Smith