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The Cure: Three Imaginary Boys (2-disc)

April 11, 2011

Roll: 1 – 9– 16 Result: Three Imaginary Boys by The Cure.

 There was a point in the mid-Eighties when The Cure‘s UK debut album, Three Imaginary Boys, was a bit of a Holy Grail for North American fans. Not that it was utterly impossible to acquire, it just tended to be pricey. But it had a handful of tracks not available on their North American debut, Boys Don’t Cry, and in the days before iTunes and file-sharing that meant finding a friend who’d actually paid two or three times regular price just to hear them. General consensus was the friend who’d splurged on the over-priced import had taken a bullet for you. Boys Don’t Cry really is the better album and no one ever needs to endure all 53 seconds of “The Weedy Burton”.

Yet there really is a charm Three Imaginary Boys holds that its appended American counterpart lacks. Not only is the iconic cover art far superior, for all it’s warts and missteps (“Foxy Lady”) the original album flows much better.

It might lack the stellar singles off Boys Don’t Cry (“Jumping Someone Else’s Train” and the title track) but from start to finish there’s an amateurish, punky exuberance which isn’t interrupted by the slightly more polished later recordings.

Even coloured hot pink, with the psychedelic-surf/mod-punk being still miles away from the proto-goth of their next three albums, Three Imaginary Boys just feels darker and a touch more dangerous. Still, songs like “Meathook” and “It’s Not You” are no replacement for the later album’s gems (including their incendiary seminal single “Killing An Arab”).

Hopes were that the 2-disc reissue was going to be the best of both worlds, bringing all the tracks spread over the two albums together at last. But like all of The Cure reissues in this series, it’s instead somewhat of an exercise in frustration.

Made up of a bounty of live bootlegs, home demos and studio recordings, it technically is a treasure trove of delights. Unfortunately, the bonus material is (dis)organized with the finesse of a meerkat strung-out on Redbull and Twinkies.

Compilers of discs such as these generally sequence the material in a logical progression. Usually the logic is to flow from the hi-fidelity big studio b-sides to smaller studio demos and then the atrociously unlistenable curiosities even hardcore fans will only listen to once. No so here.

“Heroin Face” might be an interesting rarity if not for the ear-raping bootleg sound quality—made all the more apparent by being wedged in between perfectly fine studio demos of “I’m Cold” and “I Just Need Myself”.

Similarly, the Boys Don’t Cry songs are lumped in near the end of the disc when they should have been front and center along with the shamefully omitted “Killing An Arab” and “Plastic Passion”. The lack of those two tracks has to be the biggest criticism of the set and, ultimately, makes the whole thing pointless as a definitive document of this point in The Cure’s history.

Instead we’re treated to some unforgivingly lo-fi home demos—the only interesting (and listenable) of which is a slowed down, organ-based version of “10:15 Saturday Night—and four utterly painful live recordings.

There are plenty of high points to the set. The studio demos of “Fire in Cairo”, “It’s Not You” and “10:15 Saturday Night” improve upon the album versions. “Winter” is an interesting nod towards the gothier direction the band would later become synonymous with. The previously unissued “Faded Smiles” and “Play With Me” are both such excellent blasts of cheeky punk rock it begs the question why they hadn’t been issued as b-sides at the time.

And, of course, many of the criticisms above can be remedied with a judicious use of iTunes to fix the sequencing (especially the completely overkill four appearances of “10:15 Saturday Night”). Still, though any fans buying this extended edition probably have the two AWOL tracks on other discs, one does wonder if they were omitted in order to encourage a purchase of the Connect The Dots b-sides box set—necessary anyway since those b-sides are missing from the reissues of their counterpart albums! Ooooh, Robert Smith! [shakes fist].

 

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