A Letter to Elise: The Cure – Wish

A Letter to Elise: The Cure – Wish

The Cure’s ninth studio album Wish is an underrated gem.

Perhaps an odd thing to say about an album that was the band’s highest charting album on both sides of the pond (UK no.1, US no.2), and is their best-selling studio album but for some reason this album seems to rank quite low down the list of Cure fans’ rankings. Yet listening to it yet again, it’s clear that it’s deserving of a fresh appraisal, being a collection of brilliant and very different songs. In the last few months, the album’s thirtieth anniversary has been marked with an excellent 3CD set remastered by Robert Smith with Miles Showell, so now sounding better than ever.

In 1992, The Cure had cemented their position as leaders of ‘alternative rock’ (they might have come out of the post-punk era, but by this point, that all seemed so far away – as it would turn out, in both directions). Three years on from the gloomy but oh-so-majestic Disintegration, this was an album that would showcase epics, but also that The Cure could still write brilliant, beautiful pop songs, and put them all on the same album and it would work together amazingly well. In the music world, the ‘Madchester’ era had been and gone, and even as the grunge era was underway, the Cure had their biggest fanbase yet.

If The Head On The Door album was a (mostly) upbeat collection of singles, and Disintegration the gloomy epic, then perhaps the album Wish has most in common with is Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. It has shade and light in spades and in a way that its eventual successor Wild Mood Swings doesn’t (sadly), it all hangs together. It’s more guitar-driven than its predecessor (Roger O’Donnell had left in 1990, to return in 1995), yet unmistakeably a Cure record.

The album opens, appropriately enough, with ‘Open.’ It tells the tale of going out, even when you know you shouldn’t, and meeting people and the evening running away with you. The Cure have always been open about their recreational times, and this is one of the few times in which it’s this blatant. Whilst it’s a classic epic opener, it’s a million miles away from the world that open the two preceding LPs, much less existential despair, and more joyous.

The first release that the wider public heard was the second track and first ‘High.’ Debuting in the UK charts at no.8, this is a glorious fizzing pop song, full of yearning and wonder. At the end of the song, he tells the object of his affection ‘I know I’ll keep on holding you in arms so tight they’ll never let you go.’ Not possessiveness but completeness.

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Friday I’m In Love‘ was the biggest hit single – this was the only time two singles from a Cure album would both reach the top ten. In the sleevenotes to the re-issue, Smith recalled seeing the band in the control room glass after completing his first vocal take, and ‘the band knew immediately that we had our ‘radio-friendly’ single!’ It is one of the band’s best-known songs, and one that you would have to be a real killjoy not to love, no matter how many times you have heard it. (You can, of course, encounter such people on the internet. Hey and indeed, ho.)

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One wonders whether some record company suits might have been happy for an album full of these sorts of singles, but the reality is that The Cure were – once again – able to write hit singles, but the album also contains some darker, more reflective songs. The idea of ‘Deep Cuts’ suggests music which may slightly under the radar but are worth investigating, and despite its sales, Wish has a number of these. ‘Apart‘ was written by Smith about a couple whose relationship was breaking up. ‘How did we get so far apart/I thought this love would last forever.‘ It’s one of the most heartfelt songs the band ever produced, along with another beautiful track, ‘ Trust,’ which perhaps is the song on the album that has most in common with Disintegration. It’s a sign of how skilled the band were that they could truly express so many different emotions over the course of one album, with such brilliant intensity. The band have done concerts where they have focused on playing some of their albums in their entirety – they really should think about doing the same for Wish. ‘To Wish Impossible Things‘ is a thing of beauty.

Yet another side explored on the album is Smith being able to explore his Hendrix fantasies, in the case of the album’s epic centrepiece ‘From the Edge Of the Deep Green Sea.’ Smith has described it as being inspired by two or three adventures all rolled into one, and it’s a song to completely lose yourself in. The album’s closing ‘End‘ could be read as a reflection on the more obsessive fans that he encountered, expecting to have all the answers to everything – ‘please stop loving me! Please stop loving me! I am none of these things.’

It’s worth bearing in mind that a number of The Cure’s b-sides from this era are also absolutely worth hearing. ‘High‘ had both ‘This Twilight Garden‘ and ‘Play‘ which were just as good as many of the tracks on the parent album, and ‘The Big Hand‘ (the b-side to ‘A Letter To Elise,‘ the album’s final single) is also pretty fine. Given that singles are rarely physical these days, it’s a worthy reminder of how b-sides could be the source of so many additional listening pleasures when done well. The British music press may have been raving – not entirely unreasonably – about the quality of Suede and Oasis b-sides in the nineties, but they should have flipped The Cure’s singles over too.

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In a way, Wish did mark the end of an era for The Cure. Sure they were playing huge venues by this point, but by the end of a tour that would produce two live albums (Show and Paris), the lineup would change again. After nearly a decade with the line-up, drummer Boris Williams and guitarist Pearl Thompson would – amicably -leave before the next album. Much time would also be lost over the court case with former member Lol Tolhurst and the band’s re-emergence with the Wild Mood Swings set in 1996 would see sales figures drop for the first time.

But that’s a story for another piece. Listen to this again, marvel at its diversity and the sound of a legendary band showing just how brilliant they were at this point.

As I say, The Cure’s ninth studio album Wish is an underrated gem.

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