Breaking Down the Unique Sound of The Cure


Credit: Image by momento mori under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Very few acts can say they’ve impacted the music industry for nearly 50 years, but that’s precisely what The Cure has been doing throughout their extensive career. They first emerged onto the scene in the late 1970s and quickly skyrocketed into fame in the 1980s when they enjoyed the peak of their success. They’ve inspired many artists, including notable names like Smashing Pumpkins, Depeche Mode, and Radiohead. To this day, they’re still making music and playing shows and are even set to embark on their first North American tour in seven years. Despite the ups and downs in the reception of their music, one thing has kept them iconic all these years: their sound. No matter the genre, their music and tone have remained uniquely theirs.

The Cure’s Gothic era

Throughout The Cure’s long career, the band experimented with a wide range of genres. Their first album, Three Imaginary Boys, took on a post-punk sound, perfectly showcased in the single “Boys Don’t Cry,” which was released in the American version of the album with the same name. They touched on a darker and atmospheric gothic rock edge in their early works, beginning with their second album, Seventeen Seconds, and continued with their subsequent two releases, Faith and Pornography —which all became essential records for the gothic rock and solidified their status as icons of the genre. After experimenting with more post-punk and pop tones in succeeding albums, Disintegration brought them back to their gothic sound.

A psychedelic shift

After their brief split, the group thought a tonal change could catch the public unaware, gaining them more attention. They shifted to psychedelic, dream pop-inspired tones on records like The Head on the Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, boasting the hits “Close to Me” and “Just Like Heaven” respectively—the latter of which is one of Robert Smith’s favorite The Cure songs. Their most successful album Wish, featuring the iconic “Friday I’m in Love,” was their most pop-adjacent yet. These cheery, upbeat songs shocked old fans but gained a lot of love from new listeners. Around this time, the group achieved more success outside the UK.

Recreating the sound

Robert Smith’s role as The Cure’s guitarist shapes their sound. He used a lot of effects that are essential for achieving that atmospheric tone. Effects pedals are a simple way to enhance your guitar for a similar vibe. According to a 1996 rig diagram, Robert Smith favored pedals designed by Boss, a flexible choice across eras and genres. Flanger is crucial to The Cure sound, and the BF-3 Flanger is responsible for sweeping, jet plane-like guitar tones that lend well to the darker sound of gothic rock. Chorus is also a must-have for Robert Smith-type playing, giving the guitar a fuller, richer tone. He also uses a Boss pedal for that effect; the CH-1 Super Chorus is a prominent feature on his rig.

Amplifiers are also crucial for developing a specific tone, and Robert Smith’s runs his fairly clean. They’re used mainly as a platform for his stompboxes to shine. He also featured a similar number of both solid-state and valve amplifiers. One of the solid-state amps used by The Cure is the Line 6 Spider V 120, which was used in their Sydney Opera House residency during the 2019 Vivid Festival. It’s an excellent choice for either instant plugging and playing or tweaking your tone to perfection.

If you’re looking for bands who’ve taken a page out of The Cure’s book on musical style, tune into In a Darkened Room. The Texan band’s music is reminiscent of The Cure’s atmospheric tone with a darker spin that lends itself to the southern gothic sound. You can check out our interview with the band on Onyx Music Reviews.

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Prepared by Alice Harvey

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