For this latest edition of “things that don’t suck,” we decided to look at one of the most talked-about and anticipated headliners of this year’s Austin City Limits Festival: the Cure. The Cure’s legacy in pop-culture history is inestimable. A generation of teenage goths owes their ethos to front man Robert Smith, his lyrics, his style, and his hair. Johnny Depp practically owes his career to Smith.
In terms of people owing Smith, we have to also consider how many bands owe at least a portion of their sound to Smith’s songwriting. After all, the Cure’s influence is widespread in all facets of indie-rock since the ’80s. For better or worse, though, when bands decide to pay tribute and cover one of the Cure’s tracks, the results can be pretty mixed.
So in honor of all that, I decided to look back on some of the ones that succeeded at not sucking.
5. Deftones, “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep”
Performed for MTV Icon‘s 2004 tribute to the Cure, metalheads Deftones jumped into the cover game once again to perform this classic off 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Deftones have always been a pretty notorious cover band, giving their take on artists as wide-ranging as Lynyrd Skynyrd to Drive Like Jehu. Somehow, they always manage to put an interesting spin on it.
For this one, they mostly played it safe and faithful, but it’s noticeably heavier in keeping with the Deftones style. It achieved enough lasting popularity that, even though MTV Icon was discontinued in 2004, Deftones salvaged the live recording for their B-Sides & Rarities record in 2005 and again for Covers in 2011.
4. The Smashing Pumpkins, “A Night Like This”
Digging deep into the Cure’s 1985 album The Head On the Door, the Pumpkins recorded their cover of “A Night Like This” during sessions for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and it came out on the CD single (remember those things?) for “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” It’s not a typical Pumpkins track, though.
For one thing, former guitarist James Iha sings on it rather than front man Billy Corgan, probably because his range is deeper and matches Robert Smith’s more, and the production is lo-fi and demo-like. The cover is a surly affair, adding the “Disarm” strings and acoustic guitar while stripping it of the original’s uptempo beat and sax solo. The result is a thing of tragic beauty and one of the best covers in the Pumpkins catalogue.
3. Why?, “Close to Me”
Like the Smashing Pumpkins, Why? decided to grab a hit off The Head On the Door. This time they chose “Close to Me,” which, when you think about it, sort of sounded like a Why? song to begin with, vocals aside.
Why?’s take on it, however, decides to remove the funky beat and horns, making it into a more lilting, mournful track. Ironically, their cover ends up sounding a lot less like the original “Close to Me” and more like Why? covering a track far more typical of the Cure’s downbeat style.
Of all the bands you’d expect to take on the Cure, metalcore gods Converge would probably be low on your list, but it makes sense. The hook of both bands is the emotional intensity conveyed and the intimate connection between listener and artist. In that respect, Robert Smith and Jacob Bannon have a lot in common.
Obviously, this cover is not going to be for everyone, because Bannon approaches the vocals with his own style, screaming and all, and the band makes the song a lot heavier and more distorted. But personally, I feel Converge takes an already dark, emotional song, and brings out a completely new side of it. Where the Cure’s approach was from the depressive, Converge’s is the manic, full of rage and lashing out. In that respect, the two complement each other quite well.
1. Dinosaur Jr., “Just Like Heaven”
Dinosaur Jr. have always been accomplished cover artists, infusing every song they do with their trademark energy and loudness and stripping away anything anyone who doesn’t like Dinosaur Jr. could appreciate. For “Just Like Heaven,” they took the basic framework and made it a college rock anthem, complete with heavy shout choruses and a an abrupt ending that confuses listeners to this day. (The real reason was cause J Mascis didn’t know how to play the rest of the song.)
For his part, Robert Smith seems to love the band’s rendition, saying “it was so passionate. It was fantastic. I’ve never had such a visceral reaction to a cover version before or since.” However, he didn’t seem so fond back in the ’80s, nor did Dinosaur Jr. sound too fond of the maudlin Cure front man.