If the greatest hits represent the city centre of Curetown, lit up for Christmas and on the razzle, then this exhaustive 70-song curiosity box mopes about its dank bus terminals and spooked back alleys. In its own darkling way, this collection might even give you the best feel for the place. Join the dots, and, though the career might lead you from London to Paris to LA, the songs are always obsessively mapping out the same bad dream suburb of the sublime.
They grew up creepy in Crawley and, in a sense, they never really left. “10.15, Saturday Night” backed first single “Killing An Arab” and put its (rive) gauche pose in perspective, locating some existential, kitchen-sink glamour in flickering striplights and dripping taps. The first disc here follows the band’s drift from a Woolworths guitar satellite town orbiting the Buzzcocks (“Plastic Passion”, “Pillbox Tales”), through a bleak estate on the outskirts of Joy Division (“Descent”, “Splintered In Her Head”) before settling down in a more popular mid-’80s neighbourhood nestled between the electric light of New Order and the Banshees’ edge of darkness (“The Dream”, “Lament”, “The Exploding Boy”).
Smith writes in his sleevenotes of his youthful enthusiasm for the lost institution of the B-side, of expecting great flipsides from the bands he loved, and it’s the cusp of discs one and two here, from 1985 to 1989, that bring this to some fruition. If the early material often sounds like salvage from a band permanently on the brink of disintegration, by the mid-’80s the songs sound like a band gearing up for Disintegration. “A Few Hours After This”, “A Chain Of Flowers”, “Snow In Summer”, “How Beautiful You Are” and “2 Late” make a virtue of their dippy, wistful grandeur, poised attractively between the early bathetic gravitas and their more plainly daft essays in pop kookiness.
But this run would undoubtedly be shown to greater effect on a more succinct collection. Disc two fizzles out with three versions of “Hello, I Love You” and a frankly pointless remix of “Just like Heaven”, and the two discs covering 1992-2001 include the dubious distinction of two more versions of “Hey Joe”, a spectacularly inept reading of “Young Americans” and a woe-begotten contribution to the Judge Dredd soundtrack, of interest to only the most stubbornly curious of Curators.
The final disc gathers various experiments in relocating The Cure to the 21st-century studio city of clicks and cuts (including a drum’n’ bass revision of “A Forest”), as though Smith had finally tired of the fractious business of keeping a band together, but none of them do click?the nagging dolour of his voice seems like an odd relic, even in these ’80s-friendly times. Like a Tim Burtonised Freddie Krueger, the best bet for Smith’s continued relevance looks to be as a patron saint of haunted suburban adolescence.