It’s hard to remember that the Cure has been around since the 70s. Had they split up after 1989’s Disintegration, they’d be hailed as the most important alternative band of the 80s. The Cure’s influence on 90s alt-rock makes even the Pixies seem like, well, a band that never influenced anybody. But before the Cure found their calling as pioneers of synth-heavy mope rock with long, noodley intros, they were a quirky pop-punk band. A three-piece even! That incarnation of the band did not last very long one album and a handful of singles are all we’ve got from that era.
Three Imaginary Boys was never officially released here in the States; we instead got Boys Don’t Cry, a classic collection of the early singles combined with the best album tracks. If you’re only familiar with Boy Don’t Cry and have never heard the original, you might be disappointed by the handful of original songs that didn’t make the cut—″Another Day,” “Meathook,” and “It’s Not You” are far inferior to the a-sides that replaced them: “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Jumping Someone Else’s Train,” and “Killing an Arab.” Three Imaginary Boys‘ Hendrix cover, “Foxy Lady,” sung by bassist Michael Dempsey, is a goofy mess, and the original hidden instrumental, now titled “The Weedy Burton,” is a throwaway lounge trifle. (The best non-Cry song, “Object,” was actually a bonus track on the cassette but was left off the 1990 cd reissue.)
The second disc in this new Deluxe Edition annoyingly places barely listenable live tracks and forgettable demo versions alongside classic singles and decent outtakes. What’s really frustrating about Disc 2 is what it doesn’t include. Where’s “Killing an Arab”? Where’s “Plastic Passion”? At least the latter was included on the Join the Dots box set, but the exclusion of “Killing an Arab” is utterly inexcusable. It was their first single! And it’s about Camus’ The Stranger, for crying out loud, so only a complete barbarian would perceive any racist sentiment in it. Other period b-sides would be preferable to the mediocre-audio demos, but I can respect that you wouldn’t want to penalize fans who shelled out the dough for Join the Dots. But why not gather the fantastic Peel Sessions?
Oh well, you can’t get everything you want, and the quality of the first disc more than makes up for the gripes about the second disc. The remastering sounds excellent, and the songs are really great! Sure, a lot of the guitars sound cheap and tinny. They were. This is the sound of a young band trying to figure out what they want to be. And they never sounded better.