Robert Smith's artistic ambitions are so complex that it's easy to overlook the key to his undeniable greatness: he's ugly and his mother dresses him funny. Smith's coddled, sniffly voice is the perfect aural counterpart to his long floppy sleeves, his gooey-pastry hair, and his baby-doll slabs of mascara fingerpaint. He sings like rock'n'roll's ultimate spoiled child, every nanny's nightmare, amusingly pallid and lumpish even when his music aims for the grandiose. The Cure have made dreamy synth-pop out of art-rock's hoariest cliches because Robert Smith has managed to fuse the brain of Jim Morrison with the soul of the Pillsbury Dougboy. Staring at the Sea (the truncated vinyl version is called Standing on the Beach) almost defies critical commentary as a collection of Smith's sexiest and peppiest songs--you've got to be some kind of brownshirt not to giggle along with "The Love Cats" and "Boys Don't Cry" and "In Between Days". Interludes from Seventeen Seconds and Pornography make excellent change-ups in this context. The only flaw is that Staring at the Sea wasn't postponed so it could include the man's greatest song, "Just Like Heaven," released the following year on the otherwise unexciting Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Over those hallowed "I Melt With You" chords, "Just Like Heaven" tells the tale of a new wave moppet who experiences a Spenserian wet dream of erotic bliss with a white-winged sea-wraith who leaves him aloneand forsaken, mumbling the mantra, "Must've been asleep for days." "Just Like Heaven " is a song that indie-rockers have been rewriting ever since--see Pavenent's "Summer Babe," Dinosaur Jr's "Freak Scene" and Mary Lou Lord's "Western Union Desperate" for the story so far.


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