The Cure’s “Desperate Journalist” Is The Perfect Diss That Nobody Heard
In response to a negative review of Three Imaginary Boys, The Cure reworked one of their tracks to create the best musical comeback of all time.
Even the biggest artists in the world have songs you haven’t heard. In our series Z-Sides, we shine light on those rare tracks and deep cuts that only hardcores know word for word. Last week we took a look at Prince’s sexy cult rarity “Irresistible Bitch”, and this week we’re turning a retrospective eye to 1979 and the early years of The Cure.
If pop culture has taught us anything at all, it’s that the best way to get back at someone you have beef with is to release a scathing song about them. Whether it’s Sun Kil Moon vs War On Drugs, Frankee vs Eamon or Childish Gambino vs The World, everyone has publically dug their nails in at some point. After “War On Drugs, Suck My Cock”, which is basically the musical equivalent to picking your nose, rubbing it on someone and then running away, I had almost lost hope in the diss track as a viable vehicle to “burn” someone. That is, until I found this unreleased track by The Cure.
As one of the first bands to attain commercial success before alternative rock had really broken into the mainstream, The Cure have racked up so much material over a career that spans almost 30 years than not even a 4-disc compilation of B-sides and rarities could cover it all. Naturally, a lot of tracks fell through the cracks, including but not limited to: approximately 500 alternate versions of “All Mine”, a cover of the Mission Impossible theme (which they played as a soundcheck in Vienna in 1996) and a song detailing the band’s beef with NME titled “Desperate Journalist”.
Recorded during a John Peel session in 1979, “Desperate Journalist” (sometimes referred to in full as “Desperate Journalist In Ongoing Meaningful Review Situation”) is a later version of "Grinding Halt" with lyrics reworked to take the piss out of NME journalist Paul Morley’s infamously negative review of Three Imaginary Boys. I guess it makes sense that the same Paul Morley who critically deconstructed iPhone ringtones and an entire album of silence (alright we might have written those ourselves) would have previously described Robert Smith’s presence as “a standing lamp”.
The track is, to describe it in three words, pretty fucking punk. Nothing says “up yours, Paul” quite like taking a song from an album he mocked for being “insubstantial froth” and changing the lyrics to mock him as a human being (“Everything's coming to a grinding halt/ I use such long words”). Lifting phrases out of the review and shouting them over a 4/4 drum beat in a tone of absolute petulance that only a British punk band could pull off, Robert Smith took all the insults and injuries Morley dealt The Cure right at the start of their career and uses them to criticise the nature of music journalism as a whole. “He uses long words like semiotics and semolina,” Smith says, referring to another NME journalist, Ian Penman, “But I counter with enigma and metropolis”.
When you hear the simplistic aggression of new wave/post-punk appear hand in hand with sentences like “The lads go rampant on insignificant symbolism and compound this with rude soulless obliqueness” or “Sometimes they sound like an avant-garde John Otway or an ugly spirit”, it becomes impossible to take anything in the review seriously. In the end, it's difficult to tell who comes off more bruised - Paul Morley or the entire concept of the album review (or, as Robert Smith would call it, a “word salad”).
Basically, it’s the perfect comeback of all time that nobody really got to hear. So here it is.
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