The Cure

There are many reasons to be suspicious of the Cure's latest Greatest Hits collection. The group has released two singles packages already, 1986's indispensable Staring at the Sea and 1997's spotty but more commercially relevant Galore; 15 of the new disc's 17 tracks appear on these earlier works. More ominously, two unreleased studio tunes have been tacked on, a fan-fleecing tactic for which any band should be ashamed.

But wait, there's more. Initial pressings of Greatest Hits come with a revelatory second disc that offers acoustic versions of all 17 A-sides, including the bonus babies. The unplugged format doesn't suit every act, but the Cure thrives, revealing the stark emotional core buried deep within some of its peppiest ditties. Without its layers of hypercheery keyboards and persistent synthetic pulse, "Let's Go to Bed" becomes more notable for its anxious expression of longing than its dance-floor potential. "The Love Cats," always a bit of a lark, obtains a jazzy soul. And "The Walk" strolls down previously unexplored melodic twists, guided by subtle shifts in instrumentation.

Granted, the selections were consciously chosen to reflect the Cure's sunny side , but the acoustic album adds such personable touches as Smith's uttering playful asides during "Close to Me" and ending several tunes with a feisty yowl. Hits' second disc delivers with perfect sound quality the kind of small-concert intimacy and musical alterations that drive fans to pricey bootlegs. By pairing its two freshly penned tracks (both of which are appealingly perky, by the way) with a real value-added treat, the Cure has done what seemed impossible: made its third singles collection, released just four years and no hits after its previous one, seem essential.

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