I can’t actually recall if I’ve ever listened to Three Imaginary Boys. I don’t think I have but I can also imagine listening to it once and deciding there was no point to include it, given its reputation. I have listed to Faith on the other hand and I did not enjoy it when I listened to it four years ago.
So I don’t know whether it’s a lack of memory of Faith or that this is actually much better, because I have a completely different feeling about this record.
I’ve read somewhere that one comment the band received with this album is that they managed not to sound like other post punk bands. (Evidently that was the problem with the debut.) And I think that’s true. The songs are sparse and moody but the Martin Hannett sound is nowhere to be found in the production – well, if you look hard enough, you can probably find some examples – and the combination of the plodding, sparse instrumentation with Smith’s voice makes them sound unique. They still don’t sound much like The Cure that everyone knows and loves, but the important thing is that they don’t sound (too much) like a Joy Division rip off.
Smith has a long way to go as a songwriter – only a couple of these songs are remotely on the level of the songs he would write later. But that seems to be not what they’re trying to do here. Instead, there is this really distinct approach to post punk, with a focus on lots of space in the arrangements – there are often only a couple instruments playing at once, sometimes only one – and a deliberate approach to tempo. It’s a pattern that repeats over and over again, which might have annoyed me in another context. (And I do wonder if I had listened to this when I listened to Faith if I would have been equally annoyed by this one.) But, for some reason it doesn’t. (Some of this might have to do with my fondness for “A Forest “.)
At least today, the arrangements make up for the lack of songs.