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"Please stop loving me, I am none of these things"

Class C

Main Category: Mope Rock
Also applicable: Art Rock, Pop Rock
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Cure fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Cure fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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There are bands that poke their nose into every musical style and dip their foot in every storehouse of emotions, and then there's the Cure, who have, starting from their second album, proudly written "DEATH AND DESPAIR" on their banner and haven't even cleaned it, let alone change it, for more than two decades. Considering that The Cure are, in fact, a one man-band - guitarist and vocalist Robert Smith is responsible for pretty much everything that we associate with the band, and at this moment, I really can't be bothered with conducting extensive research on the merits of his collaborators - as I said, considering that we don't really have to deal with a lot of collaboration and idea-exchanging, the obsession with this one emotional approach is understandable, but the obvious question is: isn't it boring? Haven't so many people already stepped into the shoes of The Melancholic Messiah before?

And the answer is: yes, many of them have, but few do it with so much professionalism, self-assurance, and conviction as The Cure. Yes, when it comes to artistic ideology (not the technical means, mind you), few people are more predictable than Robert Smith, and he's endured many a nasty - and, I must say, completely warranted - critical jab over the years. But it doesn't take a critical genius to spot the "weak" sides of The Cure, such as monotonousness, pomposity, and the impossibility to draw a direct link from Robert Smith the suicidal moper to Robert Smith the rich rock star. Ripping The Cure for these flaws is a bit like ripping The Lord Of The Rings because it's about hobbits and not about the crisis in the jewellery business.

A more serious accusation would be that of inconsistency. One of Robert Smith's stronger sides is that he can just as easily fall into a typical formula as he can fall out of it, which explains why a word combination like "The Cure Sound", on one hand, is a quite meaningful one, and on the other hand, is rendered totally useless once you really get into that band's catalog. Moaning and groaning, and still moaning and groaning some more, Robert Smith miraculously led his 'band' through several incarnations, including (a) the 'New Wave' incarnation of 1979, characterized by quirky, bouncy, and rather nerdish Talking Heads-&-Bowie-influenced ditties; (b) the 'Goth' incarnation of 1980-82, culminating with Pornography and characterized by gloomy, depressing, and thoroughly uncatchy guitar/synth arrangements; (c) the unexpectedly light synth-pop of the 1983-84 singles; (d) the mixed experimental period of 1984-85; (e) the big "Winnie-The-Goth And His Friends" monoliths of 1987-92, also gloomy and depressing, but this time far more memorable, far more intricately arranged, and alternating with rudimentary pop singles; (f) the catch-up-with-the-times confusion of Wild Mood Swings. The band's latest album seems to have returned them back into Disintegration territory, but God only knows what he has in store for the band.

In any case, this has been one hell of a complicated career - and that's not counting all the lineup changes which I have, for no apparent reason, scrupulously documented below - and it had plenty of ups and downs. At one point, "melody" seemed to have been way too pedestrian a concept for Robert Smith, and all his songs not only sounded likewise, they all sounded likewise shitty; there was too much gloom, too many microapocalyptic confessions to make, and way too many generic drum machines cluttering the view. Then there was the Big Rebound into the catchy pop era, when suddenly there was too little gloom and way too many corny danceable synth rhythms. Then there was the long search for equilibrium, and then, finally, there was the apex of the band's (the man's?) career. Your favourite album(s) may differ from mine, but one thing's obvious: Smith is inconsistent. Thus, proceed with caution, and if you make a false start, do not despair.

In a certain sense, though, The Cure might just be the very bestest band in the whole wide universe. This is where such a thing as "density of sound" is concerned. Many of the songs on Disintegration and other albums probably took five minutes to write, but could have taken a month to arrange and record. If you take a list of this band's finest songs, each of them is a nearly endless universe of continuously interacting miriads of guitars and keyboards which I can only compare with the stuff you see when you look at a mosquito's proboscis under a microscope. They never play anything particularly complex on these instruments (although Smith and whoever-happens-to-be-playin'-along-at-the-moment are professionals), but they sure compensate for the minimalism of notes by the maximalism of instrumentation. And this is a tremendous asset. This is why, instead of a whiny generic "I wanna die but I don't know how" approach, you get true epic symphonies, real feasts of sound, genuine aural delights for anybody who's willing to overlook the lack of humour and the cruel seriousness of it all. If you're not grasping my idea here, just lay your hands on 'Fascination Street' off Disintegration and see what I mean. It's more or less the quintessential Cure song.

Lyrically, Smith is not very interesting. He's got his true army of fans, but about the best thing I can say about his brand of rock poetry is that it doesn't suck too badly; he rarely rises above stereotypical "dark" cliches, but at least he has his own ways of mixing them. (Again, there are exceptions on both sides - the already-mentioned 'Fascination Street' I consider lyrically magnificent, while something like 'There Is No If' off Bloodflowers is particularly abysmal). Vocally, he can certainly get annoying if the tormented-loner-vocalizing annoys you per se; however, he's got an impressive range (watch out for his trademark falsetto yelps as well as for some really low growling, like on 'Club America') and he's never out of tune, not even in concert. Instrumentally, he sorta kinda plays the guitar real good. In terms of arrangement, he's a technical genius. And as a person, he spends most of his free time frequenting S&M clubs and shoving sharp objects into his anus. (Okay, that last one is a wild guess, inspired by some of the more, uhm, concrete-character lyrical lines).

Actually, one thing I am totally unconcerned about is how come he's always so unhappy and yet so rich. The trick is not about really being unhappy; the trick is to make the unhappiness, even the faked one, convincing. And intriguing. Quite often, he doesn't. But even more often, he does, and thus provides a magnificent soundtrack for lots and lots of people to identify themselves and their problems with. So let's move Robert Smith the real overweight gentleman out of the picture and let in Robert Smith the romantic loner. The very fact that he's been conserving that image for twenty years now and can still occasionally come up with some interesting news is the perfect excuse for all the cliches and predictability.

Lineup: Robert Smith (DRUMROLL!) - guitar, vocals; Michael Dempsey - bass; Lol Tolhurst - drums. Dempsey left, 1979, replaced by Simon Gallup; Matthieu Hartley also joined on keyboards, but left in 1981; Gallop followed suit in 1982, whereupon the band nearly collapsed, but eventually pulled out with a radically different lineup: the ever-present Smith, Lol Tolhurst (now on keyboards), Andy Anderson (drums), Phil Thornalley (bass), Porl Thompson (guitar; the latter actually played with Smith way back when the band was still named 'The Easy Cure'). Anderson and Thornalley quit, late 1984, replaced by Boris Williams and a returning Simon Gallup. Roger O'Donnell added on keyboards, 1987, but then Lol Tolhurst quit, 1988. (Talk about balance!). O'Donnell left, 1990, replaced by Perry Bamonte. Boris Williams left, 1994, replaced by Jason Cooper; O'Donnell rejoined the band at the same time (apparently Smith works like a magnet, it all depends upon which side he happens to be facing you at any given moment). Whew, that's it. For now.



Year Of Release: 1979

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

I laughed at some of these songs. LAUGHED. LAUGHED AT A CURE ALBUM. I CONFESS.


Track listing: 1) 10.15 Saturday Night; 2) Accuracy; 3) Grinding Halt; 4) Another Day; 5) Object; 6) Subway Song; 7) Foxy Lady; 8) Meat Hook; 9) So What; 10) Fire In Cairo; 11) It's Not You; 12) Three Imaginary Boys; 13) The Weedy Burton.

Contrary to a sometimes practiced misguided way of pigeonholing, the Cure were never a "punk" band in the basic meaning of the term, but, more or less like every new band formed in the late Seventies (including Dire Straits! Did you know Mark Knopfler used to wear pins in his cheekbones during early Dire Straits concerts? Did you know I really suck at trying to pull your leg?), they certainly came out of a punk background, and their debut album is by far the most 'punkish' in their entire catalog, lacking the clean-cut, glossy, multi-layered production of their later releases and boasting way more energy and "aggression" than whatever else they put out in subsequent years.

See, in 1979 the Cure were something of a "minor brother" for Siouxsie and the Banshees: they frequently opened their shows, had a lot of interaction, and after John McKay decided not to be a Banshee any more, Robert Smith would even often sit in his place as main guitarist for Siouxsie. And since Siouxsie and the Banshees were still more 'punk' than 'goth' in 1979, so were the Cure. Or put it the other way: since Siouxsie and the Bungees were already goth, Robert Smith didn't really feel the need to take their place until they fuckin' sold out with 'Christine'.

That said, Three Imaginary Boys is still a tame album - one thing Mr Smith never seemed to care for is excessive distortion and unabashed noise. The guitar tones are thin and squeaky throughout, even when they bash out speedy one-chord riffs; personally, I prefer this style to the abrasive stompage of the Clash and company, but ultimately that's a matter of taste. One thing I don't really get, though, is the problems that so many people seem to have with Smith's voice: it certainly is whiny and not for the weak-hearted, but isn't that supposed to be a general "punk aesthetics" thing? The shock factor? The classic nasal attack? What I see is that Robert Smith uses his vocal cords really really well; he's got a message, and he carries it across as best he can. That's all I know.

Besides, on this album, as amazing as it may seem (I didn't believe it too and fell victim to my own ignorance), he's not the only singer on here. One of the 'grooves' on this - overall, extremely intriguing - album is a weird cover of Hendrix's 'Foxy Lady' which, as you may correctly predict, has nothing in common with the original but the lyrics: chugging along to an insane, "underworldly" riff, it deconstructs, mocks and twists the original like nothing else, and bassist Michael Dempsy's half-falsetto, half-"bubbly" vocal delivery is a real scream. Two minutes and it's already gone, but it leaves an unbeatable impression. If I were a Hendrix purist, I would probably get offended, but I'm not anybody's purist, and besides, the musical background is so superb, driving, and energetic that the song works perfectly on its own even without the parodic aspect. Plus I like how they fumble around at the beginning for about thirty seconds and then somebody says, 'This is a good intro!'.

The album itself is weird, of course. Did I already say it's nowhere near as dark as the latter-day "classic" Cure releases? The ones I actually like less because they're so much more predictable?There are bunches of humor (HUMOR! From the guy who did 'One Hundred Years'?) and lightweight passages strewn around, like the abovementioned 'Foxy Lady' - but in a certain way, it's even more hard-hitting, because Robert Smith doesn't take himself so dang seriously on here. The music is light, light, painfully light, with simple, catchy melodies, repetitive mantraic vocal hooks and a painfully thin production style, but it all seems to work anyway. Sometimes you get the impression that Smith and company are just trying to make a parody on the 'heavier' style of the Banshees. Sometimes you think the contrary - that the guys are trying to perfect and rationalize the Banshees' message of darkness and disillusionment. In any case, there's no denying the innovative character of that work: "dark-pop-punk" wasn't something you could have in your bedroom every day before 1979.

The songs are swell, by the way. True to the spirit of punk (in fact, truer than Siouxsie), they've included a lot of 'em, so there's some filler, I guess, but not much. Who cares about filler anyway if you got such masterpieces as 'Grinding Halt', with its classic 'bouncing ball' guitar introduction? Punk aesthetics plus catchiness plus vivid pessimist imagery plus expressive vocal delivery = what constitutes a minor chef-d'oeuvre. 'Stopped short, grinding halt, everything's coming to a grinding halt', and true to its nature, the song comes to a grinding halt itself. What about 'Meat Hook'? That one emphasizes a sly reggaeish beat and witty lyrical allegories - 'I lost my heart to a meathook meathook meathook meathook meathook meathook meathook meathook meathook', Mr Smith intones, and you can almost believe it. Of course, a careful penetration of the lyrics reveals that the song is simply telling us about how Robert fell in love with a female butcher - nothing else - but the way this story is presented to us is not just exciting, it's creepy. Can you tell a creepy tale about falling in love with a female butcher? (Without resorting to horror movies analogies, of course, otherwise it's too easy).

Other highlights include the romantic, ominous 'Fire In Cairo', one of those songs that makes you really doubt if Robert Smith's general attitude is really as fake as it is always presented - for my money, his aching 'burn like a fire, burn like a fire in Cairo' refrain hits much harder than his usual "overdone" style; the fantasy tale of the title track, with shiver-sending descending guitar lines (don't sing it to your little son at bedtime - he will pass out as soon as you reach the chorus) - again, didn't it ever occur to you that Smith's echo-laden singing is much more sinister when it is not laid upon a bed of electronic drums and "look-at-me-I'm-so-dark" guitar overdubs?; the surprisingly jangly guitars and evil pseudo-disco throbbing basslines of 'Accuracy'; and the dangerous bass/harmonica interplay on the meditative 'Subway Song', which predictably - or unpredictably, whichever you prefer to believe - ends in a blast of deafening noise. Not too much noise, mind you. The Cure don't like when there's too much noise. True evil (like getting assaulted by a maniac in a dark subway) only happens in a quiet atmosphere.

I haven't named all the songs (there's not one bad track, actually, some are just more prominent than the others), but that's not really necessary - this is not a paradise of diversity lovers. To be frank, though, there's no true sense of monotonousness here: there's enough different moods and rhythms to get your ears perked up all the time. Finally, we'll leave you on a technical note: the US edition of the album was called Boys Don't Cry, and it butchered the 'conceptuality' of the original by replacing some of the 'weaker' (huh) songs with certain contemporary singles, including, yeah, right, 'Boys Don't Cry' and 'Killing An Arab'. Great songs, for sure, but to me they look far better on the excellent singles compilation Staring At The Sea (which won't be reviewed here because most of its songs can be met on the band's LPs plus Japanese Whispers - but be sure to scoop up these two songs anyway). Try to lay your hands on the original album if possible. Damn the butchers!



Year Of Release: 1980

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Too depressed to even change the guitar tone, are we?

Best song: A FOREST

Track listing: 1) A Reflection; 2) Play For Today; 3) Secrets; 4) In Your House; 5) Three; 6) The Final Sound; 7) A Forest; 8) M; 9) At Night; 10) Seventeen Seconds.

No more are you gonna laugh at this band (unless you're one of 'em jaded cynics who thinks black eyeliner is ridiculous and gross instead of awe-inspiring and dramatic, of course). Nothing punkish or even New Wavishly-postmodern about this one either, believe you me. You put this on, expecting maybe to hear another quirky rendition of a Jimi Hendrix song, and the first thing you get is a brief two-minute instrumental called "One Finger On The Keyboard In Between Alternating Moments Of Trance And Relaxation", er, well, it's actually just called 'A Reflection', but the real name is the long one, of course. (Okay, that's more than one finger - the chords are slightly more complex than that, but nothing a five-year old child couldn't master).

And that's pretty typical of the record, which has about as much energy as the left pinky of its predecessor. Okay, there's enough fast tempos and stuff, but this is where The Cure radically speed up in the "Goth" direction and channel all of their energy and passion into making post-punk post-Joy Division dirges to shatter the strong and annihilate the weak. In fact, cue the 'Joy Division' part here: I'll have to take a wild guess that Smith undertook this radical image change (or, rather, "image acceleration") after hearing Unknown Pleasures (which came out just a wee bit later than Three Imaginary Boys) and getting scared that somebody might actually overtake him in the depression department. Not that Seventeen Seconds manages to be any gloomier than Curtis' masterpiece - unlike Joy Division, The Cure have always been wimpy, and particularly at this stage, so where Joy Division had a monstruous wall of gloom, the Cure only have a thin ragged veil.

Granted, that thin ragged veil of a sound is cool. Smith's jerky Byrne-and-Co-inspired guitar playing is simply wonderful throughout; all it actually took was to switch from the "higher pitching" of the Talking Heads to relatively lower notes, add on some echo and mix it with the bass frequencies taken special care of, and presto, instead of the avantgarde nerdy twiddling of Byrne, you have this end-of-the-world guitar tone... which is really subtle - I mean, grab that tone and put a gun to its forehead and it'll tell you, 'hey, I'm doing nothing, I'm just twiddlin' here in a dark corner, turn me up loud and you won't even hear me!'. And then go figure why this tone gets so many people so dreadfully depressed.

However, good tone or bad tone, it doesn't excuse the fact that the songs are so dreadfully unmemorable. Just like their best pals, Lady Siouxsie And The Banshees, the Cure obviously had the "second album problem" going for them; with the best material used up for Boys, everything is reduced to hastily rehashed formula. This formula is also something relatively new - it's obvious that this sounds nothing like Boys - but in terms of individual songs, it just isn't at all creative. The vocal melodies don't offer a single hook, not even a meat one, and it doesn't even seem Robert Smith ever wanted to offer us any. Instead, what Robert Smith does want to offer us is a series of supposed-to-be-thrilling mystical horror tales. Look at those "unfinished" lyrical images. A concealed, almost dreaded love affair ('Secrets'); the troubles of double life ("In Your House"); girls running through dark forests ("A Forest"); scary night psychosis ('At Night') - this is now typical of the Cure, even if all these themes were only present on a couple of songs on Boys. It's up to you to decide, then, if these are delivered with sincerity, emotional resonance, and a sense of importance and actuality, or if they're just an unfortunate result of adolescent testosterone moving in a perverse direction.

Discussing the album song by song is absolutely pointless; the only big difference is that some songs are relatively slower and some are relatively faster. I generally prefer them when they're faster because the Cure's rhythm section can still deliver the goods, even if the drumming is much more robotic and predictable this time around, yet this kinda detracts from the boredom factor if you happen to be listening to this album when you're not in the proper mood to enjoy it (a fatal mistake - I can't imagine how albums like these could work anywhere else but in a situation when you're mighty depressed and need somebody to empathize with you). Therefore, 'A Forest' is probably the tune I would single out as one of the best, but truth is, it really doesn't stand out all that much. It just seems to have a cooler way of handling this echo effect on the guitar and a minimalistic riff that can be said to have been "written", not improvised on the spot. There's also the title track which milks a slower, more "acoustic-sounding" groove with anthemic pretentions, and it's slightly more convincing than the rest of these songs - even if the vocal melody is shamelessly lifted off Ian Dury's 'Wake Up And Make Love With Me', right down to Smith's vocal intonations (!).

But I wonder if anybody can tell me how am I supposed to tell something like 'M' from something like 'At Night'? Except that 'At Night' begins with a feedback filled riff so we know when one tune stops and the next one starts? Also, can anybody tell me what's the real purpose of these juvenile "spooky" things like 'A Reflection' and 'The Final Sound'? The latter, in particular, sounds pretty close to the kind of gloomy maniacal buzz I was banging out on a piano when I was about four years old, and yeah, I know Picasso said "it took me years to learn to draw like those kids" or something like that, but let's not take it that far; after all, wasn't Robert Smith pretty much a kid himself when he was recording this album?

Still, the overall rating is relatively high considering just how many songs off here I'd like to hear one more time - because a new, intriguing type of sound is introduced here. Music has been depressing since the dawn of time, but combining lyrical/vocal depression with guitar paranoia a la Talking Heads wasn't exactly a universal means for a living in 1980. So Joy Division were doing it, and they were doing it better, but essentially they'd been doing this on one album and one album only (Closer already sounds little like your average Cure album). And, even if the album is wimpy and doesn't rock out, it's still a great combination that works; too bad they actually had to abuse it and almost ruin it by proving that whenever it works, it always works the same friggin' way.



Year Of Release: 1981

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Still about as porridge-like as the album sleeve, but something's slowly starting to show through.

Best song: PRIMARY

Track listing: 1) The Holy Hour; 2) Primary; 3) Other Voices; 4) All Cats Are Grey; 5) The Funeral Party; 6) Doubt; 7) The Drowning Man; 8) Faith.

Once the Cry Till You Fry formula gets in full swing, there's no stopping it - you know how it goes: it takes one good whack for a cheerful artist to become a gloomy one, but it takes years of rehabilitation for a gloomy artist to get back to the joys of life. So we're stuck, I guess. Nevertheless, in my mind's eye, the overall formula gets a little more tolerable here, mainly due to the inclusion of that epochal, groundbreaking, boy-that's-goddamn-unbelievably-great single 'Primary'. Yes, That hollow "scraping" echo-laden, phased-out, swirling guitar tone (actually that's two different bass guitars, judging by what my readers tell me - thanks a lot, readers!) has been explored before, many times, by everybody from Brian May to Dave Gilmour to the Edge to Robert Smith himself, but on here these guys apply some particular trick to make it sound even more special... maybe that's just your basic phasing, maybe something else, anyway, it sounds gritty and gloomy and like some kind of morose helicopter swirling its propeller, plus the double-tracking creates a particularly sinister "goofy stereo" effect. Next to this awesome sound, it's no big deal that the vocal melody is nothing special; in any case, Smith's vocals are still aggressive and bitter, quite unlike most of the rest of the album.

And the rest of the album is basically just Seventeen Seconds Vol. 2, whether that statement pleases you or not. That said, Faith is a little more diverse, because from now on Smith starts dividing all his songs in two categories: the "faster" (usually mid-tempo) chuggin' rhythmic pieces and the "slower" (usually superslow or with no rhythm at all) fully atmospheric mood pieces. You can actually count it as a transition between the still technically "punkish" Seconds and the total Goth onslaught of Pornography. You'd probably expect a higher rating from me in this case, me being a big fan of 'transitional' albums like these and all, but fact is, "transitional" for the Cure means "neglecting to polish the old style and failing to perfectly master the new one" rather than "using the benefits of both styles to create a diverse and entertaining whole", so no, let me fold this time.

Absolutely none of the songs besides 'Primary' impress me as masterpieces, but at least by alternating between these two categories, the band doesn't make it seem like the entire album is just one big fat chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga song. Well, actually, there are some differences even within the songs themselves. 'The Holy Hour' ushers in mid-tempo, with a depressing repetitive seven-note bassline that just keeps coming and going as if nothing else existed in this goddamn world except for these seven notes, going round and round and round... making you think of a poor old Eeyore contemplating his reflection first on one, then on the other side of the pool... and just as you're ready to eliminate this thought, Smith comes in and sings about how 'I kneel and wait in silence as one by one the people slip away into the night'. So you were right after all, there's nothing but Mr Smith and the seven-note bass riff and the chuggin' guitar. The rest is - I may be wrong here, please correct me if you dare - darkness. But then, right after that song, we have 'Primary' which is far faster (and far more gothic lyrically, with innocent children dressed in white and other spectral mishmash like that - but you're so caught up in the rhythm and the helicopter propellers, you don't really notice) and far more exciting.

Whether you will be ready to accept the real slow, real heavy, real solemn stuff like 'All Cats Are Gray' and 'The Funeral Party' after the initial chug-a-chuggin' brainstorm is a question of preferences. I personally find these songs kinda draggy... whenever 'Funeral Party' comes on, I can't help reminding myself that Mr Smith stole that symphonic synthesizer sound in the background directly from Brian Eno, 'Spider And I' and all, and that Eno's ten times the master of melody than Mr Smith and the comparison looks bleek. On the other hand, with a little punch and crunch from your imagination you could really associate the song with a lengthy, never-ending, dark funeral procession as it moves on and on. You could also remember that Mr Smith is a very good lyricist, because you know, it takes GUTS to tackle all those Gothic subjects without falling back on endless cliches. Well, actually, Smith does fall on cliches, but his message is never obvious and routinely straightforward, like your average death metal band's or your average Neil Peart's, for that matter - the lyrics are always open to interpretation.

It's also interesting that 'The Drowning Man' should probably be considered as some kind of a hybrid between the two extremes. It borrows the slow tempo, stern gothic attitude, background spooky noises (either synths or backing vocals, they're mixed so goddamn deep I can't really tell) from one type and the chugging monotonous guitar rhythms from the other, and thus becomes one of the album's highlights. And the lyrics? I personally interpret them to tell the story of a guy who's tremendously fascinated by reading about romantic drownings. (Say, wouldn't Nick Cave be doing something similar on Murder Ballads seventeen years later?). But that's my thought on the subject.

Despite all this, it's still clear that Faith isn't much of a departure from the usual style. The introduction of unusual guitar tones is one undeniable asset, but the introduction of slow moody pieces isn't necessarily so. And when you got this limited formula, it's inevitable that only a few things will stick out - like 'Primary'. All the other songs are pretty much dark horses that you have a fifty-fifty chance probability to love/hate. Thus, the title track which is supposed to close the album on a particularly solemn note with a particularly important statement, just drags on for eternity with the same tired guitar lick repeated over and over, and not even the classy guitar sound can redeem it, because it was already put to much better use on 'Primary'. I'm still not sure if the few really good songs on here could have worked better on a compilation, because Faith is a well-put together mood piece in its essence, but that doesn't really guarantee the album an ultra-high rating.

Unless, of course, you're tired and feel shitty and life is a total waste. In which case, my dear friend, do not forget that the last mantra of this album reads 'Nothing left but faith'. Yeah, I know it's hard to believe when it's chanted in the quintessential archi-depressed tone, but eventually Mr Smith had faith a-plenty - otherwise he wouldn't go on having commercial hits for years and years on end. No no no, totally without compromising his artistic vision. Hey, I'm not mocking anybody here. Don't chase after me with your whips and handcuffs.



Year Of Release: 1982

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

I suppose I get the metaphor of the title, but remember: just as pornography is first and foremost an industry, so is this record a product of one.


Track listing: 1) One Hundred Years; 2) A Short Term Effect; 3) The Hanging Garden; 4) Siamese Twins; 5) The Figurehead; 6) A Strange Day; 7) Cold; 8) Pornography.

There are two schools of thought on this album. Hardcore Cure fans (as well as occasional walk-ins whose soul cards happen to fit nicely into one of the slots on the Robert Smith motherboard) view it as the ultimate depressive album, the suicide guy's handbook and the psychopath's Bible. Others, who just don't have that sort of compatibility, yawn and accuse the aforementioned Robert Smith of falling into self-parody right after the first track because every following one sounds exactly the same, right down to the plastic, annoying drumming pattern. Not even Seventeen Seconds had been so gruesomely monotonous; and the problem gets only worse since by now Smith and Co. have all but entirely abandoned any traces of their 'post-punk' influences. The guitars never ring out with their jerky patterns any more; instead, they are pushed back where they drone on and on and on in a nearly ambient manner (similar to Robin Guthrie's early Cocteau Twins style, but far less psychotic and far less overdubbed), and their former functions are now equally divided between themselves and the omnipresent background synthesizers.

The only song on the entire album that comes close to having a 'melody' in a traditional sense is, indeed, the first song, 'One Hundred Years'. In fact, it opens the album with a real blast; I gotta confess that I totally detest the blunt, unimaginative use of those flat-sounding drum machines all over the place (which really spoil the overall feel, if you ask me - I know the idea was to make everything as cold and robotic as possible, but in the long run, it only makes me reinforce my hatred towards generic Eighties production technologies), but other than that, you can hardly find any flaw in that spinning, spiralling guitar riff that seems to convey all the world's sorrow. And, of course, everybody feels the need to cite the very first lyrical line that opens the album - 'it doesn't matter if we all die' - and so I did that too. Right away. Because what does it fuckin' matter, really?

Apart from that, there's not a single second on this album that would be memorable in the slightest. You're just so busy killing yourself all over the place, slowly dripping blood and contemplating your broken bones and slit veins and poison-blackened tongue, that you don't have neither the time nor the strength to concentrate on the melodic power. After 'One Hundred Years', come six four-to-six minute drones that all have depressing Goth guitars, depressing Goth synths, depressing Goth lyrical imagery of despair, pessimism, gloom, doom, darkness, screaming, shadows, breaking, crushing, worms eating skin, drowning, exploding, squashed flies, blind people, crimson pain, and "I will never be clean again!". Gee, did I just describe your generic MTV "depressing" video or what? (And didn't the Cure have their fair share of these? I mean, I think I've only seen one or two Cure videos, but here's a band where you just know how their videos will look like even if you've never seen one. You just know it).

The only "song" that sounds different from the rest is the title track, which starts out as a disjointed psychedelic sound collage of radio voiceovers, robotic encoded narratives, gloomy synth white noise, feedback, industrial clanging and if I've missed something, you'll probably know what it is anyway by association. Eventually some kind of one-chord melody appears through the rumble and Smith breaks in with the usual whining desperately trying to somehow end the album on a more optimistic note ('I must find this sickness, find a cure' - gee, nice pun!), but it's hardly useful because you can't make out a single syllable of what he's blurting out anyway. There's too much clanging for that.

No rational explanation suffices to account for the so-oft proposed "greatness" of this album. There's NO WAY you could offer that rational explanation. "It's all so dark man" is about the closest I can get to that rational explanation, but there's lots of things that are dark. Tom Waits' Bone Machine is dark. Black Sabbath's Master Of Reality is dark. The entire Birthday Party catalog is dark. So is the inside of your rectum. And yet I gotta give this thingie a relatively high rating (relatively high, mind you), well, for more or less the same reason I didn't entirely dismiss Faith or Seconds: in general, it is pulled off very well. I don't see this as the most depressive album of all time - I actually doubt that such a thing could exist at all, because that thin line where a really subtle depressive album that implants its depression on you in an almost unconscious manner suddenly turns into a way too obvious, maybe even obnoxious album that forces its depression unto you by brutal means is extremely hard to spot. However, if Robert Smith's aim was indeed to make the most depressive album of all time (and that's an aim that normally only a complete idiot could set out with), I'm amazed to see the level of good taste reflected here. Look at the goddamn lyrics, when they're dissected they can easily be reduced to nothing but a bunch of cliches (some of which I have already quoted above), but when put together, they come off as totally unforced and well-combined. You can never interpret them directly - that's a plus, yet you can always see they convey the same depressive message - that's another plus.

And then there's Smith's actual delivery, which may be a grand put-on for all I know, but he's rarely sounded that majestic and graceful before. Agreed, when it's just the same pitch'n'tone over and over again, you can start thinking of self-parody, but every individual song sounds powerful and sincere anyway. I mean, you know this guy really is into what he's doing, he's not just following a Joy Division-set trend or anything. (And actually, if we think of it, 1982 wasn't such a great year for depressive types; heck, there was no Dead Can Dance yet!). I mean, I could care less about the actual musical merits of 'The Figurehead', but the song really speaks to something inside me when that 'I will never be clean again' chant comes on. Weepy is the word here - the quintessential weepy delivery from a guy who doesn't consider it cheesy or gay or whatever to weep, rather than just whine, before a major rock audience.

So here's to extreme Eighties dark decadence. And whatever be, I'll just finish this review by uttering a generic phrase about how this stuff is still a million times better than your average "dark" crap occasionally pushed upon the listener by MTV these days.



Year Of Release: 1983

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Dance baby dance! Put down your axe, get out of your shroud, and DANCE WITH THE CURE!


Track listing: 1) Let's Go To Bed; 2) The Dream; 3) Just One Kiss; 4) The Upstairs Room; 5) The Walk; 6) Speak My Language; 7) Lament; 8) The Lovecats.

Well now - that's what I call a change of direction! Push too far with your melancholy and your atmospherics and your depression and your quaaludes and you end up on the opposite side and start making danceable synth-pop. Granted, this isn't really an "album". It's a compilation of all new songs - a couple recent singles and a short EP called The Walk. Apparently, this means that Smith's reinvention of himself was, at this time, only tentative. Still, surely hardcore Cure fans must have bought this stuff and experienced a series of heart attacks - considering that instead of mopey guitar lines and painful "IT HURTS" declarations they were greeted with trendy drum machines and synth riffs that sounded more like Depeche Mode than The Cure.

That was the warning: if you think Depeche Mode was the final nail in the coffin of your great-grandmother, stay away from this album. But personally, I see no reason why a formulaic "dance-pop" album should necessarily be rated lower than the equally formulaic "morose Goth" Pornography. And if I do rate it lower, that's mainly because it's so short (eight songs? are you kiddin' me?) and not all of the songs here look successful to my ears. Besides, after reading some other reviews of this stuff, you might come to the erroneous conclusions that it's not only a change of musical style, but also a change of the overall mood setting - don't believe this! When a guy is gifted with a Robert Smith-quality voice, all of his stuff will be morose in essence.

Take a song like 'The Lovecats', for instance. It's got the luvverliest melody on here, with music-hall-influenced pianos and boppy basslines carrying the melody instead of the dated synths, a setting that's much more likely to be met on a record by some "retro-twist" ensemble - but is it really cheerful? I don't think so. The lyrics, although they do grow out of conventional "you and me" thematics, are way too loaded with obscure treacherous references ('we missed you - hissed the lovecats', 'we should have each other for tea, we should have each other with cream', 'how could we miss someone as dumb as this' - HUH?), and Smith's vocals, although fast and playful, are anything but "funny" or "naive" or whatever you expect from a simplistic commercial love song. Merging the playful with the morose is a risky trick, of course, because way too often you just get stuck with a big question mark instead, but on here, it works.

Plus, it's the only really "bouncy" tune on here. Well, maybe along with 'Speak My Language', although already the latter is slower and chockful of gloomy sound effects that were so popular with Mr Smith on the last couple of albums. Read the lyrics, too: "It was only yesterday/Waving arms across the street/Your white face left me blue..." Pornography in full spring - as you can see, it's nowhere near such a radical departure as might seem upon first sight. Okay, so it's not exactly a song about death and suffering, but it's a song about being unable to reach mutual understanding, which can also be a pretty depressing subject at times, you know.

Having dealt with that, we still have to deal with the one big Smithproblem: unmemorability. Even now that The Cure seem to be returning to "basic" melody values they appeared to have totally forgotten about since 1979, it still takes time to restore these withered limbs from apathy. 'Let's Go To Bed' is one solid exception, a good song where the verses are thoroughly separated from the chorus and the chorus manages to be catchy, even if that catchiness is mainly guaranteed by the banality of the 'doo doo doo' chanting. Yet again, though, however banal the doo doo doos and the drum machines and the oh-so-nineteen-eighty-something synth lines might seem to you, that's Robert Smith at the wheel, and his lyrics and vocal delivery save the day in the end.

I also admit to being a big fan of 'The Walk', although if it were up to me, I would by all means sanction a re-recording of this song that would rid it of that yyyyyyucky synth tone of its main musical theme (the one that sounds like a ten-year-old Moog that somebody had rescued from a dumpster, all peppered with holes from Keith Emerson's knives). It definitely belongs more in a generic breakdance instrumental than it does on a "moody" Cure song. Apart from that, it's a dangerous-sounding, energetic pop-rocker whose culmination - Smith yelling 'I saw you look... LIKE A JAPANESE BABY!' - certainly suggests this gentleman's punk roots have not yet been totally dessicated.

The other songs just sort of hang there, although while they're on, they're nice. Actually, a couple of them do sound like Pornography outtakes - 'Lament', in particular, is just as slow and mushy as could have been expected, and its wimpy, monotonous, repetitive, yet impressive in-between-verses guitar melody appears there in the exact same way as the circling desperate pattern of 'One Hundred Years' did, although on the whole, the song is far less powerful. 'Just One Kiss', with Smith's vocals even farther away from the listener, blowing around the room like a depressed fallen angel, is in the same style, but this time without even the impressive guitar pattern.

All in all, this isn't a record for the casual fan, especially considering that the best tracks have been carefully preserved on the far more comprehensive Staring At The Sea collection ('Lovecats', 'Walk', 'Let's Go To Bed' - too bad 'Speak My Language' couldn't make it, but, after all, how often do you buy a record for just one song?). Then again, would albums like Seventeen Seconds or Faith be "records for casual fans" either? In fact, the casual fan might even enjoy Japanese Whispers far more than the Goth-festered swamps of Smith's past. Certainly this collection is not any less consistent than your average Cure album, plus, it's probably essential if you want to get a proper viewpoint on the Cure's creative evolution.



Year Of Release: 1984

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Smithify[Goth+synth-pop+stylistic jumbo] == The Cure in transition?


Track listing: 1) Shake Dog Shake; 2) Birdmad Girl; 3) Wailing Wall; 4) Give Me It; 5) Dressing Up; 6) The Caterpillar; 7) Piggy In The Mirror; 8) The Empty World; 9) Bananafishbones; 10) The Top.

After a series of singles, here's yet another LP-format offering from the tenacious Mr Smith. Now, in retrospect it sometimes seems that bands like the Cure and Siouxsie & The Banshees were actually trapped in their own uncompromised, self-pigeonholed image: you have to go on and on and on doing that gloomy end-of-the-world schtick until you choke on your own depression, or it merely becomes as routine and ordinary as, well, everyday life, and your gloom and misery become as ordinary a procedure as your morning exercises. In that respect, it's fun to look at how those bands were actually trying to wiggle their way out of the formula, trying various minor twists and non-revolutionary modifications once in a while yet always coming back to where they started. After all, you're an artist, a serious artist, you can't just laugh it off and release the same album twenty times in a row like Motorhead.

The Top thus symbolizes a new start of a seriously revamped Cure; of course, it did take a dispersal of the band in 1982, a streak of Smith's collaboration with the Banshees, and an entirely new lineup that made up the bulk of Japanese Whispers to finally settle on this kind of thing. The one and only fact that is obvious about the album is that it both wants and doesn't want to sound like Pornography: the atmosphere and the desperation have to be preserved, but the musical means have to be more diverse, even if that involves mystifying the population. It's not so dense-sounding, either, with lighter production and vocals that are a little bit more down to earth than usual. And it's pretty damn good.

Of course, "pretty damn good" hardly refers to the songs' melodic power, you understand. Smith's capacity of writing hooks kinda went out the window about five years ago, when he decided having moods was more important than having hooks (as if the two were incompatible in the first place - dumbass!). And it hardly refers to the "making a point" aspect of this album, because... what is that point? I wasn't the world's biggest Pornography fan, but it certainly was a B-I-G kind of thing, with bombast and power and grace and transcendence and... well, at least it was perfect funeral music. The Top sheds a large part of that bombast, so, automatically, it refuses to be just as captivating.

However, with subsequent listens, The Top steadily grows on you, and eventually you start to realize that the album's power lies directly in its being a transition point. The basic essence is still the same; the forms are different. It's as if Robert Smith were positioned in the centre of a hideous room with multiple locked doors leading out into the open air, and the entire album is Smith banging on these doors one by one, desperately trying to find one way out of his misery. Instrumentation, musical styles, even vocal trappings... this record is actually more diverse than Three Imaginary Boys, although, of course, not up to that album's standard as far as melody quality is concerned.

Granted, the first three tracks on here do not present me with any arguments in favour of this interpretation. They more or less sound the same and sound like old-style Pornography Cure, although slightly energized by faster, more rhythmic beats carried over from Japanese Whispers. However, 'Shake Dog Shake' at least rocks harder than anything on the 1982 mountain of ice. If only they'd bothered giving that song a good old sizable monster riff, it would be a rightful classic; as such, it's still Cure filler.

The atypical phenomena start arriving - in droves - as you get around to the fourth track. 'Give Me It' is the frantic cry of a guy who's been doing passive depression for so long, he's simply beyond himself when he's finally discovered active depression. Of course, the Iggy Pop level of madness is unattainable here, but these are different levels: when Iggy Pop gets mad, it's the raging bull level, when Robert Smith gets mad, it's the snotty little guy level. And when the snotty little guy gets mad, it's hardly a prettier sight than a raging bull. Fortunately, then the snotty little guy shuts up, calms down, and makes way for the desperately romantic 'Dressing Up', featuring South American pipes and a "formally gorgeous" Robert Smith vocal delivery with our favourite hero trying out hoarse falsetto, cooing tenor and whatever else. Doesn't even sound particularly depressing... after all, he's 'dressing up to kiss', even if he 'could eat your face'.

The party isn't over, though. 'The Caterpillar'? A few dissonant piano chords, a few ear-hurting violin rhythms, and then an almost dangerously "sappy", an almost authentically bossanova tune with even more falsetto from The Man With The Permanently Awful Hair. Memorable or forgettable, this is a tune the likes of which The Cure had never done before, and the piano/acoustic/violin interaction is easily the most interesting little musical discovery that could be credited to the band since 'Primary'. 'Piggy In The Mirror' is nowhere near as innovative, but it's certainly well-produced and... well, you know what? it reminds me of a normal pop song. Note: I didn't say it is a normal pop song, only that it reminds me of one!

The best two tracks you'll just have to await at the end, though. 'Bananafishbones'. Hmm. Could the title be a reference to Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombones, do you think? Not that the sound betrays it as such - in fact, it starts out eerily resembling Led Zep's 'When The Levee Breaks': similar pounding drum track, mock-Plant bluesy harmonica... then the harmonica goes away, though, and an equally eerie Farfisa organ announces the song. Now that's the way I likes me my angry depressed music - with real grit to it. And hey! It's got these drums! GOOD drums! Don't you realise just how much better The Cure are with GOOD drums than with these plastic imitations on their 1981-82 albums? All at once, the power is back, the power and the edge. Throw in a catchy Farfisa organ riff, throw in some moody ooh-oohs in the background, throw in the usual Smith lyrics, and presto, a really good track is born.

Finally, the title track reverts us to more "predictable" Cure territory, but still nowhere near Pornography level. The drums are real again, and again they're going in an ominous unnerving pattern, and the guitar is dark again, but it's punk-level minimalistic, and then, eventually, after the Prophet Isaiah vocal part is over, the drums just start getting more complex and more complex and more complex, with all kinds of cool fills and nicely placed phasing effect and every once in a while the keyboards break in to play this weird, totally "inappropriate", pseudo-music-hall rhythm and you get this feeling as if you were playing King's Quest VI and wading through the labyrinth, waiting for the Minotaur to make his entrance, and nothing were happening and then it all fades out. Boo!

In the end, just give it time. This is one Cure album which I really hated initially and grew to... sort of respect, if not necessarily adore, eventually, and it's well worth a little bit of your time. I certainly do not wish to alter my definition of what constitutes a "transitional" album for the Cure (see above), but in this case at least, Smith succeeded in creating something curious.



Year Of Release: 1985

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

There's a good band... again. With solid pop compensating for all the darkness, they're back to being MASTERS OF NOTES again.


Track listing: 1) In Between Days; 2) Kyoto Song; 3) The Blood; 4) Six Different Ways; 5) Push; 6) The Baby Screams; 7) Close To Me; 8) A Night Like This; 9) Screw; 10) Sinking.

Wow! Now somebody must have told Mr Smith, 'hey man, you got a great vibe going on and all, but we've known this for five long years now, you're not spooky any more. Boo!' Because this is the album we all knew Mr Smith had in him - he had just been refusing to deliver it for so long. In 1979, the Cure used to have quirky little hooks in their songs; from 1980 to 1984, the Cure used to have quirky little kill-yourself-buddy stunts in their songs. Japanese Whispers tried to put the two together, but really did it the wrong way, making the band look like second-hand Depeche Mode in the process. The Head On The Door puts the two together in a good way, though, and voila, the birth of true radical "goth-pop"!

Now I've seen some people accuse the band of writing 'happy pop songs' here. Maybe even selling out to all the Prozac nation. I beg to differ - I insist that The Head On The Door is just as much of a depressive, pessimistic, end-of-the-world record as Pornography, with maybe one or two mini-exceptions like 'Close To Me'. It's just that it sacrifices this dense, thick, deep sound of the preceding records in favour of a more straightforward, energetic, and occasionally even danceable approach. But if you ask me, ladies and gentlemen, it's still the dance of death that Robert is doing on here. Okay, so it doesn't sound anymore like he's talking to us from some distant dark cloud or from the depths of hell. So would you be more pleased if Mother Death were speaking to you face to face than from somewhere far beyond? You're not constantly living under the sword of Damocles, are you?

All of a sudden, song after song turns out to be a highlight. Creative, diverse, evocative, memorable instrumental melodies! Tons of 'em! A great guitar riff here, a classy pounding bassline there, and sometimes a really inspired vocal chorus, too. And that mood? Oh so ambiguous. 'In Between Days' does seem to start the album on an uplifting, almost radiant note, with a colourful power-pop riff, fast, intense strumming of the acoustic, and - somewhere out there in the background - hi-tech synths a la Abacab-era Genesis. But then the first line is 'yesterday I got so old, I felt like I could die...'. Eh? Oh so it's really about a hopeless love triangle or something. Big deal. Well, fine, in that case look at 'Kyoto Song' and how it begins with: 'a nightmare of you, of death in the pool...'. I could go on, except I don't like citing the Cure's lyrics too much.

There's a weird mix of influences here, too. The bass player keeps drawing on funk patterns, but the guitars and synths often betray traces of Eastern music; a typical example is 'The Blood', where this hot danceable bass groove is unexpectedly backed by mystical-sounding Indianesque synth patterns (and the acoustic guitars that carry the main rhythm betray a flamenco pattern, come to think of it). Throw in the weird 'I am paralysed by the blood of Christ' chorus, the straightforwardly Spanish guitar solo in the middle of the song, and you have Mr Smith actively and successfully shaking off the chains of formulaicness he got himself in so tightly at the beginning of the Eighties. You never know what to expect now! Well, you could expect these South American pipes to reappear somewhere, what with Smith obviously having taken a liking to them on the previous albums, but would you expect them to play this cutesy little Mother Goose-level melody on 'Six Different Ways'?

My favourite number on here, though, is easily 'The Baby Screams', a piece of pure goth-pop perfection, not one note to be added or subtracted. It seems to burst apart with energy, what with the wildly throbbing insane bass and the steady drum rhythms (and did I yet say the album almost entirely relies on real drums? that gives it so much more power!), and at the same time the ominous piano and synth overdubs fully preserve the life-is-a-piece-of-shit atmosphere of classic Cure. Not to mention how well Smith fits in with the instrumental melody with his 'take it all, and strike me dead, strike me dead!' incantations. I hate to admit it, but the more that guy comes up front in the mix, the more you understand how great his voice actually is - not too many people can yell out 'heaven, give me a sign!' with such majesty and conviction as our favourite lipstick banshee does. Well, maybe Bono could do that. But certainly not anybody else.

The Cure even scored a hit single here with 'Close To Me', even if that song is probably the least typical of the album; most lightweight and non-scary, all light synth tinkles and big booming drums. It's perhaps a bit too Depeche Mode-like for the band (well, they probably were taking their cue from that band when it came to penning potential hit singles anyway), but harmless fun anyway. Make sure your real attention goes to odd funky experiments like 'Screw', which contains the best bass riff on a Cure record ever - all fuzzy and distorted and twisted in an almost garage-like way.

As for the old Cure, the Pornography-like Cure, it only rears its ugly head on the final track, 'Sinking' - yet either the "poppification" of the band led to them making even their 'moodier' songs more identifiable, or maybe it's just a case of good neighbourhood; see, way too much usually depends on how well you structure your album, and 'Sinking' might have gone by totally unnoticed by me on an earlier album, but here it works as a perfect anthemic, stately conclusion to an album that's otherwise boppy and jerky and funky and what-not. Speaking of funky, 'Sinking' still has a wonderful well-constructed, non-diluted bassline that never gets buried by all the synth overdubs, and never lets the song degenerate into a chaotic mess. But even so, I still love the way Smith slowly builds up his vocal attack, from fairly quiet to all-out broken-down hysteria in the sharp ending - 'if only I could remember anything at all...'.

Well, brother, I can only speak for myself: I end up remembering a lot from this album. Sellout? Simplification? Puh-lease. This record does everything that I ever wanted from Pornography and does it better. Mood? Gotcha. Hooks? Gotcha. Great playing? Gotcha. If I want to kill myself, I will return to Pornography (then again, if I really want to kill myself, I'd rather put on some Justin Timberlake) - as long as I'm in a relatively "normal" state of mind (which, of course, comprises all kinds of sub-states, from pissed off to happy), Head On The Door promises me far, far more. Yeah, a couple of the songs are still kinda weak, but you gotta understand, I could count really memorable tunes off the previous four albums on the fingers of my right hand. Just goes to show you how well these guys were progressing at the time.



Year Of Release: 1987

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Given the choice between calling it a panoramic masterpiece or an overblown Zeppelin of sheep's dung, I responsibly choose the former.

Best song: THE KISS

Track listing: 1) The Kiss; 2) Catch; 3) Torture; 4) If Only Tonight We Could Sleep; 5) Why Can't I Be You; 6) How Beautiful You Are; 7) Snakepit; 8) Just Like Heaven; 9) All I Want; 10) Hot Hot Hot!; 11) One More Time; 12) Like Cockatoos; 13) Icing Sugar; 14) The Perfect Girl; 15) A Thousand Hours; 16) Shiver And Shake; 17) Fight.

I haven't had that much trouble "consuming" an album since at least Sandinista!, which this Cure effort certainly recalls at times. Not on a song-by-song level, of course - there are few things in this world less incompatible than the universalist political rock of classic-era Clash and the personal psychological mope-rock of Robert Smith - but simply due to the vastness and magnanimousness of both, as well as to the readiness to take serious risks. Because, now that I'm getting more and more accustomed to this record, let's face it, it was a genius move. What's the biggest problem of Mr Smith? Being inconsistent - releasing a few great songs per album surrounded by loads of similar-sounding, but inferior muck. What's the best way to get rid of the problem? What's the cure?

Answer: "Establish serious quality control" and you're dead wrong. Or, actually, you're right, but you're offering the impossible: Smith is the creative center of the band (even if sueing Lol Tolhurst for getting an equal share of royalties was still an ungenerous move as far as I see it), and all the quality control you're gonna get emanates from Smith himself, which is pretty much equal to having no quality control at all. No, the correct answer is: "Release a double album and make 'em forget about the inconsistency in the face of sheer scope!".

Amazingly, it works. Of course, only in case you wanna give this stuff some serious chances - otherwise, it's just a re-recording of Head On The Door with lots more filler. It's the Cure's White Album, or, at least, as white as they could get it (which is still more or less grayish in my eyes). Everything gets covered, and almost every subject gets revisited: if you're only going to buy one Cure album, buy this one because you get to feel them as punks, and you get to feel them as blood-crazy Goths, and you get to feel them as slick pop-hit-makers, and you get to feel them as bizarre experimentalists, and you get to feel them as lonely romanticists, and even though in a way, it all sounds the same, well, that's mainly because one guy is singing it all, and that one guy likes to whine a lot.

Remember, I don't flash around overall thirteens for nothing, and besides, I have a personal soul incompatibility with the Cure - maybe only one or two numbers at best on here really have me in their grip. But sometimes you just have to admit that some things are stronger than you, and Mr Smith really has me driven five feet into the ground under this mammoth. Yes, well, few of the songs resonate with me, but almost each and every one has something interesting - a curious bassline, an untrivial instrumental arrangement... there's a hundred years of artistic vision buried under all of these layers, and there's a big difference between unimpressed and uninterested as I, already quite effortlessly, navigate between these seventeen slabs of the Unhappy Clown.

I suppose I'll have to discuss individual songs, won't I? Even if I really hate to do it, seeing as how much, much more than the sum of its parts this record is. I mean, take an individual song like 'Torture' and play it a million times in a row and you may still not understand what exactly makes it different from any selected 1984-85 Cure song. But as a truly "torturous" interlude between the soft folksy ballad 'Catch' and the moody sitar-dominated 'If Only Tonight We Could Sleep', it sits in its perfect place. And I'm pretty sure there are a couple very similar things on the second half of the album, and I'm pretty sure they're tightly jammed in all the right slots as well. It's a long emotional journey, after all. Some states of mind are sure to be revisited.

I'm not sure I had a chance to explicitly mention that earlier, but do you know how the "typical Cure song" is made up, by the way? Normally, the first half of it is just instrumental - the Big Build-Up, with the vocals coming in midway through or even closer to the end, so you really can't call these instrumental sections "intros". This, in particular, gives a hint at why Smith seems to foster such an inborn hatred towards choruses: the vocals in each given song aren't so much 'overimposed' on the material as they are just an integral part of it, similar in function to yet another lead guitar joining the fray somewhere along the line. And nowhere else is that principle followed more rigorously than on Kiss Me. See, for instance, 'The Kiss'. It starts out as this wild, frenetic wah-wah rave-up, with Porl Thompson playing a maniacal solo as he seems to be intent upon ripping the very heart out of his guitar, and this just goes on and on and builds up and up and up with majestic synth swirls around it for an eternity and it's not until 3:50 into the song when Rob actually enters with his paranoid wailings.

And you know what? I like that principle. First, because that means we don't have to listen to Robert much of the time. Nothing against thusly affected vocals, to be sure, but if I'm overdosing on somebody's singing, I'd rather it be the likes of Joni Mitchell or Al Green. Second, because it really gives the music a chance to speak. It's a clear-cut message: the music is more important than the person. For such a great big fat album, it's surprisingly ego-devoid. Unless you count such things as the out-of-nowhere sitar overdubs of 'If Only Tonight...' ego-driven, of course, but I wouldn't want to confuse ego-driven with experimental. These sitars - and particularly the sitar-imitating guitars which come in a bit later - are fantastic, by the way.

I even like 'Snakepit', a track that seems to garner the most hatred from fans (at seven minutes, it's the longest on here, yet far from the best, so this is naturally understood). It's a kind of Eastern-ish drone with maybe just a little nod to the Velvet Underground (remember 'Venus In Furs'?) and a somewhat bigger nod to Krautrock acts like Amon Düül II and once again it fits in perfectly well. Overlong, though, I'll agree upon that. But then there's 'Icing Sugar', with a goofy "jumping", but not really disco, bassline, and otherworldly astral saxes (remember Hawkwind?), and then there's the somnambulous, but gorgeous landscape of 'One More Time' (more pretty South American pipes and more "I'm standin' on top of the world but my heart is at the bottom of it" vocals from Rob), and all these things just sort of make any potential gaffes insignificant. Like, what, this stuff ain't perfect? Like, what do you expect from seventy minutes of music?

Oh fine. Maybe you're just a "pop-slop lover", as fans of Kansas and Journey occasionally say. In that case, you'll still find your moments of pleasure in the fast electro-funky Prince-like 'Why Can't I Be You?' and the equally fast electro-punky Clash-like 'Just Like Heaven'. Or in the minimalistic, but evocative piano melody of the upbeat ballad 'How Beautiful You Are'. Or in the "art-hardcore" nightmare of 'Shiver And Shake', three and a half minutes of "orderly chaos". In short, we have things here to satisfy the most exigent customer. You won't like all of it (I sure know I don't), but you'll still get the feel of the flow, and that's a pretty grand flow for 1987. Best Cure album ever? That's a grand statement. Maybe "the most ambitious Cure album to ever satisfy most of its ambitions" would be more correct. At least semantically, if not necessarily syntactically.



Year Of Release: 1989

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

What Baudelaire would sound like had he been playing in a rock band.

Best song: they're all one.

Track listing: 1) Plainsong; 2) Pictures Of You; 3) Closedown; 4) Love Song; 5) Last Dance; 6) Lullaby; 7) Fascination Street; 8) Prayers For Rain; 9) The Same Deep Water As You; 10) Disintegration; 11) Homesick; 12) Untitled.

Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me had been concentrated around what Robert Smith is capable of doing; Disintegration is concentrated around what he's capable of doing best. In terms of general musical philosophy, this album is the Cure's Pornography Vol. 2, but in terms of creative growth and 'maturity' it relates to that album the same way as your average well-written, professional essay relates to whatever crap you were writing for your high school composition teaching classes.

That's not necessarily saying it is a "good" album. For all of its depth and enormity, Disintegration has Smith once again stepping back from the pop hooks of the last two albums and wallowing in an aura of deformed, often shapeless, atmospheric misery. And this time, there's no escape: this sucker is also seventy minutes long. And these songs are huge. No expense has been spared, certainly not the average listener's attention or patience - where Kiss Me was this large sprawling fairy-tale monster with nine heads and seventeen limbs, covering you in sticky oozing green slime and trapping you in all of its variegated cobwebs, Disintegration is more like The Hammer of Thor repeatedly coming down on you until you start feeling like every single nucleus of every single cell in your body has been reduced to non-organic pulp. Yet for some strange metaphysical reason you're still living, despite all odds.

Do not, however, think that this is just seventy minutes of monotonous mush. Well, "monotonous" is certainly the right word to use - not much variety in the overall mood, you know - but the melodies are anything but mush. This time around, Smith is on a minimalistic spree, building each and every one of these compositions on some simple, but memorable guitar or keyboard riff and repeating it over and over while innumerable layers of guitars and synths swirl around it, adding all kinds of instrumental laments, moans, groans, howls, screams, sighs, whinings, yowls, yells, blubbers, plaints, and coronachs. Thus, to your perfect surprise, after a few listens you realize you're suddenly able to distinguish the songs from one another!

I wouldn't go as far as to distinguish good songs from bad songs on here, though. That's a bit beyond my limited abilities. I know through nerdy reading experience that some people aren't too pleased with 'The Same Deep Water As You', but this is easily explained through one prosaic reason: it's the slowest song of all, and it's also the longest one. Yet apart from that, it certainly fits in perfectly with the rest, and the mood it creates ain't one iota less effective - in fact, it's more effective than in most other cases, just because adding the thunderstorm elements was such a cool idea, and just because every time Smith enters with that creepy 'kiss me goodbye...' passage, I really honestly feel like offering the guy a razorblade. For Chrissake, Bob, do it already! You're getting too fat!

On the other hand, I don't feel that much crucial difference between all of these songs and the boringly titled hit single 'Love Song', except that it speeds the proceedings up a bit. But... hmm... what about that requiem-style church organ carrying the melody? What about Smith's vocals? The way he sings the "love song", you'd think he were singing it kneeling before the tomb of his dead wife, making a solemn vow of 'however far away I will always love you'. Funny, but significant detail: first time I sat through all of this, I didn't even realize there was a "boppy" hit single hidden somewhere in the middle of this dense dreariness. It doesn't jump out at you, believe me.

Still, if we're forced to talk in terms of highlights here, 'Love Song' is one. So is 'Lullaby', a slightly "grittier" composition with a rhythmically crunchy groove to it, punctuated by cool harp-imitating synth lines on both sides of the verses. Of course, you're not really recommended to sing this one to your offspring because it ain't exactly teaming with rainbow-coloured fluffy images, but then again, next to these pretty harps even goofy spidermen look sort of... different. Not gloomy. Different.

Different is the key here. Take something like 'Prayers For Rain'. Here are some of the words used in the lyrics: 'shatter', 'dull', 'kill', 'hopelessness', 'suffocate', 'drab', 'fracture', 'stale', 'strangle', 'entangle', 'deteriorate', 'dirt', 'drearily'. Considering there's only two verses, this ain't that little of an unpleasant-effect-quota, is it? But when I actually put on my headphones and turn the volume up really really loud, I do not get this "depressed" feeling that I'd get from Pornography. "Depressed" is a bad word. It's a boring word. Anybody can get depressed. I can get depressed. You can get depressed. Your neighbour can get depressed. Your neighbour's fat cat can get depressed. Surely Robert Smith can get depressed. But not anybody can get different. And you're truly being different when you have this huge mass of sound, with big pounding drums, two quietly jangling interlocking guitars, two quietly humming interlocking synths, a tinkling piano, a solemn religious-sounding pseudo-strings theme, still another mournful guitar drone, and on top of that, the mantraic mumblings of Smith's romantic vocals. Is this all "depressed"? Well, yes. But it's much more than just "depressed". It's a Spiritual Ode to Depression, a ritualistic Celebration of All Things Grey And Sad.

It doesn't feel that much more sincere than Pornography, to tell the truth. But this time, it doesn't need to. It's a ceremony; a ritual; it's symbolic rather than heartfelt. As good a title as Disintegration is, I'd probably call the album Sacrifice instead - I can almost picture this guy out there on the top of a hill under a stormy sky in black robes, making an offering to pacify his inner (and outer) demons. Except that before making this particular sacrifice, he still has to plead his troth to his Beautiful Lady In The Proverbial White Gown ('Pictures Of You'), which he does indeed for seven justifiably long minutes to the sound of "celestial" overdubbed guitars and faux-sitars and what-not. Of course, by the time The Beautiful Lady graces him with his presence in 'The Last Dance', it's already too late because there's too much grief and death and demolition around, but we expected that. We were prepared. You want us to mourn together, Bob? We will mourn together.

It all still has a sort of pseudo-optimistic end to it - the title track is supposed to be the "final breakdown", what with the sounds of broken glass all over the place and all, but somehow it's more of a painless "dissipation" than a tragic collapse; apparently, the end as it is is just that, the end of pain and suffering rather than its culmination, which explains why this eight-minute rumpus is so "cheerful" in relation to the rest of the album. And if there is something after the end, it's the relaxing, pain-devoid "Untitled", which ends the album with a few minutes of gentle consolation.

And finally, a word of advice: in case you really feel bored with Disintegration - and I sure can't blame you for that - just treat it as you would treat an ambient album, i.e. background music creating a certain mood around you. The melodic and "artistic" potential of the record will get around to you sooner or later, but don't force them to get around to you. Just soak in the romantic, 'noble' spirit of the thing. It goes without saying that this kind of stuff might be especially near to you if you're a big aficionado of XIXth century romanticism and/or end-of-the-century poetry - Mr Smith is definitely going for the throat on here, and there's really nothing else quite like this album in existence.



Year Of Release: 1990

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Dance to the glory of the least dance-minded band in the world.

Best song: it is a collection, isn't it?

Track listing: 1) Lullaby (Extended Mix); 2) Close To Me (Closer Mix); 3) Fascination Street (Extended Mix); 4) The Walk (Everything Mix); 5) Lovesong (Extended Mix); 6) A Forest (Tree Mix); 7) Pictures Of You (Extended Dub Mix); 8) Hot Hot Hot! (Extended Mix); 9) The Caterpillar (Flicker Mix); 10) Inbetween Days (Shiver Mix); 11) Never Enough (Big Mix).

This is easily the most "skippable" release in the entire Cure collection, for a simple reason - it is, indeed, just a bunch of remixes of previously released songs, although, weirdly enough, stretching as far back as Seventeen Seconds (see 'A Forest'). But don't be as quick as this introduction implies you to be. They're good remixes.

I mean, it probably does represent the pinnacle of Smith's obsession with mass appeal. He'd been balancing artsiness with danceability since the Japanese Whispers period, and doing it remarkably well, garnering respect from the critical scene and getting big pop chart hits at the same time, but Mixed Up is certainly not for the critical ear, it's for the dance floor. It's not terribly different from what most people at least vaguely related to the pop industry were, and still are, doing; the big difference is that the "extended mix" concept is usually much more typical for EPs and singles than for lengthy hour-long CDs, and for Smith & Co. to put forward a release like that was a pretty bold "pro-commercial" gesture.

But pro-, anti-, or archi-, there's some definite good emanating from this collection. Sure, the atmospheres are pretty much washed away: the emphasis is on rhythm and groove rather than on endless intricate layers of gloomy guitars and synths. So? There's a time for everything, and this barebones approach is justified in that it actually lets you appreciate the songs for their melodic essence. It may sound stupid, but it was only when I first heard Mixed Up that the image of The Cure as a band capable of well-written, not just well-performed and, uh, well-sussed songs finally became cemented in my head. Not a single one of these remixes falls flat on its face, because every single one of them is able to convey the "creative skeleton" of the formerly richly dressed composition.

Take something like 'Fascination Street', for instance. The original got much more depth to it for sure; it's a typical representative of the Cure's "musical jungle" approach, where the listener ends up getting lost in all the intricacies of Smith's musical vision, overwhelmed by the loudness and the endless layers and the not-of-this-earthness of the sound. But then all of Disintegration, all of it, was a musical jungle. And when you're stuck in the middle of the jungle, you don't have much time or much force or much will to stop and contemplate the beauty of a single poisonous vine or a single fifty-foot long boa constrictor if you know what I mean. With the Mixed Up version, you've got a chance to see that particular boa constrictor 'caged'. It gave me a better chance of capturing the coolness of the huge motherfuckin' bassline as well as being even further excited by the inhuman power of the guy's singing. And all the extra electronic bleeping? Why, sure it has nothing to do with the atmosphere of the original. It's just some silly, but essentially harmless electronic bleeping so that the kids would feel happy dancing to this cool "modern" sound.

Then there's the case of having a potentially favourite tune of yours stretched out so you can have it in an even "favouriter" way. Well, not that musically 'Lullaby' is an improvement, but it gets an even tighter groove and it's three minutes longer. And if you sort of miss that wonderful harp line of the four-minute version, do not despair - sooner or later, it does find its way into the remixed version as well, not to mention that the initial electronic replacements are fun as well. It's just that the groove is so exciting that having it elongated by three instrumental minutes really works wonders - to the extent that every time I listen to it, I feel a slight pinch of dread at every new tact, fearing it just might be the last, the song ending abruptly and all. It's a feeling you might have already experienced if you, like me, are a big fan of the Beatles' 'I Want You' - remember the last time a sad string snapped somewhere in the depths of your heart as Side A of Abbey Road came to a halt?

In terms of actual improvements, I would agree with the general opinion that singles out 'A Forest' as the one tune that really stands out in that respect. No wonder - it's been a whole decade since Smith wrote the song, and with all the musical growth and sophistication he went through, he now takes that formerly decent song (whose main, if not only, advantage was being based on the Cure's unique guitar playing/production approach which was definitely not limited to one song) and, instead of having to deconstruct and strip it, like all the Kiss Me/Disintegration numbers, he gives it a whole new look, with eerie synth overdubs, crazy percussion overdubs, and what-not. But I would not forget the 'everything mix' of 'The Walk', either: the song receives a new shiny "electronic coat", so complex and paranoid that even that stupid old dated keyboard riff after the 'I remember everything' chorus sounds rejuvenated in this context. True, this is more Depeche Mode sonically than The Cure, but is there anything wrong with that? There are many more parallels between the two bands in the first place that you could suspect, you know. Finally, as a bonus, Smith tips off his hat to the Madchester scene, with a remix of the obscure single (it was a single, right?) 'Never Enough' that sounds almost a hundred percent like some of these Stone Roses funk numbers, with classy lead guitar parts and a suitable drive.

I almost considered rating this even higher than I did, but then, hey, it is a limited release with a limited purpose, and you gotta respect that; in my heart, I may end up liking this even more than Pornography, but you have to consider the difference in effort. Still, by no means is this a purely skippable product - every serious Cure fan has to have this, and you know what? I'd go even as far as to say that this may be a perfect start for the Cure neophyte, the one person who likes his music to be poppy, boppy, and intelligent, but is afraid of jumping head first into the above mentioned "musical jungle". Of course, you could always just have a greatest hits collection, but where's the fun in that?



Year Of Release: 1992

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

More misery for youse. Except for the hits, probably written under heavy Prozac influence.

Best song: OPEN on the downbeat side, FRIDAY I'M IN LOVE on the upbeat one

Track listing: 1) Open; 2) High; 3) Apart; 4) From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea; 5) Wendy Time; 6) Doing The Unstuck; 7) Friday I'm In Love; 8) Trust; 9) A Letter To Elise; 10) Cut; 11) To Wish Impossible Things; 12) End.

The worst thing that can be said about this album is that it follows the formula of Disintegration a bit too closely - to the extent that it's pretty dang hard to write an extended review of it after already having spent so much blood, sweat, and tears on its predecessor. And yet it friggin' well deserves an extended review. Like pretty much everything The Cure released in this period, it sinks in slowly, slowly and with much pain (I could really use a good forced anal sex metaphor here, but I still have a long way to go about getting dirty). Once you get adjusted, though, you just can't get away from it.

Personally, what amazes me most is how the heck they find such perfect guitar tones for these simplistic, monotonous guitar riffs. It doesn't take a whole big bag of composing skills to get something like 'Open' out of your system, but it sure takes a no-less-than-perfect understanding of what it is you're wishing to communicate to your audience to get it on tape like that. That nagging, droning, and at the same time certainly rock guitar tone - you can hear it growl and roar and show off its distortion in every direction, but at the same time it's just so draggy and sick-of-life, it's so heavy in the primary sense of the word, crushing you not to a monstrous effect (see Black Sabbath for that), but to a depressive one. Actually, Wish doesn't boast nearly as many layers of sound as Disintegration does - in comparison to that album, the songs seem a bit stripped down, and sometimes it doesn't feel right, but on 'Open' it does. It just leaves you face to face with the depressed guitars and the depressed vocals and nothing else, and is easily the most depressive start to a Cure album ever.

Odd, actually, considering just how many people point to Wish as a 'happier' counterpoint to the utterly bleak Disintegration. Certainly this is mostly due to the inclusion of a few relatively "upbeat" songs, not the least of which is one of their biggest hits, 'Friday I'm In Love' - a most atypical song for the Cure, honestly, sounding more like the Bangles than Robert Smith, but a terrific pop song all the same. Yeah, just a shiny happy romantic three-minute single. Lots of guitar overdubs as usual, but all nice and tender and without an ounce of depression. Come to think of it, in the overall context of the album it still manages to sound a bit unnerving. Maybe a bit ironic: it's very hard to take Smith's singing 'it's such a gorgeous sight/To see you in the middle of the night/You can never get enough/Enough of this stuff' literally when just a few minutes earlier it was all 'how did we come so far apart?/I thought this love would last forever'. If you ask me, I'd stick 'Friday I'm In Love' onto the beginning of the album: the perfect 'happy' introduction before things actually get all screwed up and disillusionment and disenchantment set in.

Anyway, I guess it was primarily this song, as well as the "energetic" 'it's a perfect day for letting go...!' introduction to 'Doing The Unstuck' and the restrained party-time dancey atmosphere of 'Wendy Time' that earn the album its "happy" reputation. But the centerpiece on here is certainly neither light nor happy. Called 'From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea', it continues the band's temporary infatuation with the Madchester scene, but this time adapts the obligatory rhythmic trappings to the Cure's own style: shimmering melancholic guitars a-plenty, suicidal synthesizer havoc, and a vocal delivery that puts to shame all of the New Romantics put together. Plus, it's almost eight minutes long. Suits me. When you get a set of heartbreaking riffs that good, time isn't a problem. Although every time I hear it, I experience the temptation to fast forward to the five-minute mark when the song really gets into overdrive: the instrumental section is among the most mind-blowing things this band ever did, ranking up there with the schizophrenic introduction to 'The Kiss'. Too bad it's so goddamn short. (The instrumental section, I mean, not the song).

Other standouts would include 'Cut', another (but this time even more frantic) Madchester-influenced funk-rocker which could have passed relatively unnoticed if it weren't for Smith's ecstatic 'you don't care anymore, it's all gone, it's AAAAAAAAAAALL GOOONE!' vignettes winding up every verse, sending chills down the spines of the non-initiated ones and little blips of casual ecstasy down the spines of the fans; a slightly more subtle, less conspicuous, but every bit as moving update on 'Pictures Of You', called 'A Letter To Elise'; and I'm actually a big fan of the slow, lethargic, graveyard-drenched seduction of numbers like 'Apart' and 'Trust'. Again, these may require a bit of an adjustment if your usual requirement of the Cure is toe-tapping potential, but there's no denying the simple, unforced majesty of something like 'Trust', which very much sounds like late period Nick Cave, and I like late period Nick Cave. Even the kinda bland and unmemorable 'To Wish Impossible Things' eventually wins you over with the haunting violin and all.

And finally, this so-called "happy" album stops on a near-perfect note, with the classic Goth detachment of 'End' - and in this case, "Goth" stands for "music enveloped by abstract, impersonal, emotionless darkness of a psycho-mystical character" indeed. For most of the album, Smith has been pretty emotive, whether that emotion was the well expected desperation or the unexpected happiness; here, he is bleak, stern, closed-up and venomous, intentionally distancing himself from the listener, telling his partner to 'please stop loving me' because 'I am none of these things'. In a way, you could think that the "you" of which Smith is singing is not so much his imaginatory lover as his very real audience, and that this is all just a big "fuck you" to whoever had any particular expectations from himself, his band, and his musical philosophy. But that, of course, might be taking it too far.

In the end, Wish is still just a bit too predictable to be every bit as good as Disintegration, especially when taken in chronological perspective. And its "happy face" is certainly an illusion - if anything, it might just be setting out to show us how thin the actual line between happiness and depression is. (Or, from a cynical point of view, to show us how thin is the line between artistic integrity and commercial sellout? It's funny, by the way, how one of the "happiest" songs on here, 'High', is easily the least interesting - just a lot of rhythmic guitar jangle without any serious edge or solid hooks). But at the very least it shows that the 1987-initiated formula still works, and works relatively well.



Year Of Release: 1993

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

The Cure? Live? I thought they were DEAD!

Best song: everything is best.

Track listing: 1) Tape; 2) Open; 3) High; 4) Pictures Of You; 5) Lullaby; 6) Just Like Heaven; 7) Fascination Street; 8) A Night Like This; 9) Trust; 10) Doing The Unstuck; 11) The Walk; 12) Let's Go To Bed; 13) Friday I'm In Love; 14) Inbetween Days; 15) From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea; 16) Never Enough; 17) Cut; 18) End.

Oh no. A double live album. You'd better run. Isn't a live album from Robert Smith about the same thing as a live album from Roger Waters? Meaning, of course, that there is virtually no difference between a Cure live album and a Cure studio album, particularly if you play the latter on a PC with one of those nifty modern sound cards where you can set the "stone corridor" environment. (You can set the "arena" or "concert hall" environments as well, but the Cure don't orient themselves on arenas, they're much better for "mountains" and "quarries". For some reason, they don't have a "Seventh Circle" environment out there - I'd love to see one).

Anyway, no. Not quite. There is one significant difference between the Cure and Pink Floyd. The Cure may not be so anal about production and Smith may be called an overall less talented songwriter than Waters (or the Waters/Gilmour team, whatever), but the Cure's musicianship - and particularly the musicianship of this particular lineup - has always been pretty nigh impeccable. When you listen to something like The Wall Live, it always gives the nasty sensation of being present in a room chockful of cold robots, which wouldn't be so nasty if it weren't for the realization that there's at least one partially alive individual in that same room, trying to improvise something on his lone guitar - and that made it even creepier. But The Cure, even if they never try to stray too far away from the studio arrangements, actually play live music, as in real live music. Sometimes it may lose in terms of impact; for instance, the heavy booming electronic drums were perfect for 'Fascination Street', and the 'realistic' drumming on this live version strips the song of some of its crushing power, but hey, it's LIVE in any case!

Yes, they pay for this with a crankier, blurrier sound (so never make the mistake of initiating your "cure" with a live album), but on the good side, every time I hear 'Open' played with this dirtier, ever so slightly more distorted, crackling guitar sound, I rest reassured that they're actually not putting me on. Yes, this music is essentially a technical studio concoction, but it can live onstage, and even if this album didn't serve any other purpose, I would have remained pleased 'n' content. As it is... well... okay, so you caught me, it doesn't serve any other purpose. Well, I guess it's more honest to admit this and move on instead of trying to come up with a serious pythagorean explanation of the need for its existence.

Oh, but before we move on, let me say this before I forget: Smith's in-concert vocals are magnificent. Whoever calls his delivery uninspired (and yeah, I've read mysterious opinions of the kind) probably expected him to do some nice falsetto pirouets on top of all things, because every song is carried off perfectly, and a few are even improved by Rob raising his temper to a harsh bluesy growl, winding himself up like mad. Okay, maybe he's uninspired, I dunno, I'm not a hardcore Cure-aholic, I've never seen a Cure show - maybe the guy can break bottles with his acoustics or something. But I know how he sang in the studio, and I know how he sings here, and believe you me, there's hardly a single mistake anywhere, and hardly an intonation out of place. Legend has it that there have been shows where Smith would just sing and play lying on a sofa without ever getting up - which is pretty cool and defiantly individualistic as far as I'm concerned; not sure if such was the case on here (easy to check if you have the video of the '92 Detroit show, to which this album acts as an authentic soundtrack), but if yes, it's easy to make the conclusion that position definitely need not influence impact.

What bothers me a bit is the tracklist - eight songs from Wish? Isn't this a bit of overpromoting? Not one song earlier than 1985? And yet, what with all that concern for the 'recent' phase, just one little song from Kiss Me? Talk about missed opportunities. (Sure, many of them would be captured a month later with Paris, but it's not like I'm supposed to think of these things in terms of triple or quadruple live albums, am I?). And why 'The Walk' then, which sticks out like a sore thumb with its overload of Eighties' synth-pop dominant genes? Hey, I still like the song, but... oh wait, silly me. It is a piece of commercial product, after all. It's got a lot of short singles attracting the attention of bored housewives, unemployed Mexican Americans, disgruntled former Eagles fans who thought they sold out around the time they were formed, and a couple other ridiculous stereotypes. (Because, frankly speaking, I'm still a bit puzzled as to how the Cure could ever have a hit single, but never mind). Sure there are some lengthy distractions (like the totally kickass performance of 'From The Edge Of The Blah Blah Blah'), mainly because they have to initiate the non-initiated into the wild world of the as-of-yet-unsold brand new copies of Wish, but overall it's "The Cure for the light and easy of heart".

Since I don't have a single word to add, let me just use the space to rant a bit about how good 'Fascination Street' is since I somehow forgot to describe it in my Disintegration review. Oh that bassline. Simple as heck, at least for anybody who's ever bothered to study the minimal necessary funky chops, but as effective as the very pace of doom, if you get my meaning. And then, when over that gloomy, grumbly, don't-care-if-you-live-or-die bassline you get that chilly guitar line, almost Gregorian in tone, the depth of it all really hits you. I know it's just the production that's responsible, but how friggin' come nobody can do it better than Smith? Nobody! And another thing - how come these huge electronic drums going bash! bash! bash! sound so silly and, occasionally, annoying, when employed by somebody like Jeff Lynne, but sound so damn irremovable when we're dealing with The Cure? Answer: because Jeff Lynne is a pussy (even if he's a genius) and pussies don't go along with huge bashing electronic drums. Robert Smith, on the other hand, never had pussy. So the bashing is quite credible.



Year Of Release: 1993

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Somehow "Paris" and "The Cure" just don't stick too closely in my mind. But then again, I'm all for ruining stereotypes.

Best song: what-uh-vuhr.

Track listing: 1) The Figurehead; 2) One Hundred Years; 3) At Night; 4) Play For Today; 5) Apart; 6) In Your House; 7) Lovesong; 8) Catch; 9) A Letter To Elise; 10) Dressing Up; 11) Charlotte Sometimes; 12) Close To Me.

Say, another live album. Apparently Smith felt that something was left unsaid with the previous release, so he chucked this one out on the market merely a month after Show. It's pretty much useless to discuss one apart from the other, but since that's the format we've been fed to by the People Who Make The Big Decisions, I guess I'll just have to do something useless. Not that it will be the first time, you understand. It just wasn't that obvious before. (Hastily empties the trash bin with all those uuuuuuuugly flame letters).

Ahem. Uh. Where was I? Oh yes, Paris. Well, it's actually a bit different from Show. It's essentially dedicated to prove that the Cure, as a band, actually existed prior to 1985, with a particular emphasis on the Seventeen Seconds/Pornography period (I sure wish Robert Smith would, at least for once, go back to the Three Imaginary Boys period - or do images of his 'punkish' past haunt him about as much as images of their 'art gospel' past used to haunt Genesis?). Of course, once those selections end, it's Showtime all over again as Smith quickly goes over all the songs from Wish that didn't make it onto the previous live record - why waste good material when there's so much of it?

At first I sort of wanted to go along with the crowd and call this album the less accessible of the two, given that there's all this old material and stuff, but then again, it's Paris which finally gets the honour of housing 'Lovesong', and then there's what, 'Close To Me'? 'Catch'? 'Dressing Up'? Ah, shucks, forget about that. It's just Addenda Et Corrigenda, nothing else. Let's just concentrate on the Pornography era material. It's performed real well, and if you happened to have any problems with the murky production on the 1982 album, this cleaner, more refined, and certainly live sound might suit you better. Yes, including, of course, the replacement of electronic drums by the real stuff. 'One Hundred Years' actually gets the royal treatment, considering how closely Smith usually sticks to the originals in concert: there's an extended ferocious guitar solo at the end, and in the coda it suddenly transforms into a few bars of 'Foxy Lady' - might call this a sly little nod to the band's earliest past, if it didn't actually resemble Jimi's original much more than the actual Cure cover version.

On the other hand, 'Play For Today' is nowhere near as interesting as the original, because they either cannot or will not reproduce that odd scartchy echoey guitar sound, and for the most part, the song is bass- rather than guitar-driven in the first place, with an annoying, generic synthesizer backdrop where there was none earlier. The same, by the way, goes for 'Catch', which receives a full-band arrangement as opposed to cute minimalism on Kiss Me, and somehow doesn't quite feel right as a result. If you ask me, it would have been nice if Bob just gave the rest of the band a chance to use the bathroom and performed the song solo, with just an acoustic or something. As such, they just had to devise new parts for every player.

Oh well, at least the vocals are as perfect as ever - see 'Dressing Up' for proof, where Smith still does all the jumpy 'wheee!' falsetto parts exactly the way he's expected to. Again, if public opinion is anything to go by, the Paris show was taped off a somewhat more inspired night (or set of nights?) than the, uh, Show show(s); me being tonedeaf and all, I really couldn't say, but he sure sings good. The 'how could we get so far apart' line is even snappier than it used to be. (See! Now that's one terrific little observation I bet you ain't never come up with!).

For the record, this is the only place you're going to get a version of the rare single 'Charlotte Sometimes' unless you actually own the Staring At The Sea collection. Of course, it doesn't matter whether you're a Cure novice or a Curatic, you probably already own it in any case, but it was still my duty to warn you. It's a fairly normal-sounding song, by the way. Almost weirdly normal-sounding. The way they do it on here, it could easily be slapped onto a late period Moody Blues album like Long Distance Voyager. But then again, rumours of The Cure's "abnormality" have always been grossly exaggerated in the first place, haven't they? The Cure are a perfectly normal band. How would a perfectly normal band not sing about carnivorous spidermen in the darkness and watching people drown in the shower? It's, like, everyday life that gets tackled on here, no more and no less.

Concluding this pale, but nevertheless pretentious ghost of a review, I'll just grumble out that Paris is confused and zerrre-forrr, confusing. It really doesn't work on its own, so why it hasn't been spliced with Show is beyond me. Given that the track listings are entirely different, that would have been natural. As it is, with just a couple hits, clumsy sequencing (only a real sicko would want to end a Cure live album with such an upbeat tune as 'Close To Me'), it can only be seen as "giving the fans everything they wanted to hear on Show but never did". That said, if I were to review the two albums as one, the rating would - guess what? - still stay at an overall 11. There! FUCK BOB SMITH! SUCK COB SMITE! SICK CAB SMILE! LICK CAT STILE! LICE CAR STOLE! MICE BAR STORE! MINE BAT STORK! MINT BIT STARK!

Gee, I wonder if this will lead anywhere. You're welcome to continue to try.



Year Of Release: 1996

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Hey, I want this to be overproduced! But, er, not necessarily the way I'm offered in 'Club America'.

Best song: WANT

Track listing: 1) Want; 2) Club America; 3) This Is A Lie; 4) The 13th; 5) Strange Attraction; 6) Mint Car; 7) Jupiter Crash; 8) Round & Round & Round; 9) Gone!; 10) Numb; 11) Return; 12) Trap; 13) Treasure; 14) Bare.

Well... At least he wanted to sound different, I guess. And I have no qualms about adding more dance-pop elements to the mix. If I had, I'd have to hate Prince. And I also have no qualms about hearing more upbeat brass instruments. If I had, I'd have to hate Chicago. (Hey, wait a minute...). But when this is done at the expense of what made The Cure worthwhile in the first place - namely, this eerie scary impenetrable density of sound - I certainly have every right to scream bloody hell.

Not that Wild Mood Swings sucks from beginning to end - in fact, there are only two or three truly bland, lifeless numbers on the entire disc - but it's certainly a step away and down from the 1987-91 level, and, curiously enough, arguably the most "sellout-like" disc in Smith's entire career, not counting the singles collected on Japanese Whispers. There are no real discoveries here; what is being done good has already been done better before, and what is being done bad doesn't even have novelty value. Still, as usual, many of these songs manage to break through riding naught but the waves of Robert Smith's pheromones, provided you're not alergic to that particular smell.

The album starts on a very deceptive note: 'Want' is the closest thing to a classic Cure track here, a great depressing opener along the lines of 'Kiss' and 'Open', driven by the predictable simple plaintive riff and kicked off by the predictable breathtaking crescendo and powered by the predictable "North Korean Army Raped My Wife And Slaughtered My Children" vocals. Jesus, it seems like the older he gets the more my hair stands on end whenever he opens his mouth. Somebody find the guy some Prozac already. Or maybe not, because who's gonna need a happy Robert Smith? Taking his depression away from him would be the end of the world as we know it.

The trick is, right after 'Want' is over the album just about totally parts ways with the Great Cure of 'Fascination Street' and 'From The Edge Of A Deep Green Sea'. The rest of the album is chockful of short, unassuming songs, most of them drastically underarranged by Cure standards and often deprived of even the slightest hints at memorability - an unforgettable crime, considering how a first rate Cure song can actually get under your skin. The real offenders here are the short upbeat pop singles, because no matter how upbeat and "energetic" they are, there's just no concealing that they're mainly inferior rewrites of songs that, at one point, used to mean something. 'Mint Car' is 'Friday I'm In Love Vol. 2', but without that song's catchiness and romantic charm. I could see a song like that performed by an amateur songwriter on an acoustic for his friends in the back yard, but this is a bit too raw, and Smith's occasional falsetto yelps only worsen the blow, as if you were meant to consider this song a great energy-filled romp and headbang to it or something. Pretty much the same goes for 'Return', which just comes and goes, and the brass doesn't help one bit.

That said, when he's not being so blatantly offensive and actually cares to inject a bit of irony, the result is at least interesting, and at best as gripping as ever. 'Club America' is actually a sarcastic jab at the youth of today and its preoccupation with dance clubs, and if the lyrics don't drive that point home to you, maybe the insanely overdriven, totally over-the-top arrangement, with legions of poisonous wah wah guitars battling against each other, will. Come to think of it, you'll hardly make out the lyrics behind all the noise. There's really no audible melody as such because even if there is, you won't friggin' hear it from behind all the "anti-melodies"; but if the aim here was to try and convey the impression of total aural chaos in an establishment of the "Club America" type, well, that task has more or less been achieved. Then there's also 'Gone!', a sort of music-hall piano-&-brass-based shuffle where Robert Smith, of all people, tells you to 'get up, get out and get gone', because if you don't do it, 'you'll be missing the world'. Whoah! Is this Bobby McFerrin or The Cure we're speaking of? The lyrics don't betray one hint at irony, but the arrangement and Smith's usual vocal overtones do, and this gives the song an enigmatic aura which makes it stay with you once the album is over.

There's also plenty of Smith's downbeat balladeering, for the most part also underarranged, but with at least one minor highlight - 'This Is A Lie', where Bob's gorgeous dramatic rendition probably made many a young girl shed many a young tear. I've never cried at a Cure song myself, by the way, which is pretty weird considering I am sentimental when it comes to music, but I guess actually shedding tears for a Robert Smith song is so friggin' obvious I could never bring myself to do it. But I can certainly see many people taking something like 'This Is A Lie' deeply to heart, because the weeping violins make such a perfect counterpoint to Smith's 'this isn't truth, this isn't right, this isn't love, this isn't life, this isn't real, this is a lie!' mantra. A very close relative of this song is 'Treasure', where the vocal lines are toned down but the violin melody is even more heartbreaking in its potential.

There are also songs about which I feel uncertain - totally unable to decide, for instance, if the 'do it to me do it to me do it to me feels GOOOOOD!' chorus of 'The 13th' is a touch of genius or something decidedly idiotic. Guess it's just one of those moments. For this moment I'm gonna stop at genius because of the presumption of innocence, but let me grab on to it a couple years later and maybe I'll tell you the TRUTH about it! Or maybe not. Or the dance groove in 'Strange Attractions?' Good? Corny? I vote for both.

In any case, the worst thing about the album is the lack of density. Some of the songs almost sound folksy or "rootsy", if you get my meaning, and for The Cure, this is unbearable. If this band does not drown you in their music, it turns out that you have long enough to live to be able to see through all their shortcomings - and this won't do, won't do at all if we want to publicize Mr Smith as the greatest genius of the XXth century. It's almost as if they were lazy or something, and sheez, they had five years to do the album. Imagine that.



Year Of Release: 2000

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

"Disintegration" with a shaggy white beard. Works for me.

Best song: 39, but honourable mention goes to the main hook in THE LAST DAY OF SUMMER

Track listing: 1) Out Of This World; 2) Watching Me Fall; 3) Where The Birds Always Sing; 4) Maybe Someday; 5) The Last Day Of Summer; 6) There Is No If...; 7) The Loudest Sound; 8) 39; 9) Bloodflowers.

Yes, that's a nine all right. I will be seriously tempted to drop it to an eight, though, if this doesn't turn out to be the last Cure album. If, after repeating "The fire is almost out, and there's nothing left to burn" for approximately five million times, Robert Smith breaks his word yet another time, he sure will be one baaaaaaad sellout bitch. And something tells me he will break his word.

But until then, Bloodflowers is, and will remain, moderately awesome. It has been publicized as the 'third part' of a trilogy that also includes Pornography and Disintegration, but if you ask me, that's a load of bull. The only particularly strong link between the tree is that every single one has one long word for a title. Other than that, well, Kiss Me Kiss Me, Disintegration, and Wish - now there was an understandable trilogy for you, totally uniform in style and scope. And on a larger scale, isn't just about every Cure album (bar the debut) about the same thing? If you ask me, that was just a big promotion thing, destined to convince the record buying public that this was as good as the Cure's biggest album.

Well, it isn't, but it's close. Just a different shade of twelve. Not everybody liked it because the songs were too long, the messages weren't too new, and the short hit pop singles were nowhere to be seen. Robert Smith stepped back from the risky experimentation of Wild Mood Swings onto the tried and true - but just how much tried it actually is? Give it a serious listen and you'll find that the album is actually different. And the main thing that's different is that it's an OLD MAN's album. Not that we ever remember the time when Robert Smith was young, but on here, it seems like his physical age is finally catching up with him, and having realized that, he is apt to put that on record.

These songs are slow, slow and draggy, not even "suicidal" any more. Disintegration had Robert Smith raising his hands to the sky while balancing upon a high cliff with his long black hair blown back in the wind and rain pouring down from the sky; but Bloodflowers is an old, morose, ghost-like, spider-like Robert Smith sitting in the darkest deepest chamber of his long deserted castle with nobody but bats and rats to keep him company. No wonder he looks like Count Dracula's younger brother on that album cover. So yeah, in that respect it may be similar to Pornography - it's easily his bleakest album since 1982. But, unlike Pornography, it's an album dominated not by drum machines and dated synthesizer scratching, but by depth, the same depth that made Disintegration so fascinating. Yes, the depth is back now, in a BIG way. We haven't had these miriads of guitars and keyboards since 1989! And there might be even more of them here.

Towering high above everything is the eleven-minute Goth monster of 'Watching Me Fall'. Some call it overlong, and that's reasonable (few eleven minute songs ain't), but it needs to be overlong. Would a Tyrannosaurus Rex be nearly as imposing if he were ten times smaller than he is supposed to be? Likewise, I can't imagine a three- or four-minute 'Watching Me Fall'. It needs space to unwind all of its coils, allocate all of its grinding guitar rolls, give full vent to all the emotions, get that spiritual pus out of the way. And look just how Smith's emploi has changed. He doesn't scream any more; when he screams, it's similar to a deep agonizing moan than to a ravenous fit of anger, like it used to be. This IS a magnificent epic, a perfect summary of a meaningless, wasted life, an ideal soundtrack to "The Fall Of The House Of Usher", if you wish. So it doesn't have an instantly memorable riff. Well, neither have lots of opera arias, which this song resembles in scope. Just turn the bass level up loud and feel the power. And listen to that sadistic guitar sound. Or, rather, to that ARMY of sadistic guitar sounds. It rules.

If that is not enough - or too much - for you, you can take '39' instead, which is even better. It's that song which goes 'the fire is almost out', and it's even grander due to all the tornado-imitating synthesizer tricks and overblown orchestration, and it's extremely cool when Smith goes 'nothing left to burn, not even THIS' and goes into this insane guitar freakout. Oh, you're being too modest, Mr Smith. As long as you have THIS to burn, the fire won't be going out. Then again, maybe it's better to just throw everything on the fire and fuck the future? It sure sounds like he's following that road on '39'. What a totally awesome track. 'Almost out... almost out... al-most oooout...'.

My third favourite is the oft neglected 'Last Day Of Summer', if only for one simple thing. On paper, there's hardly anything more banal than rhyming 'Last day of summer, never felt so cold/Last day of summer, never felt so old' for your chorus. But that's why paper is paper, and music is music. Apparently, there's a little bit of aural magic present in Smith pronouncing 'cold' and 'old' (and then letting them reverberate around the room several times more) in that particular intonation. Because otherwise I could never have believed this - look, we know perfectly well that Robert Smith has very little reason to feel any different in 2000 from the way he felt in 1989 or 1982 or, for that matter, when he was still in high school worshipping his Bowie records. But add just a little injection of magic, and there you have it, total aural perfection. Hey, maybe I feel old as well. After all, I like Dire Straits' debut, too.

The only song on here that's moderately "poppy", though not "upbeat" by any means, is 'Maybe Someday', this time restoring our faiths in simplistic unforgettable Cure riffs (I mean the creepy wailing one that seems to crawl from under Smith's vocals during the verses) and letting us know that they can still work out a bit of adrenaline. It's also excellent. I'm not a major fan of the rest of the album, but given time, I'm sure the title track ('these flowers will always DIIIIIEEEE!' - classic!), 'Out Of This World' (rather underwhelming for a Cure album opener after the last four albums, but maybe that was the point?), and the steady rhythms of 'Where The Birds Always Sing' will grow on you. In fact, the only openly weak song on the album is the shortest one: 'There Is No If' sounds exactly like all these bland, by-the-book acoustic ballads on the previous album, plus it features some of Smith's worst lyrics ever. ('"If you die", you said, "So do I", you said' - since when did your protagonists start using that kind of language, Mr Smith?). But compared to all these invulnerable giants, it's over in a flash.

In short, if you happen to hate this album, don't forget to come back to it when you're fifty years old, because the biggest problem a young 'un might find with it is its pace, and most people cease to have problems with that by the time they hit that age. And if you still can't appreciate Bloodflowers by the time you start having grandchildren, well, give Lemmy my regards when you see him.



Year Of Release: 2004

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Never was a big fan of diet Coke. Never was a big fan of diet Cure. If it's poison, give me ALL of it.

Best song: ALT. END

Track listing: 1) Lost; 2) Labyrinth; 3) Before Three; 4) End Of The World; 5) Anniversary; 6) Us Or Them; 7) Alt. End; 8) (I Don't Know What's Going) On...; 9) Taking Off; 10) Never; 11) Promise.

I think I finally am onto something here. Not just "something" - nothing less than a cunning, unscrupulous, diabolically intricate plan of extermination of the (Western at least) adolescent population, gradually and meticulously carried out by Robert Smith since the early Eighties. Considering the chronological circumstances, I even have a valid hypothesis that during all this time Robert Smith has, in fact, been heavily subsidized in his "psychological terror" attacks by the fundamendalist goverment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And if something is not done about this fifth column in the nearest future, Western countries may find themselves completely deprived of fresh human material with whitch to battle the other four. Fortunately, after twenty-four years of clever masquerading, the fifth column finally made that one treacherous step after which it can be easily demasked, by naming one of its songs "Us Or Them". Hopefully we'll see Mr Smith, the biggest enemy of the traditional Western world as we know it, on Guantanamo any day now.

At any rate, this theory is far more reasonable than the idea of Britney Spears as The Angel of Chastity, forced to uncover select body parts by the evil corporate guys - and that idea finds far more support on the Web. Because honestly, there's nothing else I can suggest to justify the strategy of the Cure. This theory, on the other side, proclaims that every time Robert Smith releases a new album, he releases it for an entirely new audience. The old audiences already know that Robert Smith has finished everything and there's nothing left to burn (var. "is slowing down and will never feel again"; var. "will never dream of you again"; var. "will never really get any more hope"; var. "will never be clean again"; var. "has reached the point where it's all the same old song"). The old audience has already slit its collective wrists and drunk its collective cup of poison, naturally thinking that they're only following the example of Robert Smith. But Robert Smith has deluded them - and the new audience is not aware of it! And so the circle closes and the illegal suicide-promoting activity recommences. It all fits, doesn't it?

But let me tell you this, Robert Smith: I am one of the survivors and this time around, not only didn't you make me slit my wrists but you actually made the worst mistake you could, you almost made me feel bored. I defy you, Robert Smith! Take that, Robert Smith! You've run out of finding new interesting ways to say the world is shit, Robert Smith! Your magic doesn't work on me any more, Robert Smith! You've used up the power of your magic wand. Ruby ring. Aladdin's lamp. Whatever. You're sick, tired, and pathetic, Robert Smith. You're so pathetic you team up with the Korn producer of all people, Robert Smith. Korn producer! What next - Lenny Kravitz? Justin Timberlake? Ronald McDonald?

I honestly liked Bloodflowers. It was heavy, deep, dark, and damp. There were some catchy singles, based on the Cure's traditionally immortal simplistic guitar riffs ('Maybe Someday'). There were these monster epics that had, like, you know, layers - like onions, right. And then there was '39', which was Robert Smith's most decisively "final statement" ever done. After a song like '39', further existence of the Cure would have seemed like a joke. Alas, this album essentially is a joke. A joke which Smith - unintentionally - turns on himself: his prolonged, never-ending (but fairly predictable) screaming on the album's lead-off track, 'Promise', should actually refer to us the listeners rather than him the protagonist. It's US the listeners that should be yelling "YOU PROMISED ME! YOU PROMISED ME!" and peppering him with rotten eggs for breaking the promise.

The funny thing is that Smith himself probably felt that he did indeed give a promise. Otherwise, why should the band's twelfth album, released after more than twenty-five years of existence, be self-titled? In the past, similar cases were mostly noted in case of a significant change of lineup (Fleetwood Mac) or of a reunion (Jefferson Airplane) - each of these indicating a Major Fresh Start. Likewise, it could be thought that with this new album, Smith has put his troubled past behind him and is now doing something radically different. Like setting the verses of Emily Dickinson to heavy metal-polka hybrids, for instance. I would have understood that. After all, it'd be a bit cruel to confine such a talented person to gardening for the rest of his life.

But unfortunately, The Cure is anything but a fresh beginning. Worse than that, during much of the time it sounds like a very rough, very superficial, and very nostalgia-ridden "rerun" of all the stages of the band's sound starting from Disintegration. "Rough", because it's been elaborated on the level of Wild Mood Swings again, i.e. with little consideration for the "wall-of-sound" approach (so what if many of the songs are loud? There's a big difference between "loud because, well, this one goes to eleven" and "loud because there's ten different guitar-keyboard units playing melodies and countermelodies"). "Superficial" because the lyrics mostly seem like they were written in about ten minutes, then cut, pasted, pasted, pasted, cut, and pasted again. And "nostalgia-ridden", because I keep picking up on not just similarities, but almost direct quotations that keep referring me to Smith's earlier work. This may seem natural to you, but, funny enough, I never had that impression on Bloodflowers.

Granted, it's not that bad once you get past the opening track and if you stop right before the last one. These are the saddest offenders, especially once you remember just how well the art of opening and closing records had been elaborated in the earlier Cure camp. The classic Cure opener, for instance, used to be a grim, suicidal rocker, usually based on one of those unforgettable riffs and featuring some unforgettable vocal hook. 'Lost' is predictably grim and suicidal, but it isn't even a "song"; rather just a chaotic, dissonant crescendo of everything, and when I say "dissonant", I don't mean "he's making a serious avantgarde experiment", I mean "he's just making something loud and ugly and boring". Where's the classic riff? Where's the vocal hook, unless you think that a whiny guy yelling 'I can't find myself, I can't find myself!' ten thousand times in a row constitutes one?

And 'Promise'. Whoah. What a fine discreditation of the ten-minute epic thing. Remember 'Watching Me Fall'. Remember how it had this mean steady build-up in the beginning. How it got gloomier and gloomier. How there actually was a middle-eight. How there were two tremendous climaxes. How there was this four-note riff after each climax, like a gasp of fresh air after being brutally held underwater. Well, you'd better forget all about it, because 'Promise' offers no chances of uttering any more "how there were..." phrases. The only thing I can still remember about it is the ugly guitar soloing. I've always adored the wah-wah, but this is a disgrace: for about five minutes the only goal of the player, whoever he is, is to extract as many notes of that instrument as possible (actually, to my ears, that's just one note, which doesn't, however, give the song the expected ambient flavour). After the magnificent guitar arrangements on Bloodflowers, this is just ridiculous.

In between these two self-parodies is jammed a number of songs that, as usual, alternate between the 'poppy' and the 'gothy' sides of the Cure. Most of them are... well, okayish. Too bad I still can't remember any of them. I've selected 'Alt. End' as best track a few minutes ago and I already have a hard time remembering why. Oh yes, it's the one in which Smith sings 'I don't want to start again, I want this to be the end'. YOU DON'T SAY MR SMITH. YOU REALLY DON'T SAY. But there's at least a suitably spooky "flying" background out there. By the way, the keyboards are in serious neglect on this record. Which would be all right for Korn, perhaps, but not for the Cure.

As for the 'gothy' side, well... 'Labyrinth' is decent, with its Kiss Me Kiss Me-reminding drone for a backbone. The politically-tinged 'Us Or Them' could pass for one of the most frantic anti-Bushist statements ever, were it not so in line with "The Traditional Fuck Off Song" from "The Great Cure Songbook". I think even the juvenile glee with which Smith pronounces the F-word on there has been recreated by him after relistening to his own 'Kiss'. Therefore, chances are that if you're a long-time Cure fan, you won't even notice the political sub-text of 'Us Or Them', and besides, I can't really exclude that there really is none. Or that Smith just didn't change a couple lines at the last moment for controversy reasons.

In short, it ain't horrible. It will take Robert Smith some and then some more years of "false endings" to stoop to the level of "horrible". But mind you, if God exists, then I take it as God's punishment for Mr Smith. 'I've run right out of thoughts and I've run right out of words', right? Right. That's exactly what happened. If anything, The Cure is very painfully an album of somebody who has run out of everything it's possible to run out of. Yes, there also exist versions of this album that have more songs on it. No, I'm not planning on getting them. I want this to be the end.


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