For disgruntled, ennui-ridden teenagers of the early 90s, the Cure provided the perfect soundtrack to our “profound” mental anguish and isolation. While I don’t mean to trivialize the real challenges that many youths experienced growing up, I now believe that many of the kids (myself included) drawn to the Cure and similarly Goth-drenched bands were just trying to find an outward manifestation of their inability to situate themselves in the adolescent competition to be “cool”. Festooning oneself in dark clothes, sharp objects or applying black eye-liner and nail polish was purposeful confrontation for the sake of it. Heck, if you felt “freakish” on the inside, why not make oneself look that way on the outside? We were just engaging in our own form of rebellious counter-culture and the Cure expressed the immensity of our feelings. With the wisdom and experience of many years, I now can see that I was probably wrong about most things from that time except one thing: the Cure.
I stumbled upon the Cure like so many folks did by hearing their sublimely poppy early 80s material, such as “Just Like Heaven”, “In Between Days” and “Love Cats.” Wish, featuring “Friday I’m in Love” and “High”, was the first album of the Cure I purchased/owned – I still have my original cassette copy of it. Although Wish holds a special place in my memories, it was Disintegration that really tore me apart and in my estimation it is the most fully realized album, the best example and showcase of the Cure’s unique sound, lyrical tropes and doom and gloom tone. Moreover, if you had to “define” or exemplify Goth Rock for a listener, I think Disintegration is effectively the “Ur-text” of Goth, although I’m sure others will beg to differ.
Released in 1989, Disintegration was the band’s eighth and perhaps most audacious album. Clocking in at (a very pop unfriendly) 71 minutes, it is the sort of record drenched in excess, eccentricity and raw emotion that characterizes many great endeavors. From the opening track, the whisper sung, bell and chime laden, “Plainsong”, you sense the album aspires to epic proportions. Working like an overture to a symphony, “Plainsong” sets out the pervading mood of the album, dreamlike and ethereal, teetering on the edge between misery and melancholia and ecstasy and euphoria. But, it is not just the lushness of the Cure’s incessantly unraveling and billowy guitars and baroque percussive flourish that make this album an engrossing listen. Disintegration contains some of the Cure’s most arresting songwriting and powerful imagery, starting with the album’s second (and perhaps the Cure’s most memorable) track, “Pictures of You“. The track is a brilliant depiction of the line between love-sick admiration and (borderline delusional) obsession that characterizes the spurned lover; it’s utterly, gorgeous and haunting (and has been a staple of nearly every somber/pensive mix I’ve ever made). Robert Smith revisits the theme of obsession and love in “Lovesong“, recasting the pursuit as noble and aspirational: “However far away, I will always love… whatever words I say, I will always love you.” Unlike “Pictures of You”, “Lovesong” doesn’t have the bittersweet and sarcastic tone that pervades much of Smith’s writing. Or the depths of darkness to which Smith will often delve as evidenced by the purposefully misleadingly titled “Lullaby”, a Freudian-ripe retelling of the narrator’s fever dream(s). The record is not all downcast and despondent in tone. The intricate cacophony of “Fascination Street” leads to one of the song’s most rousing (industrial)dance inducing numbers. Even “Disintegration”, with its less than “uplifting” title, actually creates a sense of euphoria amidst the surrounding “doom.” And, perhaps, this more than anything was the brilliance of the band: Robert Smith and company’s ability to recast and reformulate the perceived anguish of the sensitive souls, i.e., the pining lover, the love-lorn admirer, the art-school poets, the outcast adolescents, etc., into compositions and lyrics offering both understanding and catharsis. Because if someone can and/or does validate the pain, then often you will find a way through and out of it. Disintegration has always been a source of inspirational despondency, the darkness (or abyss) into which you stare and find a way out or gain perspective. So perhaps Nietzsche wasn’t always right.
To listen to the Cure’s Disintegration in its entirety click here.
(And, for the vinyl collectors/users, the 2010 vinyl reissue is worth every penny; brilliantly remastered to capture every little intricate detail.)
Also, in case you missed Robert Smith’s unbelievably, exquisite collaboration with Crystal Castles, see below (or click here).
Note: If you’ve been listening to the countless new bands producing dream-pop, lap-tronica, electro-pop or electro-dance, you’ll hear the imprint or influence of Robert Smith and his bandmates.
Back with more contemporary music tomorrow.