24 February 2009

The Cure: Retrospective on “Disintegration”

This was the most unlikely album to have mainstream success, yet “Disintegration” (1989) truly paved the way for the Cure to go from cult band to musical icons. Twelve years into Robert Smith’s career, this album surpassed all expectations, saw the Cure to the top of the singles and album charts, and playing stadiums.

A band that starting writing numbers such as “Need Myself,” “It’s Not You,” and “Boys Don’t Cry,” I personally cannot understand when people say that “Disintegration” is a return to their gothic roots. The reality is that the Cure started as a punk influenced rock trio, which eventually evolved into a more ambient, gothic sound. But the evolution did not stop there. By late 1982, the Cure was writing poppy, new wave numbers, like “The Walk” and “Love Cats,” and continue to mature and evolve. The ability of this band to jump from one genre or style to another, quite often on one album, is a key factor in their longevity. From new wave, to pop-rock of the mid and late 80s, the Cure had grown into critical acclaim in the UK and the Continent. They had traveled the world over, from Japan to New Zealand, from Canada to Argentina. And then 1989 rolled around, and the obvious thing for the Cure to do was to write another album along the lines of “Head on the Door” (1985) or “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me” (1987), playing it safe and capitalizing on their momentum. Instead, Robert Smith (vocalist, guitarist, lyricist) led his band into the moodiest, broodiest downward spiral to date. “Disintegration” was everything that one should not expect from a band on the verge of international breakthrough. Yet, it broke through!

From the ethereal opening, “Plainsong,” to the almost nautical ending, “Untitled,” this album takes the listener through a journey of life and death, love and suicide, final dances and being eaten alive by spiders. “Plainsong” is best described as one long sigh. Orchestrated keyboards, wind chimes, and echoing, harrowing vocals (“It’s so cold, it’s like the cold if you were dead”) – this song starts the journey gently but in grandiose fashion. Followed by “Pictures of You,” a single off of the album, arranged with an ambient keyboard and a six-string bass played as a guitar, the song brings the tempo up some, while pondering loose of love. Other key moments in the album include “Lullaby” – a song verging on pop tempos and arrangements, describing the nightmare of being eaten alive by a spider. Or maybe it is about being raped – “Be still, be calm, be quiet now my precious little boy, don’t struggle like that or I will only love you more.” Regardless of your take, the lyrics are disturbing, yet the music draws you in. The smash hit “Lovesong” is on the album, which was originally written as a wedding present for Robert Smith’s then fiancée, now wife.

True to Cure fashion, the titular track is of epic proportions. The song “Disintegration” muses about suicide – “I never said I would stay to the end, I knew I would leave you with babies and everything, screaming like this in the hole of sincerity, screaming me over and over and over. I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery, stains on the carpet and stains on the memory, songs about happiness murmured in dreams when we both of knew how the end always is.” Stains on the carpet? Robert Smith is a descriptive genius! The album closes with “Untitled.” Why untitled? Smith sings, “Never quite said what I wanted to say to you, never quite managed the words to explain to you, never quite knew how to make it believable…” But it is the closing line, “never dream of you again,” that haunts you during the three minute musical exodus.

Though it would be unfair to say that the Cure has not written great songs after “Disintegration” – just to name a few: “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea,” “Mint Car,” “Out of this World,” “Lost,” “The Perfect Boy” – what the Cure has never done again was compose an album that works so well together, it is often difficult to think of these songs as anything other than an album. In fact, it is rare that an album by any artist ever congeals the way “Disintegration” did. Why is it a must? Because years before Nirvana and Pearl Jam, a generation before emo kids and goth kids mocked on South Park, this album defied the music industry's predictions, this album rose above all expectations, and this album blew the door open for bands to follow that would not conform to static notions of giddy-pop music or formulated angst. If there was a cure to the mundanities of late 80s music, it was “Disintegration.”

Track Listing:

1. Plainsong
2. Pictures of You
3. Closedown
4. Lovesong
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

Check out “Entreat.” The Cure recorded eight tracks from “Disintegration” live, and though the Cure rarely reworks music extensively between studio recordings and live renditions, this live album displays the urgency felt when the Cure plays live.

Track Listing:

1. Pictures of You
2. Closedown
3. Last Dance
4. Fascination Street
5. Prayers for Rain
6. Disintegration
7. Homesick
8. Untitled

Follow the Cure at their homepage. You can find them at the Polydor Classic YouTube Channel and Universal Music Group. Here are the videos (Polydor) or links (Lovesong, from Universal) for the four singles from “Disintegration.”


"Fascination Street"

The official Universal Music Group link for "Lovesong"

"Pictures of You"

One final note, even Kyle of South Park hails this album; he did say, “Disintegration is the best album ever.”