Saturday, July 5, 2008
"The Cure" album review
Two Reviews of "The Cure"
Disclaimer: These reviews were written when the album first came out, and over the years my opinions have changed a bit. I now hold in very high regard, for example, Truth Goodness and Beauty, and believe it's one of the Cure's best songs ever. I also feel that End of the World is a thoroughly tasty slice of Cure-pop. Lost, too, remains one of my favorite Cure songs of all times, as does Before Three. Perhaps I will document my current feelings about the rest of the album at a future date.
I am amazed at the scorchingly negative reviews this album is receiving here and elsewhere, but also heartened by the positive or at least more restrained reviews which seem to be written by those who are able to eschew preconceived notions about what a “true” Cure album should be. Naturally, people will have to make up their own minds, but I would hope that they would give this disc many thorough listens before dismissing it. A given criticism’s validity evolves from its constructive rendering, and constructive criticisms evolve from thoughtful immersions into the sounds of whatever music is being reviewed.
But such is the Cure’s hardcore fanbase: rabidly ardent followers of a band that has come to mean so much to each of us personally. I myself am not always happy with every song the Cure has put out, but I embrace the flaws anyway, and generally am able to embrace the band’s inevitable mutations through time.
On The Cure’s eponymous offering, there are classic Cure moments. In general the album does a great job at assimilating new Cure sounds into the old Cure pattern. It’s as though for each song they take fragments of several Cure songs and weave them into a new tapestry.Gone are the lengthy musical preludes, and the mixing can be a little challenging to deal with sometimes - vocals mixed on top of the songs rather than within the songs. However, the live recording gives it a raw energy that is refreshing, if a bit jolting sometimes.
Besides, even if some of the songs sound a bit more stripped of the textures prevalent on many Cure albums, we must remember that the band actually started out with a more spacious sound and moved away from that in favor of a fuller more fleshed out feel. So, some of this album actually takes on a Faith-era atmosphere, even if it’s bit more aggressive in style. Too, we must remember that though current Cure music seems to have appropriated some modern nu-metal sounds, many newer bands were actually influenced by The Cure. So, you could say that The Cure is now simply re-interpreting interpretations of their own pioneering sound.
Initially the album does suffer a bit from disjointedness - there’s not that immediate coherent feeling as there was on most other Cure albums. On the first few listens, then, the album seems merely a hodgepodge of loosely related songs. However, upon closer and closer inspection, the album begins to fall together as interestingly spliced-together songs that tell the whole story of the Cure in a fresh medium.
My thoughts on the best songs:
Lost - Melodic punk. Contains a euphoric anger. I love the trudging start, potent climax and noisy finish. I bask in the oppressive power of Robert's screaming;
Labyrinth - Psychedelic rock with luscious swirls of Middle Eastern sounds. Break out the incense and Moroccan tapestry.
alt.end - I love the bouncy bass , swirly guitar solo, and Robert's subtle whimsical vocal flourishes during part of it. It’s quirky yet catchy.
(I Don’t Know What’s Going) On- It’s rambling and abstract and lyrically repetitive, elements which could be potential drawbacks, yet mixed together somehow make for an interesting and rather tasty stew.
Taking Off - Cure-pop at its brightest, yet it has a slightly aggressive undertone. I love the naive romance of the lyrics.
Before Three - This song pairs dreamy melancholy with crunchy rock. The signature Cure echo-guitar effect is there, but with a more biting edge to it.
Us or Them - At first I wavered violently on this song. But now I really like it, despite a growling AC/DC-like intensiy that can be a bit overpowering. And I do like AC/DC.
I also have the Japanese version of the album, which contains three extra tracks. I also have the MP3 for This Morning:
Going Nowhere - Positively aching mix of guitar, piano and bass. The song’s brief length lends it a stunning power.
Truth Goodness and Beauty - The vocals are a bit too disembodied from this otherwise gorgeous song. I like the music and the “structureless structure” of the song, but feel that it would benefit from re-mixing in order to achieve its latent brilliance.
Fake - I have not heard this song enough to make a valid criticism. Early impressions are that it is wonderfully retrogressive in spirit, sweetened by a perky melody.
This Morning - The start of this song is a bit akward, as Robert plunges right into singing. He should have allowed a musical intro to lead dreamily into the vocals. Nonetheless, once the song delves into its own heart, this song reveals itself to be the most haunting, atmospheric Cure song ever devised.
While lyrically some of the songs suffer from banal repetition, some of that repetition takes on a whole new meaning within the musical context and therefore seems less blatantly redundant over time. Besides, songs like Labyrinth, Before Three, Anniversary, Taking Off, Truth Goodness and Beauty, Going Nowhere and This Morning feature luscious lyrics that boast Robert Smith’s patented dreamy and philosophically-probing writing style.
Furthermore, Robert’s trademark plaintive wail is mostly amazing on this record. Despite his advancing age, he’s abe to plumb the heights and depths of his range, exploring low, almost whispered tones, soaring into more youthful high notes, and sometimes even daring to reach into “scream territory” that is chilling in its stark intensity. Occassionally you wish Robert would rein in his vocal ardor a bit, but then you realize it’s all part of the passionate package.
In all, I love the US version of the album, and feel that the extra tracks on the Japenese and other versions only make it a more palatable and beautiful offering. I wish Robert Smith had asserted himself with the profit-hungry Geffen, into whose trap many of us have fallen by buying multiple versions, all owing to our aggressive adoration of one of the best bands in the world, The Cure.
at Chain of Flowers
I have listened to the album 10 times now, the minimum I allowed myself before posting a review. I think there are classic Cure moments here, and that in general the album does a great job at assimilating new Cure sounds into the old Cure pattern. It’s as though for each song they take fragments of several Cure songs and weave them into a new tapestry. It’s very interesting. Gone are the lengthy intros (depending on your version), and the mixing can be a little challenging to deal with sometimes - vocals mixed on top of the songs rather than within the songs. However, the live recording gives it a raw energy that is refreshing, if a bit jolting sometimes. Also, the album suffers a bit from disjointedness - there’s not that coherent/cohesive feeling as there was on Bloodflowers or really all other Cure albums. Yet, that flaw is rather charming - it’s a hodgepodge of loosely related songs that tell the whole story of the Cure in a fresh medium.
My thoughts on each song attempting to resist comparisons, and then the Inevitable Comparisons:
The very good
Lost - Melodic punk. Contains what I can only describe as euphoric anger. I love the trudging start and how it builds to a potent climax and noisy finish. I bask in the oppressive power of Rob’s screaming. INEVITABLE COMPARISON: The dark anger of Porno meets up with the dissonance of The Top for coffee and cigarettes, and they decide to make some Cure moonshine, adding new ingredients for a toxic mix.
Labyrinth - Psychedelic rock with luscious swirls of Middle Eastern sounds. Break out the incense, Moroccan tapestry, and, most importantly, the bong! (That is, if you smoke, which I don’t anymore). I adore this song, and it has the best lyrics on the album. INEVITABLE COMPARISON: Wailing Wall and Jimmy Hendrix take a trip to the North African desert, and jam under the stars amidst a stand storm.
alt.end - I was prepared to hate this given all the negativity. But I am truly surprised it’s not more popular. I love the bouncy bass and and the somewhat buried psychedelic guitar solo. It’s quirky yet catchy. INEVITABLE COMPARISON: In your House kidnapped From the Edge of the Deep Sea and Doing the Unstuck, handcuffed them to the bed, and made passionate love to them all night long.
(I Don’t Know What’s Going) On: (I Really Do Love This) Song. It’s rambling and abstract and quirky and lyrically repetitive, elements which could be potential drawbacks, yet mixed together somehow make for an interesting and rather tasty stew, at least for me. INEVITABLE COMPARISON: Um, not sure yet....anyone? Anyone?
Taking Off: Cure-pop at its brightest, yet it has a sad and even slightly aggressive undertone. I love the naive romance of the lyrics, and how Rob complements the upbeat music with a giddy voice. INEVITABLE COMPARISON: Mint Car collides head on with JLH; they emerge unharmed from the crash and hitch a ride with Friday I’m in Love and Inbetween Days.
Before Three - Yeah, it was better live at Coachella, but it’s still damn good here. The vocals are mixed on top of the song, which is problematic. But it has a great dreamy melody, and I love the teenaged energy with which Rob sings it.
The Promise - Break out the bongs again. An epic almost-classic Cure trip through the hallucinating halls of
psychedelia again. The trippy bass and clashy sounds and meandering structure and Rob’s plaintive wail compete
with and complement each other quite charmingly, if cacophonously. I will probably grow to love it more as time
unfolds. INEVITABLE COMPARISON: The Kiss call up Led Zeppelin, the Doors and Mogwai and ask them to
come over for a jam session. They come late, smoke lots of weed, and jam into the early dawn.
EOTW: It sounds better within the context of the album than it does as a single. It’s good Cure-pop, but the generic guitars grate on my nerves a bit. I think it would be top-notch Cure-pop with those distinctive Cure guitars. INEVITABLE COMPARISON: Maybe Someday travels back in time to Boys Don’t Cry, and along the way picks up Cut Here, Fascination St., and Blink-182 for the trip.
Anniversary - This one had to grow on me. It has a gloomy romantic atmosphere, but at first I thought Rob’s vocals were too low. Now I hear that they fit within the brooding aura of the song. I love how the keyboards make it sound gothic-cathedral-like. The clapping drums really ground this song. INEVITABLE COMPARISON: Bloodflowers meets up with Drowning Man in a dark alley and together they steal some keyboards and
atmosphere from Head on the Door.
Us or Them - I waver violently on this song. I hate it one minute and love it the next. When Robert was initially planning on making the heaviest album ever, I was very excited to hear Cure-metal. But, after hearing this song, I’m not sure whether that idea would completely work or not. INEVITABLE COMPARISON: Give Me It Meets AC/DC. And I do love AC/DC.
Never - Never Mind is more like it. Something in this song wants me to like it. And something in me wants to like
this song. But I’m afraid this song lacks Cure-soul.INEVITABLE COMPARISON: Never searches high and low for inspiration from past Cure albums. It fails to find any, so searches for inspiration from anywhere. Again, it fails to find any. So it pouts, because it realizes that its existence, indeed, sucks.
The extras (so far heard on MP3 only)
Going Nowhere: Dreamily beautiful. Positively aching mix of guitar, piano and bass. The song’s brief length lends it a stunning power. INEVITABLE COMPARISON: DisintegrationThe Album has a drink with Bloodflowers The Album at a smoky cafe; it’s open mic-nite, and they decide to perform this song together.
TGaB - The vocals are a bit too disembodied from this otherwise gorgeous song. I do like the music and the rambling “structureless structure” of the song, but feel that it would benefit from re-mixing in order to achieve its latent brilliance. INEVITABLE COMPARISON: Pictures of You goes on vacation to a fetching spot and sends a lovely postcard of this song. The song in the postcard is nearly as beautiful as the actual song, but a bit marred by
the photographer’s over-eagerness to capture the beauty of the actual song.
I think it’s a sick crime that Robert let Geffen get away with excluding these last two beautiful songs from the US CD, and from what I understand,This Morning is lovely as well. But, overall, I’m still very very happy. It’s like The Top meets Kiss Me meets the Heaviest Album Ever Made. I would give the album between an 8 and a 9 at this point, and it’s rare for me to like it so immediately, as it took years for some Cure albums to grow on me.