~review by Matthew Heilman
As always, there was a great deal of anticipation for the newest release from The Cure. However, this time fans weren’t subjected to the frequent ‘final album’ threats that Robert Smith has made over the years. Instead, it seems as though the band has been reinvigorated with a new sense of creative excitement, an apparent eagerness to be back in the swing of things. Those that have seen the extras on last years “Trilogy” DVD were privy to some of Robert’s early ideas for the next album. After revisiting the three most emotionally charged albums of their career, and the three best according to him (on that occasion, at least), it seemed as though Robert was evaluating what aspects of the Cure appealed most to their diehard fans, and he concluded that it was the less poppy of their work. With that in mind, he envisioned a “darker, heavier” record to follow “Bloodflowers,” both thematically and musically. And though it’s not the Doom metal with Robert Smith’s vocals that I was secretly pining for and imagining, it is loaded with some of the band’s most insistent and fierce material in quite some time.
Many Cure fans were prematurely alarmed to hear that Ross Robinson (Korn, Slipknot) was going to be producing the record. Whatever erroneous fears fans might have had, the album is not The Cure gone nu-metal. The album definitely has an immediate edge to it and there is more than just a hint of aggression in some of the album’s finer moments. The guitars are boosted high in the mix, still with the signature overdrive and flange effects all in tact, but with a sharper and thicker bite and punch, undercut by Simon’s lumbering distorted bass lines and Jason Cooper’s hefty, sometimes Bonham-esque drumming. However, the more aggressive elements are perfectly tempered by the band’s timeless gift for producing sweet and alluring melodies and delicate rhythms. It’s still very much The Cure.
There are the expected shades of their past, for a band with such a definitive sound and unique vocalist can’t help but have a thread of continuity throughout their discography. There’s a bit of the expletive laden, wah-pedal driven angst of “Shiver & Shake” and “The Kiss” from the “Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me” era that resurfaces on a few tracks, and many of the guitar tones that defined “Bloodflowers” are still crisply chiming and ringing throughout.
The heart of the album however is Robert’s voice. His vocals are gigantic on this record. He projects and sings with a renewed passion that fans really haven’t heard since 1987 or so. There is a lot less moping and wistful mumbling, but rather clear, defined and articulate vocals. He sounds quite pissed on the disorienting and sublime opening track “Lost” and his anger carries through on “Us Or Them” and the epic closer “The Promise.” He screams, echoing and tormented, shot through with an electric defiance and confidence. He might be looking his age these days, but his voice sounds absolutely timeless, alive, and brilliant.
Each song has its own hook or three, and the album as a whole is very engaging and coherent, moving through the tracks seamlessly and somewhat rapidly. There is a lot of jamming going on, as in the appropriately titled and Middle Eastern tinged “Labyrinth,” which winds through a claustrophobic corridor of sound, cresting and rising in its intensity until the walls finally implode inward. “The Promise” is a dense and rhythm heavy powerhouse that builds on a melodic slithery bass line into an all out barrage of wailing guitars and a wailing Robert who has lost his faith and patience in the words of others. Deceived and enraged, the song seems to suggest that the wound is yet raw, and wonderfully captures a sense of bitter, active disappointment.
There is not much ‘Goth’ going on here though. But there is a good bit of fashionable post-punk noise, angular rhythms and intensity that reveal the band’s frayed roots and remind everyone who first made this sound fashionable. “Anniversary” serves as the album’s most atmospheric number, with swelling guitar effects that whirl about with ghostly grace atop subtle electronic percussion. There is a bit of Depeche Mode going on in this track, and the kind of imploring sadness that The Cure is most often noted for. Still, it is not merely a recreation or Shoegaze by numbers kind of track – its one of the album’s most memorable and poignant moments.
The weakest track is probably the first video and single, “The End Of The World.” I will admit I was a little nervous when I heard the track for the first time (performed live on Jay Leno in May) and I wondered if all the talk of doom and gloom on the DVD was cast aside. The album version isn’t quite as light as the single/video version, as the chorus’ quirky retro synths are much deeper in the mix while the overdriven guitar jangle is pushed more to the forefront. It’s a nice pop song, and a great video, but it is actually the odd song out in terms of the rest of the album. The gorgeous and enveloping warmth of “Before Three” would have made a more promising and revealing single, and illustrates the band at their accessible yet yearning best. “I Don’t Know What’s Going On” is another catchy and uplifting number, bittersweet and full of uplifting harmonies (and even a Moz like falsetto in the chorus). A number of these songs have enough of a sugar glaze to them to appeal to more casual fans of the band and get some radio play, but they still finely illustrate Robert’s genius at creating pop songs with real substance.
On the other hand, “Us Or Them” is an acidic and aggressive retort against ultimatums, and presents the band at their most bottom-heavy and more rumbling than ever before. The song is like a whirlwind, with tense, anxious verses that feel as though they will explode at any moment. The surprise, I suppose, is that they do unleash and the result will definitely raise the skeptical eyebrows of folks who think of The Cure as a sulking wussy synth band from the ‘80s. Right off the bat, the band challenges those myths with this album. Ranking up there alongside “One Hundred Years,” “Want,” and “The Kiss,” “Lost” is one of the most urgent and immediately arresting opening tracks the band has ever done. A twitchy, disharmonic dirge comprised of slapped bass lines and thick discordant guitar chords that seem to play behind the pummeling drums, simultaneously suggesting that the band has completely cracked, even while they never sounded so sure of themselves. It’s a discomforting and raw song, and Robert’s shrill yet unmistakably powerful bellows and wails will cause you to break out into gooseflesh time and time again.
Fans are more than familiar with The Cure’s lyrical content, obsessed with time and the past, lost chances, nostalgia, revelry, restlessness, loss, coming to terms with oneself, and above all, love and its inevitable side effects. It’s all here as usual, and maybe its because I am getting older, or maybe because I am just into so many introspective bands, but for the first time, I think I have been able to see these songs as merely songs – not necessarily Robert’s personal accounts of his own love life’s disintegration. It seems to me that Robert’s energy on this record is one borne out of creativity itself, the actual process of making music and weaving stories, and because he is working with such universal themes that nearly every human being will or have experienced, it continues to work. I am sure there is a great deal of personal meaning to him, but at the same time, he seems to emerge more as an author or lyricist than as a spokesperson for the disenchanted and lovelorn, a man who has walked through the fire and sank to the depths and lived to tell about it. These are stories, set to music, emerging ultimately as art, much like the children’s watercolour paintings that adorn the album’s sleeves. They are random snapshots into creative and imaginative minds. This album is The Cure’s collection of aural watercolours, a palette of moods and impressions. And on that level, it succeeds wonderfully.
Therefore, as the liner notes suggest, play this album loudly, and you will hear the sonic triumphs of a band that has endured for years, and still has much more than just a spark of vivacity.
The Cure is:
The Cure – Official Site: