Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Thirteenth From The Cure: Will It Be Lucky or Unlucky?

I've been a fan of The Cure for a fair portion of my life. My interest in them came via the better-known hits that I was exposed to in my teen years (Boys Don't Cry, Friday I'm in Love, etc). Of course, later I discovered The Cure that I absolutely love and admire - The Cure that produced the delicious moodiness of Seventeen Seconds, Faith, Pornography and Disintegration. I am by no means a Cure expert, but I do understand the stir and significance the return of Porl Thompson has caused, especially with the thirteenth studio album to release on September 13; I just seem to have lost track and/or interest in The Cure in recent years. I admit that I can be a bit of a sentimentalist with older bands/artists, usually loving the earlier stuff far more than the recent; whether this is my own peculiar quirk or based on some sort of inevitable running out of steam on the artists' part, I don't know. It would be best if it was just my problem. Anyhow, I was excited to hear earlier this year that The Cure was planning a thirteenth album with a plan to release singles monthly leading up to the album's release, but remembering the fact I had pretty much ignored Bloodflowers and their self-titled last album, I went back to listen to get a slightly less-biased opinion about newer material.

Having done this, I realize that Bloodflowers can be seen as a step in the right direction after the dip with Wild Mood Swings, but it still doesn't affect me in the same way their earlier albums did. Nevertheless, there are some notable tracks that I still liked, including The Loudest Sound, which features a reverby, dreamy pulse that reminds me of the internal sounds you hear when you rest your head on another's torso, and the lyrics are some of Smiths's better ones. The title track has some of that cosmic atmosphere of classics like Plainsong, and 39 has a rather nice guitar solo amongst the cacophonic symphony. As far as the self-titled 2004 album, I found less to be pleased with. Smith repeats "I can't find myself" over and over again at the beginning of the record, and the phrase seems apt in light of the rest of the album - I couldn't quite put my finger on what The Cure is anymore either. I also can't quite articulate what's missing for me. Maybe it's as though they're trying too hard with too many layers going on until the beautiful lines of simplicity disappeared. Maybe they're not as led by the bass as they used to be. Maybe I'm just being picky. Admittedly, the last song on the album, the rather epic The Promise, with its wavering guitars, is the saving grace of an otherwise rather directionless effort. Smith can oscillate between petulant whininess and truly passionate vocals, but in The Promise he thankfully uses the latter.

On to thoughts about the latest work. Thus far, Robert Smith and Co. have officially released the singles The Only One and Freakshow with Sleep When I'm Dead to follow tomorrow and then The Perfect Boy in August. So far, I've been pretty disappointed - it feels like The Cure still can't find their feet, uncertainly straddling the shimmery, more commercial pop of their mainstream heyday with the post-punk, darker aesthetic of earlier albums, and not really achieving either. While there have been some overlap in their more memorable pop songs (I still sometimes confuse Inbetween Days and Friday I'm in Love), The Only One feels like the mediocre, half-hearted sibling of Mint Car with just as sappy lyrics. Freakshow confuses me with its strange retro-60's-slinky-hand-clap rhythm - catchier and perhaps more memorable than The Only One, but it still doesn't sit right with me. Maybe because it sounds like a shoddier version of Close To Me b-side A Man Inside My Mouth. Sleep When I'm Dead is a more raucous affair with its screeching, swirling guitars, but this cacophonous spinning sounds like it could have been at home on the last album. The Perfect Boy is more poppier than rock-influenced, but pretty much non-descript. The b-sides thus far are also nothing to scream about - my favourite is probably Down Under, which is the flipside for Sleep When I'm Dead and which hearkens back to some of their breezier pop sensibilities. I don't want their music to become just as much a mortifying caricature as fright-wig Robert Smith is at this point. But rather than carefully building sonic atmospheres and soundscapes, The Cure just seem to be smearing more and more sound together, layering it just as heavily and unnecessarily as Smith has been with his make-up.

I miss the sheer majesty of Plainsong, which sounds like how you would imagine a supernova would sound in air rather than space and it still sends shivers through me. I miss the graceful simplicity of the rhythms and subtle melody in All Cats Are Grey. I miss the eerie voices and feedback over those incessant, paranoia-inducing drums in Pornography. I miss the genius of that basic but brilliant guitar line in A Forest. I even miss the superb, memorable pop of Inbetween Days. You would think four years between albums would be producing better effects than they have been for the last decade.

Will The Cure's thirteenth album be lucky or unlucky? At this point, all I can wish for is that these recent singles aren't the high points and that Robert Smith still has some winning cards up his sleeve. Or under his hair.

Sleep When I'm Dead (live) - The Cure

The Perfect Boy (live) - The Cure

Plainsong - The Cure

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