Elektra / Fiction
By: Eric G.
Realizing the folly of steering The Cure into the unlikely land of wacky Top 40 hitmakers over the past ten years, Robert Smith has promised a return to form on the band’s eleventh studio release, characteristically titled Bloodflowers. Smith is determined to make The Cure relevant again. The band lost some steam (and fans) with 1996’s Wild Mood Swings, which was the first Cure album ever not to outsell the one before it. It was a lackluster affair balancing the light-hearted gloom of Wish with the band’s goofy pop persona. The Cure perfected this paradoxical integration of pop and innate moroseness on 1987’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, and every record since (barring Disintegration) has paled in comparison. In 1989 Disintegration signified much for the group: it was the end of the eighties, Smith was turning thirty, and the band had accomplished above and beyond anything it could have possibly imagined. It was the band’s finest album up to that point, and it was full of lyrical poetry and haunting melodies. Smith had the perfect ending for The Cure, but he couldn’t let it go.
The band soldiered on releasing a questionable remix album in 1990 with one new track- the silly but rocking “Never Enough”, and then returned with minor line-up changes in 1992 with Wish- a smash commercial success but an artistic compromise of sorts. The Cure was resting on its laurels, regurgitating the Kiss Me formula only slightly watered down to please the fans and the masses. Smith seemed to be writing songs with his fans in mind instead of writing for himself. The Cure had become an international corporation, albeit a strange and unlikely one, and the band was simply going through the motions. Lawsuits and further line-up changes set The Cure back several years and by the time the lampoonish Wild Mood Swings was released the band faced a serious backlash for the first time in its career. Reviews were harsh and long time fans were turned off by what seemed to be another stab at commercial viability without the substance and isolation of classic Cure albums. The irony was wearing thin. It no longer seemed outrageous for The Cure to be stars, and the record suffered accordingly.
Bloodflowers is Smith’s answer to the backlash. It is without a doubt the band’s best album in eleven years. From the opening notes of “Out Of This World”, it is clear that this record will deliver the goods. No idiot pop songs to bridge the gloom. No half-hearted attempts at hit singles. Bloodflowers is all about substance. The guitars shimmer like they did on Disintegration, but the sound is more modern. Smith isn’t going to settle for merely rewriting the past. You know it’s The Cure within seconds, but there’s a sense of experimentation too. “Watching Me Fall” reminds me immediately of why I was so taken with The Cure in the first place: the music makes my hair stand on end. Smith’s voice is The Cure. He makes you feel what he feels, and, when he’s at his best, his words match the timbre of his voice with depth and perception. This song rocks like “From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea” off Wish and the live version of “Disintegration” off Entreat. It will be a showstopper in concert this year.
Lyrically, Smith grapples with age and fame and death- issues that are not unfamiliar to Cure fans, but this time the songs sound real. In the past Smith has mourned lost innocence, lost youth and even love, but you never quite knew if he were just fictionalizing his dreams or if he were speaking from his own life. Considering the fact that he’s been with the same girl since he was fifteen, the fictionalizing theory seems more likely. Bloodflowers is as honest as Smith has ever been, however. He’s tired of being a pop star, and he dreads facing the fact that writing songs doesn’t come as easily as it used to: “it used to be so easy/I never even tried” (“The Last Day Of Summer”). Being so blatant is difficult for Smith, who had refused to play “Lovesong” live back on ‘The Prayer Tour’ in 1989 because it didn’t have a “twist.” In “39” Smith literally pleads his case: “So the fire is almost out/and there’s nothing left to burn/I’ve run right out of thoughts/and I’ve run right out of words.”
Sure, the music may be self-referential to some degree, but Smith is proud of the fact that The Cure has such a recognizable sound. “Maybe Someday” surges forward with cascading guitars and a familiar refrain. The lyrics are a thinly veiled argument to end The Cure: “No, I won’t do it again/I don’t want to pretend/if it can’t be like before/I’ve got to let it end.” At first I was disappointed by the ambiguity of the lyrics on Bloodflowers, but as I kept listening the images started to jump out at me. “There Is No If” is almost funny in its open-faced sadness: “Remember the first time I told you “I love you”/it was raining hard and you never heard/you sneezed and I had to say it over.” Apart from a few concrete images like this, Smith leaves much up to the listener in terms of subject matter. He is one of the few lyricists that can get away with such ambiguous language because, despite getting up there in years, he has bizarrely retained a child-like sense of insight, particularly in the way he delivers his words.
“This dream always ends”, Smith sings in the title track, and if The Cure has to end this is the way to do it. When Smith was first starting The Cure in the late 1970’s, he swore that he would end it before he turned thirty. He may have missed it by a decade, but it would have been silly to follow the proclamation of a teenager, regardless of its roots in punk ethos. How could that kid have predicted what a colossal band The Cure was to become? Wish may have been superfluous, but it had a handful of amazing songs. It really would have been a shame to go out on a sour note with an album like Wild Mood Swings, though. Bloodflowers sums it all up properly, brilliantly encapsulating everything significant about The Cure. The songs are long and winding with beautiful arpeggios and otherworldly keyboard lines, and some of them even rock. Smith’s heart is in it for the first time in years, and you can feel it. It’s rare that a band can control how it will be remembered. Most bands lose the spark that made them famous in the first place and become bloated caricatures of their former selves. Well, The Cure has been there and come back again. Bloodflowers is Smith’s open letter to the world, and he delivers it with just the right mix of hopelessness and despair for what is likely to be the end of The Cure.