By: Eric Greenwood
Why can't Robert Smith ever quit while he's ahead? If The Cure had broken up after The Prayer Tour in 1989, supporting its masterpiece, Disintegration, the band would have an unshakable, absolutely bulletproof legend. But, no, Smith had to keep pushing and pushing until his beloved creation turned into a giant caricature of everything he had once hated as a brash punk from Blackpool, England in the late '70s.
When Wish came out in 1992, it was obvious that Smith was coasting on hairspray and smeared red lipstick. The songs were too self-referential and uninspired, save "Open", "From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea", and "Cut." The band's audience continued to expand, yes, but popularity was never the point. The Cure was never supposed to be successful, yet Smith couldn't help but tempt fate by seeing how far he could take it. It's the competitive business man in him. The band literally fell apart after Wish, as longtime members Boris Williams and Porl Thompson abandoned ship, sensing the inevitable tumble downhill.
When the lopsided, ill-conceived mess, Wild Mood Swings, stiffed in 1996, Smith got his first taste of backlash on a commercial scale. Reviewers skewered the derivative and uninspired retread. Plus, it was another new line-up and fans simply smelled a rat. Wild Mood Swings was the first album by The Cure that didn't outsell its predecessor, and it was a huge blow to Smith's ego. He retreated after the Swing Tour (during which he inexplicably donned only professional ice hockey jerseys) and slowly plotted his way back into his devoted fans' good graces.
Ostensibly, Bloodflowers was to be the final piece in Smith's trilogy of despair, which began with 1982's icily frightening Pornography and continued with the dreary dreamscapes of Disintegration. Musically, Bloodflowers delivered what the goth kids craved: darkness, sheets of atmospheric ennui, and self-absorbed lyrics. But Smith was still hiding behind the mask of his creation. His lyrics hadn't been any good in a decade, and he knew it. But he held it together enough to fake his way through the Dream Tour, drawing only from the darkest pockets of The Cure's cannon, which seemed to disguise the fact that Bloodflowers was little more than Disintegration-lite. And that was supposed to be the end.
Smith has threatened to break up The Cure after every album since 1985's The Head On The Door, so, of course, no one but clueless journalists believed his manipulated hype when he said Bloodflowers was the band's swan song. In fact, the only surprising thing about The Cure's new record deal is that it was struck with a nu-metal producer responsible for such tripe as Limp Bizkit and Korn.
Ross Robinson is the aforementioned nu-metal producer and he co-produced The Cure's new self-titled album but actually served more as a coach in the studio, slave-driving the band to live up to its legend. Robinson is a devoted Cure fan and wanted to return The Cure to its glory days, musically. His intentions were good, and his taste isn't all bad (he's also produced records for At The Drive In and even signed The Blood Brothers to his I Am Recordings label).
The Cure has certainly benefited from Robinson's passion, but I wish he had done more to salvage the wreckage of the past decade. God knows the band's first self-titled album in its 25-year career wouldn't be nearly so heavy if it weren't for Robinson's relentless prodding. His production is peculiar, though. He seems to have buried the guitars in a wash of studio trickery and random noises, pumped up the bass and drums to near-obnoxious levels, and made Smith's voice the overpowering centerpiece. Cure fans are certainly used to Smith's voice being high in the mix, but on this record it can be overwhelming and stifling.
On "Lost", Smith repeats the line "I can't find myself", but his upper class British accent makes it sound like he might be saying, "I confine myself." Either way, when the song climaxes, Smith is practically screaming the phrase in his most impassioned vocal take since the band's triumphant show at Wembley Arena in July of 1989, where Smith went absolutely bonkers on a terrorizing version of "Disintegration."
As "Labyrinth" swells in a sea of muted wah wah guitar, Smith hides behind distorted vocal effects, playing mad libs with his lyric book and spouting phrases you've heard him utter countless times over the years. "Say it's the same", "it's always been like this"- bah. Robinson should have ripped the pen out of Smiths hands, scratched out such twaddle, and locked Smith in a closet until he came up with something decent to say. Maybe, a few hours confinement in a dank hole would actually give him a reason to be miserable, as opposed to, say, a glamorous life as a rich rock star in a legendary band, who's happily married to his teenage sweetheart.
The happy songs on The Cure aren't terrible, but obviously that's some damning and faint praise. "Before Three" offers the such high school juvenilia as "The happiest day I ever knew/In a sea of gold down next to you/So blurred and tired under summer sun/You whispered dreams of a world to come." By Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me standards this is bollocks. The lead single, "The End of the World", is also decent, even though, it contains, perhaps, too many "I couldn't love you more" sentiments, but as far as Cure singles go, it's catchy and fairly rocking all the same. Certainly better than "High" or "Mint Car" or the ghastly "Friday I'm In Love."
The second half of The Cure is actually stronger than the first. The moody rumble of "Anniversary" recalls vintage Cure atmospherics, though, again the lyrics betray the mood with fill-in-the-blank Robert Smith-isms like "I never meant to let you go." "Us Or Them" is another rocker, as Smith pushes his voice to the point where it almost cracks on bewildering lines like "get your fucking world out of my head." The next three songs save the album: "alt.end", "(I Don't Know What's Going) On", and "Taking Off" are exactly what longtime Cure fans expect from Smith i.e. pop songs with energy and vitality and a sense of purpose. (Longtime Cure fans might also notice that "Taking Off" rips off the vocal melody of the classic b-side to "Lovesong", entitled "2 Late.")
That insatiable sense of competition that burns inside Robert Smith knew the time was ripe for The Cure to make a comeback. With so many critically revered bands pledging allegiance to The Cure's legacy, Smith knew a solid Cure album would win back some esteem lost by some of his '90s missteps. The Curiosa festival is also a brilliant business move on Smith's part. It's a lock to do insane business with such a diverse line-up of (mostly) solid acts, all of whom acknowledge The Cure's impact on their respective musical evolution, and The Cure is just the record to make it all worthwhile.