Album Reviews

Rolling Stone
October 1995
Mark Coleman

***** Classic:
Albums in this category are essential listening for anyone interested in the artist under discussion or style of music that artist's work represents.
**** Excellent:
Represents peak performances in an artist's career. Generally speaking, albums that are granted four or more stars constitute the best introductions to an artist's work for listeners who are curious.
*** Average to Good:
Albums in this range will primarilty be of interest to established fans of the artist being discussed. This mid-range, by its very nature, requires the most discretion on the part of the consumer.
** Fair to Poor:
Albums in this category either fall below an artist's established standard or are, in and of themselves, failures.
* Disastrous:
Albums in this range are wastes of vital resources. Only masochists or completists need apply.
Never a lighthearted outfit, the Cure began its torturous path by bashing out tight, tuneful three-minute treatises on subjects ranging from Camus ("Killing an Arab") to new-wave trendiness ("Jumping Someone Else's Train"). Originall a trio, this continually evolving group orbited around guitarist Robert Smith right from the git-go. His seemingly limitless capacity for brooding, claustrophobic melodrama isn't immediately apparent; Boys Don't Cry, an expaned version of the Cure's 1979 debut (Three Imaginary Boys), subsumes its melancholy edge in an avalanche of punched-up melodies and angular riffs. Despite's the group's subsequent mass popularity, this is still the most direct and accessible Cure album. Arguably, Boys Don't Cry marks the transition from punk to post-punk, the switch from late '70s anarchy to early '80s artiness.

Adding lush electronic keyboards and paring down its guitar buzz to skeletal connecting lines, the Cure moves into mope-rock territory (first defined by Joy Division) on its next two albums. Seventeen Seconds retains more of Boy's hooky impact than first seems apparent: if you can deal with the placid exterior and Smith's wailing, such sombre meditations as "A Forest" and "Play For Today" leave a lasting, unsettling impression. The cannot be said of Faith: clearly, Smith doesn't let the absence of memorable choruses or compelling song structures get in the way of venting his obsessions. Though Pornography is revered by Cureheads as a masterstroke, normal listeners will probably find it impenetrable. By this time, the Cure had started to become a vehicle for Smith and whomever he gathers in the studio. Japanese Whispers collects some singles and odd tracks; "Let's Go To Bed" asserts Smith's pop knack as well as his hard-to-fathom seductive appeal. It's a natural, but indulgences like "The Love Cats" suggest this budding auteur needs an editor - or a real band - to rein him in evry once and a while. Otherwise, everysuccessive Cure album would resemble The Top, on which flighty, disjointed noodlings hide the one catchy track ("The Catapillar"). After a spell with Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1983-84, Robert Smith reactivated the Cure as a working group. Bassist Simon Gallup (an on-again, off-again member) chairs the new line-up, centering Smith's increasingly psychedelic explorations with foursquare rock sensibility. Hanging on the engagingly sweet single "In Between Days" and not a whole lot else, The Head In The Door accomplished the unlikely task of breaking the Cure in America. The excellent singles compilation Standing on the Beach (retitled Staring at the Sea and expanded on CD) cemented the group's breakout status. For a sub-generation weaned on Duran Duran, discovering the Cure's angst-ridden soundtracks constitutes a major mind-blowing experience.

Smith manages to have it both ways on the Cure's next album. A rambling double-album set, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me positions the group's first bona fide hit single (the aching "Why Can't I Be You") alongside its most adventurous - and accomplished - actual ensemble playing since the debut. Under Smith's guiding presence, the Cure plows through wah-wah encrusted garage band raveups, suicidally bummed-out set peices and thumping rock-disco grooves with equal assurance. Appropriately, Disintegration can be heard as the Cure's career-summing peak or an epic art-rock snooze-athon. The songs flow at their own leisurely speed, carefully piling layer after intricate layer of synthesized demi-classical textures on top of Smith's now-familiar plaintive cries and troubled love songs. Just when Disintegration does threaten to collapse under its own weight, Smith signs off with a sparse, hauntingly melodic confession. Perhaps the most emotionally direct and revealing song of his professional enigma has yet delivered, it's called "Untitled." Of course.

Last Revised: Monday, 15-May-2006 15:00:07 CDT

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