On Wild Mood Swings, the Cure's judiciously titled tenth studio album, Smith sounds singularly precarious. Over the course of fourteen tracks, the songwriter swerves from unabashed fearlessness to miling heartbreak, pausing only for brief pit-stops between the two extremes. The progress seems arbitrary and incosistent, the sonic scope of the disc perplexing in its orderliness. But for some reason it makes perfect sense. As the group slides out of the traumatic string quartet grind of This is a Lie and into the slow swinging, flamenco-guitar and horn-driven groove of the The 13th, there is a strange bond that locks it all together. The motionless tempo of the former falls easily into the party scene opening and rosy lick (I'm surprised at how hot honey-colored and hungry she looks/And I have to turn away to keep from bursting/Yeah I feel that good) of the latter. From that point on, what started out sounding like business as usual suddenly erupts into a Technicolor soire'e.
The band's latest line-up -- bass player Simon Gallup, guitarist Perry Bamonte, keyboardist Roger O'Donnel, and drummer Jason Cooper -- deftly keeps pace with Smith's dramatic emotional shifts. From the exuberant synthesizer pop of Strange Attraction to the woeful, reverb-drenched Jupiter Crash, The Cure manages to keep the album's sound somewhat consistent, with each track collapsing effortlessly into the next, despite drastically different speeds and sentiments. When Smith is feeling fine, Wild Mood Swings surges forward magically. On the exemplary Mint Car, he opens the song with a squeal and the lyrical anomaly of The sun is up/I'm so happy I could scream, over strumming acoustic guitars and a blissful rhythm. On the jazzy Gone! he urges listeners to shake off bad days with a simple proclamation of You have to get up get out and get gone/Yeah get up go out and have some fun. It's almost disconcerting to hear these verses from a man who has spent most of his career contentedly immersed in sadness.
Of course, there is also a fair share of downers. Numb sounds like a leftover from 1989's somber Disintegration album. Singing in the third person, a more characteristic Smith rises above the melancholy strings, proclaiming He's in love with a drug/One that makes him numb/One that stops him feeling at all. Trap works up into a rocking guitar fervor as Smith madly declares I'm sick of it all. On Treasure he quotes a disappearing lover; For it's better to forget than to remember me and cry, she says. These songs conjure up the particular brand of emotional nothingness that makes the Cure sound so sweet and relevant.
Listening to Wild Mood Swings is an exacting experience. While the music floats by splendidly much in the tradition of the Cure's past work, it is Smith's bewildered soul that demands your focus. He invites you to let go of your own reality, grab his hand and fly through a mercurial emotional space that makes you wonder whether you should be laughing or crying. This, of course, is exactly what the singer intended. If two decades of self-purging have failed to subdue his vulnerability and uncertainty, then why should his listeners walk away from the experience unscathed? The Cure, it seems, is exactly what it professes not to be.