Friday, August 27, 2010

The Cure - Disintegration (RS500 - #326)

(We haven't done a Rolling Stone 500 album in a while, so let's do this one . . .)

I'll open this one with a bold statement: In my opinion, The Cure have been milking it for far too long.

I knew nothing about The Cure until I got to school in the early '80s, when my buddy Rich, a good ol' country boy from South Carolina, loaned me a mix tape he owned that had the band's "The Lovecats" on it. Now, that probably wasn't the best song to be introduced to The Cure, but I thought it was great. Another school friend of mine there, Pat, had most of the early Cure albums - Seventeen Seconds, Pornography, The Top - and that's when I really got into the band, so much so that by the time the band's career-spanning compilation Staring At The Sea: The Singles 1979-1985 (and its companion B-sides collection Standing On A Beach) was released in May 1986, it was one of the most highly anticipated musical highlights of that year for me.

Even moreso than The Head On The Door (released the previous August), Staring At The Sea/Standing On A Beach was really the album that broke The Cure into the American market. The album was their first Top 50 U.S. disc, sold over two million copies, and got rave reviews from nearly every American reviewer. And that's where the wheels started coming off . . .

What is it with the Double-Album Curse? More often than not, the release of a double-disc usually marks the band's high-water mark - from there it's all downhill. The list is long: Wheels Of Fire, Songs In The Key Of Life, Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness, The Downward Spiral, Double Nickels On The Dime - all of these albums marked the creative peaks of their respective bands (Cream, Stevie Wonder, The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and The Minutemen, for those of you keeping score). But few bands have the sense or foresight to recognize the top of the mountain - of the list above, only Cream made their double album their last. They just keep slogging away, putting out product after product as they trudge slowly downhill, away from their peak . . .

In my opinion, The Cure should have ended it right there - they had nothing left to prove. Frankly, this would have been the perfect place for the band to call it a day, after ten years of great music. Unfortunately, it appears they read those glowing reviews and let that heady American success go straight to their heads. When they were young and hungry and playing to a mostly English audience, The Cure didn't seem to give a damn about 'art' or 'expressing themselves' - they were making good music for themselves, not for the critics or their audience. But after Standing On A Beach, it seems that they abandoned that ethic, and started playing more to the crowd.

It started in 1987, with their first post-compilation studio album, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Prior to 1986, The Cure were known for catchy, punchy, concise bursts of distilled New Wave gold. All of their most well-known songs from that period - "Let's Go To Bed", "The Caterpillar", "The Upstairs Room", "Primary", "Three Imaginary Boys" - clock in at no longer than 3-1/2 minutes. Heck, "Killing An Arab" and "Boys Don't Cry" are barely TWO and a half minutes long. But starting with Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, the songs began to get longer and more heavy-handed - but not because The Cure had anything weightier or more profound to say. The best songs on this album - "Catch", "Just Like Heaven", "Hot Hot Hot!!!" - were the shorter ones, coming in at around the 3:30 mark as usual. But Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is full of long, meandering, ponderous shit - "The Kiss", "How Beautiful You Are", "The Snakepit" - that essentially say nothing and go nowhere, despite their length.

However, this album was also a huge success in the U.S., their first American Top 40 record, selling over a million copies and moving them into the mainstream over here. And all of that - the sales, the American acclaim, etc. - apparently told The Cure that that formula worked. Which all led to Disintegration in 1989 . . .

Frankly, this is a dreadful fucking record - full of pompous, drawn-out, self-indulgent crap. Only ONE song on this album, "Lovesong", clocks in at under four minutes. The other eleven songs just drone on and on and on for forever - the last four songs on Disintegration ("The Same Deep Water As You", the title cut, "Homesick" and "Untitled") take over 30 minutes to get through - longer than some the band's early ALBUMS. There are some interesting melodies and good ideas contained within these interminable dirges, but it takes so long to get through them, that you either forget about the good parts or get bored waiting to get to them. [By the way, guess which song was the only U.S. hit off of this album? That's right, the short one - "Lovesong" made it to #2.]

Disintegration was the beginning of the end of my Cure fandom. I bought the follow-up, Wish, in 1992, and even bought tickets to their show at DC's Capital Centre that May, no doubt taken in by what was widely billed as "The Cure's Farewell Tour". But I haven't paid much attention to the band since that time. Since 1992, the band has had a couple more "farewell tours", and yet show no signs of quitting anytime soon. The studio albums are fewer and farther between, but they still keep cranking them out - four more since Wish, with diminishing chart success. Marching downhill . . .

In the years that have passed, Disintegration continues to garner critical acclaim, with some calling it "The Cure's artistic peak" and "the culmination of the Cure sound", and inclusion on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. I agree that it's a peak for them, all right - a commercial peak, but nowhere near an artistic peak. The Cure left their art behind, somewhere around 1986 - unless your definition of art is something leaden, turgid and directionless. I'll take the pre-1986 Cure for my 'art' any day.

And that's my two cents - you are more that welcome to disagree. In the meantime, here you go:

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