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Final-part of bleak trilogy of Cure-albums...
on 2 April 2005
Though the recent 'Trilogy'-DVD has it that 'Pornography' (1982) is part of a trilogy with 'Disintegration' (1989) & 'Bloodflowers' (2000), I'm more of the persuasion that 'Pornography' is the end of a trilogy of albums with 'Seventeen Seconds' (1980) & 'Faith' (1981); all of which have been reissued in this expanded-remastered two-disc form.
Following the departure of Michael Dempsey to Associates, Robert Smith with then drummer Laurence Tolhurst changed the Cure's poppier sound for something bleaker - bassist Simon Gallup and keyboard-player Matthieu Hartley with producer Mike Hedges formed part of this change. Hartley exited after 'Seventeen Seconds', leaving the three-piece Cure to make their bleakest record 'Faith'- easily one of the bleakest albums recorded (see 'Movement', 'Music for a New Society', & 'Berlin'). 'Pornography' was the end of the line, Smith rumoured to have composed most of it under the influence of LSD in his parents home. Smith became obssessed with the dark stuff- the cover nodding to what Marilyn Monroe might have looked like if her body had been left to decay on the bed on which she died (while the tour saw the band put lipstick under their eyes- so when they sweated it looked like blood was running from them!). Smith was enamoured with the drum-sound of The Psychedelic Furs (think 'Sister Europe'), while Mike Hedges exited to be replaced by co-producer Phil Thornally (who would later join The Cure, work on Duran's 'Seven & the Ragged Tiger' & compose 'Torn' the Natalia Imbruglia song!). 'Pornography' is an angry-record- a gothic-rage that feels as bloody as Smith's then disintegrating relationship with Gallup was (Gallup would exit afterwards- though would return for 1985's 'The Head on the Door').
This reissue includes the original-eight-track album (remastered) and a bonus-disc of anomalies & oddities that will appeal to fans of these records. The ten-bonus-tracks feature several songs never heard before - Temptation, Demise, Break, Air1ock: Soundtrack & alternate versions of such tracks as A Strange Day, Cold & Pornography. The bonus-discs will obviously appeal more to the hardcore Cure-fan- the kind of person who would listen to 'Curiosity' or 'Join the Dots.'
The original album itself, rumoured to still be Smith's favourite (despite the atmosphere that created it), remains a highlight of The Cure's potent back-catalogue. It is one of those angry-depressed records and should be ranked alongside such howls of despair and rage as 'In Utero', 'The Scream', 'The Holy Bible', 'Junkyard' & 'We Are All Prostitutes.' Opening-track 'One Hundred Years' (still a live-favourite) cues up the feel of the record with its opening-line, "It doesn't matter if we all die..." The song has Smith in lyrical meltdown, visions of entropy crash into each other and you think of something like Ballard's 'The Atrocity Exhibition' as the lines spill forth: "Stroking your hair as patriots are shot/fighting for freedom on the television/sharing the world with slaughtered-pigs/Have we got everything?/She struggles to get away..." Smith is at his most sinister here - parts of the song (a pulsing robotic-beat and chiming-guitars) feel like a paragraph from Camus' 'The Rebel' as read on LSD by a manic-depressive: "Just a piece of new meat in a clean room/The soldiers close in under a yellow moon/All shadows and deliverance under a black flag/A hundred years of blood/Crimson/The ribbon tightens round my throat/I open my mouth and my head bursts open/A sound like a tiger thrashing in the water...Over and over we die one after the other/One after the other...It feels like a hundred years..." & this is where the record begins!
'A Short Term Effect' is a drum-heavy dirge with the kind of futile-lyrics found on 'Faith'; while single 'The Hanging Garden' is a wonderful slab of clattering primal-drumming & oblique Banshees-inflected decay (it would also provide the title of an Ian Rankin novel!)The highlight of what was originally side-one is 'Siamese Twins'- whose lyrics nod to the Banshees 'Red Light' (Smith was associated with The Banshees and particularly Steve Severin at the time) that nods out cheery lines such as "push a blade into my hands" & "worms eat my skin" prior to the amusing sing-a-long bit: "Sing out loud/We all die/Laughing into the fire/Is it always like this?/IS IT ALWAYS LIKE THIS?/IS IT ALWAYS LIKE THIS?????"
The second-half opens with 'The Figurehead', which continues the drum-heavy-gothic-dirge - there is little of Smith's eclectic pop here- the refrain of "I will never be clean again" as the drums rage (an influence on Radiohead's 'There There' I think, as well as XTC's similar 'Travels in Nihilon'). Keyboards feature more on the following tracks- 'A Strange Day' (the most tuneful here and one of my absolute favourite Cure-songs) & 'Cold' nod towards the heavy-keyboard sound of 'Disintegration'. The album closes on 'Pornography', one of Smith's most unpleasant songs - looped-voices melt together as industrial-drumming fades in and a sound like a cello being played from a burial plot comes in, Smith's alienated lyrics going beyond meltdown: "The old man cracks with age...Sour yellow sounds inside my head...The sound of slaughter as your body turns/But it's too late/One more day like today and I'll kill you/A desire for flesh and real blood/And I'll watch you drown in the shower/Pushing my life though your open-eyes...I must fight this sickness/Find a cure..." These are dark-places, an acid-drenched exploration of 'Psycho' or 'Repulsion' and Smith had nowhere left to go...
Following 'Pornography', the next version of The Cure went dream-pop, before shifting into an eclectic-variation on their early records with albums like 'Kiss Me...', 'Disintegration' & 'Wish.' This is the darkest stuff though- & despite its car-crash feel and undeniable morbidity, it's one of The Cure albums I listen to the most! Recommended, and one of those records that has influenced many- I don't think Nine Inch Nails' 'The Downward Spiral' would exist without this & I'm sure that's not the only example of its influence!