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Lost album a lesson for Smith not to squander the next ten years
on 9 August 2009
For a couple of years 1989 - 1993, in my teens aged 16 to 19, the Cure were my favourite band. But like many intense teenage infatuations it had a shelf life. It's something I've been contemplating since only recently buying Wild Mood Swings. For me the Cure lost huge momentum when they failed to produce an album for four years after Wish. By the time Wild Mood Swings appeared the Britpop hype had gripped the country with a power not really seen by a music scene since punk. Which meant that Smith, a man well acquainted with mourning the passing of time, was no longer cool or in and Smith was by 1996 closer to 40 than 30.
The Cure no longer with the world at their feet found that their fanbase had grown up particularly I would guess their 80s fans and even younger fans like me, who came late to the band at their zenith in 1989, had moved on to discover other artists and eras past and present. Perhaps they could have maintained their fans pouring in by the truck load between Disintergration and Wish and the ensuing world tours better?
But post Wish The Cure didn't really do anything to cultivate their fans or their career. Admittedly with websites, enewsletters and fansites that is much easier now but the point is that Wild Mood Swings is a very fine album that somehow got lost. No doubt it sold fairly well but The Cure could have done so much more in the 1990s instead they let their career slide.
In a way they almost lost interest in themselves which is quite something if you consider how their only real contemporaries - U2 and REM - boomed through the same decade. Sure Porl Thompson and Boris Williams leaving the group must have been a body blow and of course the court case with Lol Tolhurst obviously took a big toll, which is interestingly dissected in the `Never Enough' book. But still it is a perplexing state of affairs of lost opportunity. Why did Smith allow his career to wane? Was he world weary, or simply content to enjoy the fruits of his wealth untroubled by the pressures of touring and band politics?
It is a shame that there hasn't been a better book on The Cure, a Johnny Rogan style tomb. A book to stand with, and do justice to their music, formidable achievements and legacy. But again the general loss of interest in their meandering latter career and dwindling fan base probably explains that to a point.
So what does Wild Mood Swings tell us? Well, I am seriously impressed. It's a real curates egg. But where it's good it is absolutely excellent. I was motivated to write this on the strength of six cracking songs `Jupiter Crash', `This is a lie' `Bare' and `Strange Attraction' `Treasure' and `Numb'. The first three songs in particular are without question as good as anything the band has done. Interestingly their sound, and that of Treasure and Numb, actually moved on to a more acoustic, string based approach with terrific results. This is literate erudite powerful songwriting with a profound emotional punch.
What is so infuriating is that The Cure really had something to offer the Britpop party. Not least an intelligence to counter the scally rock of Oasis, which, as time has shown, is a desperately limited form of rock which reflects, if the truth be told, how limited its authors were and are. Wild Mood Swings is by contrast edifying. It is a cerebral work of an artist and a band which had depth and range and a sound which was futuristic and imaginative not rehashes of a Beatles chordbook. In short it is better than what a lot Britpop groups were producing and stands up well, sometimes astonishingly so to the rigours of time.
On the downside I still can't stand the dumb meaningless artwork. I am also unsurprised I didn't buy the album after hearing The 13th, which was a dreadful choice for a first single and Club America its unremarkable successor. The 13th is a slight forgettable song, easily one of the band's worst singles which offers little to the album. There are certainly too many lightweight tracks on the album Gone, Return and Trap should have been b-sides or left in the can for a rarities album. (And by God Robert the Disintegration/Wish reissues have to contain more interesting morsels than the desperately disappointing `Kiss Me' reissue and moderately interesting Head on the Door reissue).
Wild Moods Swings in many ways accurately reflects its protracted and distracted gestation. Although immaterial now The Cure really should have issued a clear focused album in 1994 possibly of acoustic string based songs and toured it round theatres not stadiums and just done something really different.
In the here and now Smith should pay close attention to Neil Young who he admires. Young has proven that you can still be busy, still drive your career, still do something new and suprise, shock and challenge your audience. Remember Young's Greendale UK acoustic tour or his recent showstopping cover of Day in the Life? There's been a feeling that the Cure are in danger of repeating themselves, the imagery and themes so distinctive in danger of becoming hackneyed - and that simply won't do. They were and are better than that. The last Cure album 4:13 Dream was pretty undemanding though it's encouraging to see the band out there again. Smith is still young enough to come again and should gear himself up for a busy decade - making the kind of music that makes Wild Mood Swings such an at times riveting and extraordinary experience. Seriously moments on here are as good as anything Nick Drake produced.
So come on Robert what have you got up your sleeve beyond playing the hits in stadiums? You have a massive educated audience who want to hear from you as our yesterdays get older. What about that acoustic concert hall tour backed by a string section and a female vocalist? Manchester's Bridgewater Hall is pretty damn good.