on 9 August 2004
Convention dictates that any new Cure album is immediately measured up against their back catalogue. Reviews complain that it's not like "Disintegration", that it's not as good as "Pornography", that it falls short of "Seventeen Seconds".
It's as if The Cure are not allowed to do anything new.
When the fans of such a historically ground-breaking, awkward, always-changing and ever-challenging band are so resolutely backward-looking, it's a confusing state of affairs. Why does "The Cure" have to be like any other of their albums? Even Smith perhaps acknowledges this with his wry line "you promised me another wish," as he plunders his own lyrical back-catalogue throughout the album.
Each Cure album has its place in their exceptional, multi-decade catalogue, each one merely representing another step in the evolution of this multi-talented, shape-shifting band. The only true constant for The Cure is the band's musical genius and its strong-headed and uncompromising style, under Robert Smith's domineering leadership.
Well, with Smith now in his 40's and having lost count of how many times Smith has claimed the Cure were finished, I was nervous of what this album might be like. Would it be a has-been's album? Would it be "Cure-by-numbers"? Would it sound like the band just going through the motions? Had they now become a fully-fledged rock dinosaur?
Answer: not a chance. Not a flipping chance.
Smith has never sounded SO angry, SO furious as on this latest release. Whereas in previous Cures, the angst always had a self-immolating edge, this time it's directed outwards. The tighter social mood of 2004 sees Smith with plenty to angst about. "The Cure", then, is Smith holding a mirror up to the world. There's an edge, a roar and a snarl to Smith's phlegmatic voice that is at times surprisingly Pixies-esque, and Smith uses vocal tones that he more commonly employs on stage.
The time since 2000 has produced a newly-muscular Cure, a rejuvenated, primal, kick-ass Cure the like of which few people knew existed. The raw, pared-down production still incorporates enough of the Cure-patented "Ocean of Sound™" with flangers, reverb, Bass Six and string washes stacked on top of each other, but never has a Cure album also managed to have so much distortion and such deep studio effects yet such close, edgy production. Bass, guitar and even voice alike are coated with rich, thick, druggy distortion.
No longer the angst of a teen-to-twenty-something (see "Three Imaginary Boys" to "Pornography" for that) "The Cure" is the sound of a grown man's processed and reasoned rage, his incomprehension at what us humans are doing to each other. Familiar themes of desire, jealousy, devotion and self-doubt resurface and the words are as dense, intensely personal and as opaque as ever. Smith's intricate, sometimes jeering and always emotionally-charged lines leave us in no doubt that he's really put his back into the words. This is the real thing, this is super-league Cure material - and yet, 20 years after I first discovered them, I'm still largely none the wiser as to what most of them are about...
From the first ambient noises on the opening "Lost", we know that something menacing is brewing; this is no middle-age out-to-pasture The-Cure-need-some-money album. It closes sounding as if "Nowhere"-era Ride had dropped a few extra effects boxes round.
"Labyrinth" has gigantic gigantic squalls of Hendrix wah-wah psych-guitar. Sounds like The Cure covering Curve covering The Cure.
"Before Three" could almost be a slowed-down Pixies song, were it not for the exquisite splash-and-crash tom-tom-heavy drumming and Smith's trademark caterwauling. Classic driving guitar Cure pop.
"Truth Goodness and Beauty" provides a pretty interlude, a more typical "Ocean of Sound™" Cure song that sounds like they borrowed Sonic Youth's guitars.
"End of the World" brings Dinosaur Jr. and Green Day to mind, but also Ride's fabulous "Play" EP. I spotted a rash of teenagers wearing "Boys Don't Cry" T-Shirts recently, and I can only assume this single has something to do with it.
"Anniversary" is a deep dreamy, druggy epic - a mash-up between Curve's wonderful album "Gift" and huge canyons of Sasha-style trance sounds. Sasha could drop a house version of this at 4am at Fabric.
"Us Or Them" is Smith's moment of fury: the issue of religious hatred has voice ROARING like this never before. A future live classic.
"alt.end" starts like Pixies covering "In Your House" from "Seventeen Seconds", with "Loveless"-era My Bloody Valentine and Joey Santiago providing super-duper squealing guitar overlays.
"I Don't Know What's Going On" and "Taking Off" are both conventional, ageless Cure power-pop and reignite the decades-old debate about whether New Order or The Cure invented THAT lead guitar sound first.
"Never" is a divisive track. They've always done the power-guitar thing, from early days at The Rocket in Crawley; they're just not known for it. Personally I think this is a highlight.
"Promise" is a wonderful psychedelic swamp of of patent Cure "Strangled Cat Guitar™", with buckets of noise, percussion and blissed-out wah-wah guitar. Weighing in at over 10 minutes, it finishes off the job started by "Labyrinth".
"Going Nowhere" closes in classic style, with Smith in conciliatory mood, a meandering guitar and smouldering piano line over soft acoustic and gentle drums. A future Café del Mar classic.
If you need a comparison to other Cure albums - I can't do it. This is a club-class Cure album in its own right. I'd prefer to point to the abundant, archetypal Cure sounds and the healthy cast of influences that can be heard. Jimi Hendrix, Pixies, Sonic Youth, Ride and others can all be heard in the guitar work, and drumming that Budgie of Siouxsie & The Banshees would be proud of is in evidence throughout, but this is a blue-blooded Cure album of the very purest pedigree.
Were the band called something other than The Cure, "The Cure" would still be a worthy title for this record.
Robert, you HAVE found yourself: THIS IS WHAT WE NEED YOU FOR.