on 11 September 2005
As someone else once noted, the cover art of this record gives us a pretty good idea as to the darkness of the music lurking within. This is certainly the darkest Cure album that I've ever head, advancing on the already tortured sound of Faith and Seventeen Seconds, with Smith, Gallup and Tolhurst moving into a dark and claustrophobic place, where murder, suicide, fame, drug dependency and depression seem to be the only escape from the real horrors of the everyday world.
I'm not going to delve into the same amount of detail as some reviewers - discussing Smith's state of mind during the writing and recording process, etc - though it's clear from pretty much the first minute that this isn't the work of a band particularly captivated by the so-called joys of modern life. Some have drawn comparisons with Joy Division, though I feel that this album is much more troubling than either of their albums, and yet... you can still hear a few similarities, particularly in the heavy reliance on the drums and bass, whilst there's that same suffocating feeling of dread and death conjured up by the production, which does have a touch of the Martin Hannett about it. But Pornography has none of the elegance or, indeed, restraint, so prevalent in Joy Division's work, with Smith and Co. choosing instead to create a angular cacophony of noise, with layer upon layer of keyboards, drums, bass and electric guitar being merged into one thick sludge of musical noise that cannot easily be put into words.
The template for the album is established with the first song, One Hundred Years, which builds around a monotonous bass-line, a thrash of percussion and some eerie keyboard work, before Smith intones the very first line of the entire album ("it doesn't matter if we all die"). From here, things get progressively bleaker, with Smith's howling vocals merging into the mire of background instrumentation, until one sound is indistinguishable from the next. The album also develops something of a template for later Cure songs, particularly those found on Disintegration (1989) and Blood Flowers (2000) - which are supposed to form something of a loose trilogy with Pornography - that being, the development of longer songs with more intricate structures and extended intros/outros. It creates a great atmosphere and generally means that the songs flow out of one another more fluidly than the songs on the albums that came before.
A Short Term Effect continues the sound of One Hundred Years, with a hypnotic flow of percussion and the use of treated-guitars. It reminds me a little of Public Image Ltd, circa Metal Box, as do many of the other songs, particularly the title-track, with The Cure going for a monotonous sound and rhythm that threatens to almost undermine the individuality of some of the tracks as the whole thing ends up blurring into one bleak, black, whole. The Hanging Garden is one of The Cure's most iconic tracks, familiar to anyone who already has the great Staring At The Sea compilation from the mid 80's... featuring a great sound and a terrific use of guitar, whilst the lyrics are almost narrative, moving away (slightly) from the vague and dreamlike references found in the majority of songs included herein.
Certainly tracks like Siamese Twins and the epic The Figurehead will be a shock to those more familiar with The Cure as pop stars (songs like Lovecats, Close To You and In Between Days, which pretty much defined The Cure for a lot of fans... myself included) with the band here sounding a million miles away from the band that they would later become. The heavy, somewhat industrial sound of the keyboard is great here, establishing a doom-laden feeling throughout The Figurehead (a personal favourite and the album's epic centrepiece), with Smith adding to the gothic vibe with lyrics like "a hundred other words blind me with your purity, like an old painted doll in the throws of a dance... I think about tomorrow, oh please let me sleep, as I slip down the window, freshly squashed fly... you mean nothing to me", before ending the song with the bleak refrain "I will never be clean again!".
My favourite song here (and perhaps my favourite Cure song of this era) is the similarly epic sounding Cold, in which the keyboards take on an almost orchestral sound, combined with Smith's distorted, almost psychedelic guitar. The whole song just flows with an immense forward momentum, carried along by the layers of gloomy keyboards, pounding bass and furious percussion. The lyrics are excellent too... Smith relating some dark, though perhaps romantic images that seem to point towards lost love (perhaps murder was involved??), with the opening verse reading, "scarred, your back was turned, curled like an embryo... take another face you will be kissed again... I was cold as I mouthed the words and crawled across the mirror". The second verse is darker, moving forward with lines like "a shallow grave, a monument to a ruined age... ice in my eyes and eyes like ice don't move..." before ending with the sort of chorus, "your name... like ice into my heart".
This leads us into the closing song... all the themes coming together in a dissonant racket of instrumentation, strange sound samples and swirling production, which again, reminds me a little of PiL albums like Metal Box and The Flowers Of Romance. The song and the album both end with the mantra "I will fight this sickness... find a cure!!", bringing to a close the first phase of the band's career before the veered off into a more chart-friendly territory. This album remains something of an early peak for the Cure, one that is as essential as the later epic Disintegration. The sound here on this re-mastered deluxe edition is superb and a real improvement on the early CD release... whilst the bonus tracks add value for money, and a further glimpse into the Cure's dark world, circa 1982.