Wednesday, November 21, 2007

[023] Disintegration

Album: Disintegration
Artist: The Cure
Release Date: May 1989
Label: Elektra
Producers: Robert Smith & David M. Allen

"Disintegration is the best album ever!!"
- Kyle Broflovski, from the South Park episode "Mecha Streisand"

The sun actually peaked itself out from behind the gray sheet today. Lately, New York has been looking a lot like London, and I can tell you that it’s affected my work. Did you see how late that Outkast entry went up yesterday? Let me tell you, Robert Smith didn’t help either. I climb in my car to go to work yesterday, already in a down mood, everything is cold and damp and misty, and I pop Disintegration into my car stereo. Man, I looked like Eeyore by the time I got to work (and that’s only fifteen minutes drive-time), shuffling into my office and barely mustering a weak “Mornin’” to my co-workers. As far as the sort of gloom that The Cure are known for, they really couldn’t be from anywhere but the UK. It’s just in the bones. And what’s funny is that the paramount of the ‘Cure sound’, the moist, oh-so-Anglo moodpiece Disintegration, is a sore thumb on their resumé. After 1982’s Goth-fest, Pornography, Smith’s songwriting kept moving towards playful Pop even as he was painted as the Goth poster boy; from singles like “Let’s Go To Bed” and “The Lovecats”, to “Close To Me” and
“Inbetween Days” on Head On The Door, then “Why Can’t I Be You” and the perfection of “Just Like Heaven” from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. And after Disintegration, he was right back at it on Wish, which featured the downright pleasant “High” and “Friday I’m In Love”. So what the fuck happened, Robert?? You can’t tell me all this misery comes from staring down 30, or from having to sack Lol Tolhurst, the only other original member left in the band. Either way, I think it points to the obvious – Robert Smith is a genius with heartache, cuz whether he puts it in the lyrics or not, it comes through in everything, from his infamous pained vocal delivery, to the icy downpour of Roger O’Donnell’s synthetic string sections, and the waves of guitars from Smith and Porl Thompson.

Why is Disintegration like the 2001 monolith, dropped on an unaware world, driving us to drink or look for the razors? OK, maybe I’m overdoing it, because there are a few flashes of light on the album, but they’re fleeting, and the album is a very expansive 72 minutes. Musically, “Love Song”, still the band’s biggest US hit, could be a lost Doors ballad, but Jim Morrison was never this humble, with Robert Smith producing one of the saddest vocal performances of his 30-year career, his devoted chorus betrayed by the pure despair dragging him down. The intertwining guitar formations of “Fascination Street” tower above the propulsive bass of Simon Gallup, the linchpin of The Cure’s rumble and blast, obscuring one of Smith’s most explicitly sexy prayers; beneath the shimmering blizzard of six-string snow, he lasciviously purrs “If you open your mouth, then I can’t be responsible for quite what goes in, or to care what comes out.” The Kafka-esque surrealist horror of “Lullaby” opens as dour as the rest of the songs until you listen to the clipped rhythm, uncharacteristically clean and sharp in contrast with the rest of the record, with faint hints of new Rap curiosity, and brilliantly “plucked” synth strings courtesy of the ARP String Ensemble, that most special of synthesizers. The SE, made by Sonoria in the late 70’s, was made famous by Pink Floyd, Herbie Hancock, and Elton John, but The Cure uses it the way Joy Division used it; it may house a full orchestra in its 49 keys, but they like it for its full, yet frigid chime, not unlike side two of David Bowie’s Low. It’s actually fitting that the slow, deliberate “Plainsong” opens the album with chimes and breaking glass, sounding like freezing rain hitting steel, recalling Joy Division’s gorgeous “Atmosphere” - Disintegration isn’t just The Cure’s best album. It’s the possibilities of Joy Division’s legacy fulfilled, through the veiled obsessions and finality of the elemental “Pictures Of You”, and the organic longing and regret of “Untitled”; Disintegration is the classic album Joy Division might have made if Ian Curtis had stuck around for another decade.

The rest of the album was the new sanctuary of misery for the heavy-eyeliner set, a place to get swallowed by the shadows and hide from the world. One of The Cure’s best songs, “Prayers For Rain” starts the second half of the album with a wash of layered synths, O’Donnell scoring hopelessness and deterioration like the tender moments of a Terminator film; his strings divebomb each other, flying kamikaze into ringing guitar phrases and backward organ gloss. On
“Closedown”, he erects dominant keyboard statues only the 1980’s could love, leaving only enough room for one verse from Smith, but revealing the slow-motion power of this edition of The Cure, all the whirlpool beauty you could ask for. “Homesick” makes it past the three-minute mark before the lyrics hit, allowing the bluesy piano and guitar static to stretch out like the webs of the spider in “Lullaby”. With the tar-pit-pace of the 9-minute “Same Deep Water As You”, Smith presents the centerpiece for Disintegration’s water and drowning theme, immersing the listener in the same blue-green world that Robert himself dwells in on the album’s cover; he comes up out of the abyss for air, only to sink back, moaning, “the very last thing before I go…” You can just imagine the colored lights cascading around the arenas of the US in the following months, thousands of new, transfixed fans witnessing the triumph of a band that was basically the anti-Guns N’ Roses. And maybe that’s why Trey Parker needed to call Disintegration the best album ever on South Park; because before this album, The Cure’s fanbase tended to skew to the feminine, but you put a loud guitar band in an arena, and the boys come running. Thankfully, Robert Smith had the songs and the smeared lipstick to suitably blow their minds. The bleak, downward spiral of the title track would be a top contender for the band’s greatest song, with Smith’s knotty infidelity narrative twisting itself into one of the greatest break-up songs of all time. This is why The Cure mean so much to so many people – because they know how it feels to hurt, and most Rock stars don’t own up to their pain. Robert Smith does though, and he puts it into great songs like the ones on Disintegration, and helps you to not feel alone, so you can remain until the sun comes out again.

01. "Plainsong"
02. "Pictures Of You"
03. "Closedown"
04. "Lovesong"
05. "Last Dance"**
06. "Lullaby"
07. "Fascination Street"
08. "Prayers For Rain"
09. "The Same Deep Water As You"
10. "Disintegration"
11. "Homesick"**
12. "Untitled"
** Not on the original vinyl version

"Pictures Of You" [live at Wembley Arena, 1991]

"Fascination Street" [single edit - video]

"Prayers For Rain" [live in Berlin, 2002]

"Disintegration" [live in Berlin, 2002]

NOTE: All the Berlin videos are from the Trilogy DVD, which features Disintegration, 1982's Pornography, and 2000's Bloodflowers all played in their entirety.

- BONUS: "Plainsong" [live in Berlin, 2002]
- BONUS: "Pictures Of You" [single edit - video]
- BONUS: "Pictures Of You" [live in Berlin, 2002]
- BONUS: "Closedown" [live in Berlin, 2002]
- BONUS: "Lovesong" [video]
- BONUS: "Lovesong" [live on the Curiosa Festival Tour, 2004]
- BONUS: "Last Dance" [live, 1989]
- BONUS: "Lullaby" [video]
- BONUS: "Lullaby" [acoustic version - video]
from the acoustic bonus disc of the 2001 Greatest Hits
- BONUS: "Lullaby" [live at Wembley Arena, 1991]
- BONUS: "Fascination Street" [live in Berlin, 2002]
- BONUS: "Prayers For Rain" [live in Switzerland, 07.02]
- BONUS: "The Same Deep Water As You" [audio]
- BONUS: "Disintegration" [live in Germany, 1990]
- BONUS: "Untitled" [live in Berlin, 2002]

No comments: