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The Cure

No less manly than the average guy, as long as that average guy is Clay Aiken

Boys Don't Cry
Seventeen Seconds
The Top
Japanese Whispers
The Head on the Door
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
Mixed Up
Wild Mood Swings
The Cure

The Cure wouldn't be nothin' without ol' cock-rockin lion-maned, blockheaded, chiseled-chested frontman/Adonis Robert Smith, the poster child for any pale, depressive, lonely teenage girl who's ever felt left out of the babysitter's club and wondered if anyone's ever going to take them to prom because, when they look in the mirror, they see a piggy.  Awww! Smith's real legacy, far more than his 25-year recording career, is that he made inroads for the non-macho rocker in the brave new post-punk world of the 1980's, where few of the new breed of rock stars connected with a female/non-teenage aggressor audience quite like the Cure did.  Funny thing is, unlike Depeche Mode and some other of the wuss-friendly artists, the Cure didn't dilute their instrumental style or emotional rawness to meet their testicularly-challenged fanbase.  Smith was successful simply because he communicated feelings of betrayal, self-loathing, and good ol' fashioned depression better than most anybody around him, or at least made them sound attractive enough to sell a bunch of records once his songwriting and sound developed to a high enough degree.  Essentially, Smith sells pretty sadness, along with some neat, lush guitar playing, and he puts himself up as a prime example/sympathizer/confidant for anyone in the world who feels like life has turned to shit and no one else has noticed yet.

If sadness and depression were all that was to the Cure, no one would ever need to buy anything other than their 1982 Pornography album, or better yet, buy Lou Reed's Berlin album, or some random Swans or Christian Death for real happy-face-to-sad-face good times.  It turns out that not only is Robert Smith a good-to-great neo-psychedelic guitar player and arranger, but he's also pretty frigging good on the pop hooks and hasn't been afraid to apply himself to styles as wide and unrecommended as disco/techno, Go-Go's bubblegum pop, industrial, and spiky post punk minimalism. The Cure have followed, more or less, a recognizable career arc from the two-minute Wire-y desolation anthems of Three Imaginary Boys (or Boys Don't Cry, depending on the angle of your dangle and the country of your residence), which slowed down and greyed-out until the Towering Mountain of Throb called Pornography showed there wasn't too much further down you could go without it looking like up to me. A thickening of the guitar tone and the addition of big, boomy drum hits and plush synthesizers followed, and the mid-80's showed the Cure dabbling in girl-dance-pop, pure pop, pop pop, pop rocks, soda pop, hip pop, fingerpop, bip-bop and Appalachian mountain bluegrass before returning to mope-rock in the late 80's with Disintegration. They've mostly been playing out the Thick Psychedelia string since then, still play a wack-ass show, still score a hit once in awhile, and Robert Smith is still one of the cuddliest huggy-bears in all of rock music...and one of the few people who's been around 25 years and has yet to truly abandon what makes him unique.

All this interchangeable talk about 'The Cure' and 'Robert Smith' is intentional. Besides a few years there in the beginning, Robert Smith has run his band kinda like another famous British post-punker Smith, Mister Mark E. (of Fall fame)...his band is a rotating cast of various sidemen-types who come and go at random intervals, making keeping track of who's a member at any particular time about as rewarding as going skeet shooting with Stevie Wonder. I'm not even going to's all Robert Smith, and if there's anything we've learned today, it's that Robert Smith kicks ass!


Boys Don't Cry - PVC 1980

I don't have the original UK debut album called Three Imaginary Boys that reportedly sucks more due to the fact that Boys Don't Cry replaces some album material with the singles 'Boys Don't Cry' (later the title of a cross-dressing sex-romp movie I've never seen starring the insectoid Hilary Swank who I find repulsive even when dressed as a young female) 'Everybody's Jumping Everybody Else's Train' (no, I don't know what that means, either), and 'Killing An Arab' (actually killing my sexual desire and destroying my appetite by channeling fucking Albert Camus, another oh poor me Eurotrash icon) and the ultimately Wire-y 'Plastic Passion'.  Boys, however, shows the original Cure band to be in possession of a surplus of variations on the Gang of Four/Wire/Siouxsie/Fall brand of inflamed, no-overdubs, scratchy-guitar post-punk British rock style of 1979, where all sounds are rail-thin and brittle and bear as little resemblance to contemporary vintage hard rock fatness as Nadia Comaneci does to William 'Refrigerator' Perry.  The only problem is that the Cure lack the political drive of the Gang, the singing isn't as good as the Fall or as distinctive as Siouxsie Sioux, and they simply aren't as fucking brilliant as Wire was.  Also, they lack convincing energy, as if they're attempting with all their might to be buzzy and fast and punky when they really just want to mope and play slower than snot, which later albums would bear out as the truth.  These guys were no punks, and they weren't even post-punks...they were so out of it they couldn't even fit in with the oddballs that made up the non commercial new wave scene.

Probably as a result of their self-compromising stance, almost all of the songs are darned formulaic and, while sometimes clever,  are about as compelling as a Beetle Bailey comic strip. Hell, there's only so much you can do with two and a half (or fewer) minor chords strummed through a single undistorted, noiselessly anemic electric guitar while your rhythm section lays out tick-tock behind you.  For all their attempts at bringing the innate musicality of minimalism into the light, they fail to remember that a lot of the work had been done for them on Talking Heads '77.  But instead of paranoiac vocal hooks and lead-singer abandon, we get a shy poking at the guitar and some apathetic lyrics that never rise to the level of audible, much less interesting. Talking of interest, all of it lies in the periodic shifts in tempo and rhythm section dropouts, which verrrryyy raaarrreeeellyy remind one of what the Cure is to become, like the middle section of the droopy 'Another Day', which just about sounds celestial for about 10 seconds before retreating into a dumpy slowed-down version of their usual sound. Anyway, they do conjure a mood, sort of a mild perturbitude best illustrated by the closing 'Three Imaginary Boys', unfocusedly pissed at one's surroundings, but too bored to do anything about it. If rock 'n' roll is a scream, this music is an overloud sigh. Isn't that about what 'post punk' is supposed to feel like? Isn't that what makes it 'post-punk', and not a 'punk'? Like the Carpenters? The fact that the screaming didn't do anything other than make the jocks want to smash heads? Well, there ain't a jock within a thousand miles of this record...

I dunno, I don't dislike this record, and I sure wouldn't want to hear what it would sound like without the singles on it, which are musically 100% more interesting and varied than their UK-refugee counterparts, but I really don't respect the thing. There's nothing on here that distinguishes it as anything other than Just Another Band with the Minimum Amount of Talent Necessary Not To Embarrass Itself, and they obviously aren't built to play songs like this. The Cure just isn't the Cure on here, and only the faintest whiffs of their future are detectable.

Capn's Final Word: Trying to hard to not be themselves. The Cure make pop music they don't want to make sound like music they don't want to hear.

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Seventeen Seconds - A&M 1980

About as complicated as the Pentagon's post-invasion Iraq strategy ('tell the citizenry to form orderly lines so that everyone may be able to get their chance to kiss our boots for saving their ass from an evil dictator. Sell Levis and Bic Razors. Dig holes in ground. Give whatever comes out to the Halliburton corporation.') but somehow more clear-headed than Boys Don't Cry, which often sounded like the band was faking it.  The band sounds too convincingly focused on Seventeen Seconds for this to be anything but genuine. Nah, this is clearly what the Cure is, even if they had to learn a lot of it since last time from debut albums by Public Image Limited and Joy Division. Both of those bands attacked this kind of material with a million times more conviction and intensity than the Cute clan does, and while it was pretty apparent that Ian Curtis was an honest-to-goodness clinically depressed human being a lot of the time, in 1980, Robert Smith was more sullenly 'French' than really suicidal. Sullen. Dumpy. Constipated. In need of a good slapping. But Robert Smith, possessor of a twangy, complaintive singing voice featuring the thickest British accent ever put on tape, middlebrow hero who idolizes other Eurotrash middlebrow heroes, has obviously found his niche.  He just doesn't have the passion or talent to make a decent album out of his gripey feelings, so he ends up making a dull and uneventful one instead. Seventeen Seconds is like one of thse post-everything indie movies - nothing much happens after 40 minutes, but you're sure it's turned out exactly as it was intended. To that end, I'm not mentioning any of the songs, because they all sound exactly alike: Same twinky guitar tone. Same disco-for-sops drumbeat. Same loping tempoes. Hell, I'm not even going to touch the lyrics...just take it on faith that this album, though not necessarily irritating, is about as interesting as spending an equivalent length of time watching C-Span, but not at all as disturbing.

Unlike indie movies, there's no grainly lesbian fuck scenes or long segments of cowboys eating yogurt on Seventeen Seconds, but there is a gay man's assload of wiry, scritchy guitar rock that is so mechanical and rhythmic-droney as to sound programmed by a cheap computer.  The guitar and drums are hypnotic in their syncopated sameness.  The drums are still performed by a meat puppet named Laurence Tolhurst, I think, but they sure remind me of Roland/Boss, if yer askin' me.  I think Bobby just hasn't gotten the hang of firing his bandmates at the drop of a hat yet, so he's kept folks around instead of replacing them with computer programs.  Though they've discovered echo and synth whooshes to tack onto their dinky band sound, they still sound unformed and skeletal, and there's a distinct lack of intensity in their playing that indicates they still don't really know what they're doing on their instruments.

With all of this slowed down ticky-tack, there isn't much room left for hooks, so it shouldn't be any surprise that there aren't any.  Seventeen Seconds' mopey grooves contain about 1% of the drive and density of those found on Unknown Pleasures or, especially, PIL's Metal Box, but there's still a little something attractive about a band with a sound about as thick and mature as a 14 year old Calvin Klein model playing like they're imitating a James Brown 45 being played at 33 rpm.  Robert at least knew where he was headed to, even if he didn't sound much like he knew what he was doing right then.

Capn's Final Word: Being gloomy can't cover up incompetence very well. Well, at least he's not trying to paste a smiley face on anymore.

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Faith - A&M 1980

They improve the production, they vary the tempos (okay, vary it one way, from 'mid-tempo disco lope' to 'snail-snot slothitude') and they finally clarify their vision, but their songwriting is still about as deep as Jessica Simpson with a hangover. This is, however, when the Cure becomes unmistakably Goth with a capital Gaw, as the residual punk rock content reaches just about zilch and the lyrics all start getting the party started regarding funerals, murder, bleeding, dancing alone, Kangols, having mad hit like 'e was Rod Carew, and the carnival, carnival, carnival of lies. Fun times for all the pasty freaks, in other words.  For me, though, though improvements have been made, this is still the sound of apathetic boredom, not tattered emotions. The lyrics, as is the tendency of anyone who is one at heart, sound like the meandering poetic pratter of a 15 year old fat girl. 

To wit:

'I watched
And acted wordlessly
As piece by piece
You performed your story
Moving through an unknown past
Dancing at the funeral party'

...and humpaliciously shaking that thonged dumptruck for the homies like it ain't no thang, too! Come on, Robert...were you laughed at when you tried out for the cheerleading squad and your chubby bootie popped the seam on your bloomers when you tried to do the high kick? This stuff is about as devastating as a Buddy Hackett movie. The words here never transcend the level of 'adolescent whimper', and never once sound as monumentally gloomy as Smith undoubtedly intended them to be. They rely on cliches and contrived descriptions out of, well, gothic novels. Like Giles Goat Boy. Don't worry though, folks...the words would soon improve greatly. Smith was making sure of that by cramming his veins so full of heroin that he made Keith Richards look like Julie Andrews.

Like I said, though, things are definitely on the buildup round here, and while I'd still rather listen to the Raspberries than ever hear Faith again, some developments bode well for the future of the band. I'm happy they've finally shed their last punk vestiges, they've begun to pay more attention to their guitar and synth tones (and 'Primary' they actually make a new one by double-tracking a couple of flanged-out bass guitars and split them between the two channels to make them sound all Terminator) There's a hint of desperation in Smith's voice that wasn't really noticeable before, and the miffed-sounding vocals on the relatively blazing 'Doubt' and 'Primary' and the little melodic flourishes he allows himself on 'The Drowning Man' show his confidence in his pipes has begun to grow. I also respect their desire to crack out of the twinky-rock cage they made for themselves on Seventeen Seconds, and some tracks, especially 'The Drowning Man', seem almost a conscious rejection of that paranoid style.  Unfortunately, though, Faith is nothing more than the first rays of the new rising sun, and the earth is still just as parched and lifeless as it has been.  This is a band in transition to a style that it's still unsure of, and when in doubt they go back to their muttering old tricks that have served them badly in the past. The Cure still has a chronic lack of conviction and confidence, though they'd quickly sack it up and start making some real music for a change.

Capn's Final Word: Still as slow as snail snot, and about as interesting, but at least they're acting like they at least care that they're not very good yet. Fine use of a flanger pedal, I must say.

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Pornography - Elektra 1982

Robert Smith turns the motherfucker up, and sounds as if, at last, he's taken control of himself and his band.  He's taken his newfound energy and created a riveting, hallucinatory trip through the funhouse where the lights are all blood-red and the faucets run razorblades.  This is an album that screams out 'This is Goth, Asshole!' like Robert Smith never would in person, and would serve as a fine introduction to the ways of the black-eyelinered cartoonish-fetishist world of the Goths. Like real porn, though, Pornography is disposable, meant to be used, enjoyed, and tossed out in the trash before your wife sees it, and isn't really meant to be used over and over again (and not because the pages all stick together, neither). At first glance, Pornography blitzes yer senses with the cavernously booming syndrums, the echo-slathered guitar figures, and Robert's anguished yelp, and the initial dose is begins to think that Bobby was finally learning how to communicate his brand of bilespew with a touch of originality and a good dose of energy.  And there was a time, not long ago, when I would've awarded this album an A, if only for the visceral *ka-plow!* of being heaved, without provocation, into the deepest wells of Smith's personal boogieman, headspace, but now I don't quite feel like that anymore.  Repeated listenings (up to a dozen or more per reviewed album for me's hard to find time to review an album, and I've gotta take my chances where I can find 'em, you know? Luckily there's no reason for me to have to put off listening to my music, however, because if I did, I'd for sure be heading for the 'lectric chair by now) indicate that Smith's new impact is more the result of style than substance, and I'm now just about as underwhelmed by the melodies on Pornography as I ever was by the ones on Faith. Goddamn, I mean, I realize things are supposed to be torturously slow, but is there one fucknut of difference between the melodies of 'The Figurehead' and 'The Hanging Garden'? Not on my life there ain't! They've both got just about the same guitar figure ('riff' being too specific of a genus to slap on this kind of echoey three-note twiddle Smith loves so much) and vocal melody, except 'Garden' is about 'all the animals dying' and 'Figurehead' is, I dunno, about the lack of European Common Market regulatory oversight for haddock fishing in North Sea international waters or something. Maybe not. Perhaps it's about sadness. Right...right, that has to be it. Sadness. And, ummm, gloom and stuff. Death! Yeah! Sadness, gloom, and death, the three horsemen of the Apocalypse. Or, rather, the three unicyclists of Shut Up and Quit Feeling So Sorry For Your Damn Self Already-ypse. Right...that's the ticket. Anyhow, they may be about the exact same as each other, but they're also the best two track on the record in terms of memorability. Go figure. Then come back and tell me what you've come up with.

Anyway, it's not like Robert's learned any real new tricks on here. 'One Hundred Years' has a squalling guitar line that would make Kevin Shields cream his Dickies and celebrate by polishing off a 30-pack of hot wings singlehandedly, The title track attempts to use television and war (and, assumedly, televised warfare) as a metaphor for porno for the masses, not necessarily the most original conceit, assuredly, but no less musty than the use of television samples to open the song, kinda like Pink Floyd did back on The Wall a coupla years prior. You think Robert Smith listens to Pink Floyd? Do you think he learned anything from the process? I sure as fuck hope not. 'A Short Term Effect' has some neato Hendrix '1983' vocal echo, but mostly just sounds like a marginally worked up Depeche Mode with someone in the background trying to teach themselves the cello by listening to 'Sister Ray' exclusively. You know, when I make these little 'connections' to other people's work, I'm not necessarily damning the product under review as derivative or unoriginal. I don't even condemn out-and-out stealing a lot of the time. Hell, everyone nicks and tucks from time to time, all I'm saying is that the Cure are tryin' their best to incorporate new shit into their sound, desperate to augment their clearly limited composition techniques with some concealing makeup. They're just not so hot in making the experiments sound integrated yet, and so a lot of the time stuff sticks out like a tuxedo at a NASCAR race. There's plenty of luxurious echoscapes to go along with the slow forcebeat drums, but if I want to hear that, I can just play my copy of War at half speed, can't I?

Alright. Well, what else can I say? This is a rather violent, unsettling record, as unsettling as an album with fake drums and a whiny Limey muppet lead singer can be, anyway. It's quite engrossing, even if the songs aren't really all that great. Though Robert Smith hasn't yet learned how to write very well, he's definitely learned volumes about getting his point across. I wouldn't recommend Pornography to anyone who is easily rattled by what they hear come into their ears, because this is a great album for brooding, obsessing, and hating yourself out loud along to. Or you can just sit back and enjoy the fact that you don't feel as rotten as good ol Bob 'Pudge' Smith does. It's always good to know there's further down you can go.

Capn's Final Word: A plastic passion, maybe, but Robert feeling passionate is better than him feeling simply disgruntled. As long as he's not writing good songs, anyway. It's enough for me, but it might possibly not be enough for most of you.

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Nathan Harper    Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Good review, but I don't really see the connection between 'Hanging Gardens' and 'The Figurehead.' I can usually differentiate all the songs by some sort of "hook" they have. '100 Years' is the most memorable for me mostly because of that torturously repetitive riff and the brilliant opening lyric. 'Short Term Effect' has that echoey, ghostly feel to it, 'Hanging Gardens' is the one about dying animals dying, 'Strange Days' has that memorable guitar hook, and 'Cold' has the cool organ riff. I can never tell what the hell the difference between 'Siamese Twins' and 'Figurehead' is though. Oh well, I suppose you have to give the thing some points just for atmosphere, it's the most depressing thing I've ever heard. And the title track creeps me out...doesn't it sound like the main theme of The Shining? I HATE that movie! Those two little girls are so fucking freaky!!!

The Top - Polygram 1984

Messier than a pothead's junkfood pantry, The Top finds Robert Smith trying to reconcile the two faces of the Cure that have popped up since the last studio album. Pornography had all those beautiful, innocent love songs and pastoral hymns, but he did a 180 with his doinky, stupid Duran Duran for fat girls dance-fluff singles that were soon to be collected on the 1984 Japanese Whispers compilation. How was he going to expand his audience to include teenyboppers with fat wallets and not completely alienate whomever among his hardcore Goth fans who hadn't killed themselves yet? Well, he attempts the impossible on The Top. Call it Japanese Porno, because not only does it fetishize schoolgirls drinking wine glasses full of cold sperm from dozens of different guys, Smitty walks the line dividing those two extremes like a champion waffler, and even if the results end up about as memorable as a bowl of cocoa puffs you ate 16 years ago, it's interesting to hear how Robert got from the wrist-hacking good times of Porno to the pop masterworks of the mid 80's in three turns or less. The first thing I notice that is completely new for a Cure album is drumming that actually syncopates the 2/4 with a conventional snare drum whack, just like your Top 40 John Cooter Meatlickers and Tom Pussy and the Fartknockers do.  In addition, there's audible keyboards playing 'celest' pads and other assorted twinkles, just like your Haircunt 100 and your Bowel Movements in the Dark did during the 'New Romantic' movement of the early 80's. But there's still lots and lots of droney guitar noise and various moments of wussy screaming like on Pornography.  Sound confusing? The whole idea of Pornography was that it took no was music that was designed to be accessible only to people equipped with a certain mindset that could process wailing guitars and thunkity-thunk electro-mechanical drumbeats. There warn't even no doorhandle for the average radio listener, or even the average reasonably-knowledgeable New Wave fan, for that matter.

The Top tries damn hard to have it both ways (which, I guess, would make it a Bottom...nar! nar!) but I think that the goth listeners are going to find it compromised and the Top 40 listeners aren't even going to give it a chance. For one thing, he's now literally speaking directly to fat girls, as he does most obviously on the almost unlistenable 'Piggy In the Mirror', where he caterwauls like he's just caught his love-handle in a door hinge. Secondly, you won't find the Top on the radio because it's about as catchy as a dial tone. I mean, what Duran Duran or Eurythmics fan going to open themselves up enough to accept an album that has zero hooks? And I don't care who you are, I don't think the fairy-wail twee ballad 'Dressing Up' is going to sound good to you. It's as if Robert Smith heard the Carpenters and said 'you know what this kind of music needs? An effette dude with an extremely thick British accent and a tin-earned sense of pitch to sing it. And I THINK I'M JUST THE MAN FOR THE JOB, DAMMIT!!!' Urgh. If he's going to sing pussy songs, he may as well make them sound like lite British Invasion hits (say, like the Zombies), as he does on the following 'Caterpillar', which I can find some cuteness in.

Jesus, this is one of those albums where the best tracks are either the bizarre bastards that walk the Goth/pop line right down over the cliff into uncharted territory or sound exactly like what we got with Pornography.  'Bananafishbones' obviously references Tom  Waits' Swordfishtrombones in title (I can't remember a thing about the Waits album, though I own it, other than it pretty much jettisons anything close to 'song structure' on there. And Tom howls a lot.) and in practice is Culture Club mixed with the Clash and is a wild ride through Mr. Toad's nether quarters. 'Shake Dog Shake' is as clearly defined and brutally effective as the debut, and the guitar riffing almost sounds metallic at times. But most of the rest is just confused like George Bush without speechwriters...Robert Smith's indecisiveness in the face of looming pop stardom probably has more to do with the fact that he still isn't so hot with the writing side of things, and he's able to retreat and rest on his droning gothic formula like a pair of training wheels whenever the road gets a little rough. I just don't think the goth loonies are gonna buy it anymore.

Capn's Final Word: A clunky and junky and not at all well-crafted attempt to popularize goth, or gothicize pop, without actually compromising either one. Whatever it is, it doesn't sound like there's much future in it. 

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Concert: The Cure Live - Polygram 1984.

Live album from the Top-era band that made about as much conceptual sense as Henry Kissinger after having his wisdom teeth removed.  Ahh, well, maybe halfway between Hell and a dancefloor ain't such a bad place to be, because this is a mostly enjoyable little hard-to-find live gem of the still-young Cure band. Due to the fact that he has only two hands, the sound here revolves around Rbt. Smith and his swirly wall of guitars and NOT around synthesized keyboard bingo-bongo that might be expected.  Sometimes, like on the Japanese Whispers refugee 'The Walk', things get pretty far down on the Prophet-5 side of things, but it never gets so hairy and synthy that you can't find your way back to somewhere noisy and violent. The recording is decent enough for something that resembles an import bought for $49.95 from a disreputable downtown independent record store who gouges innocent young record collectors like you and I out of our hard-earned gambling money, but I wouldn't go putting it on your 5.1 surround system looking for transportative powers or anything. The Porno material, especially 'One Hundred Years', doesn't sound nearly as thick as the Top stuff (all those flangers and choruses and shit, along with a shrill mix, render Smith's guitar about as heavy as the ones on the last Jose Feliciano record I heard), and not even in the same postal district as the original Porno studio recording. But 'A Forest' sounds three times as loud and impacting as the Seventeen Seconds version because they make it sound sssssslow despite the best intentions of their poppy rhythm section. This one's mostly just good for showing you and your skeptical 'friends' who thought The Cure was just a wussy bunch of studio-bound geeks with no musical talent.

Capn's Final Word: They grind it out live, cut the heads off the good songs and give the bad ones legs. About what you might expect.

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Japanese Whispers - Polygram 1984.

Right. Robert Smith fires the Pornography band and decides to become a light, dancey pop star with some storebought, accessible pop hooks and a brand new band of flunkies at his side to help grease the rails. Japanese Whispers is actually a collection of an EP called The Wind and a couple of singles from the post-Porno period, but it sounds aeons removed from that ode to blood and chocolate.  Anyone who became a diehard dyed-in-the-black-lace Cure fan with Pornography was no doubt thrown clear off the cliff by hearing these tracks...there's dance beats, very clearly 1984 MTV syndrum ripped-sweatshirt-off-the-shoulder-with-headband-and-Reebok-aerobic-shoes kind of dayglo accessible romp that gave plenty of British musicians bad names back in the early-to-mid-80's. Gone are most of the ragged guitars, and with them much of the really scary atmospherics, leaving the band to embrace its rather wimpy synth textures and sounding quite a bit like your contemporary Depeche Mode...futuristic, maybe, but cobbled together and about as humane as a constipated Donald Rumsfeld. And about as danceable as rocks in a blender. A few of the tracks slip from under the electronic knife unscathed ('Just One Kiss' and 'Lament' f'r instance) but end up sounding like weak Porno rejects. I guess this time around the half-assed attempts at electronicism beat out the half-assed attempts at Gothicism, but not by a whole lot, and I wouldn't go so far as to say I like Smith's intentions here. Possibly the man felt like uber-emotional dirge music was a dead end, but that doesn't mean he has to start sounding like Frankie Goes to Hollywood all of a sudden.

Okay, since this is a collection of singles (only 8 songs! What is this, a Led Zeppelin album?) without so much as a shred of concept or stylistic thread, we'll whip through 'em quicklike. 'Let's Go To Bed' is a post-everything love song where the protagonist essentially says 'okay, you don't care, I don't care, so let's fuck', which is something like Bret Easton Ellis' wildest sex-dream - people so apathetic and ironic they resort to sex as a sort of aerobic exercise to pass the time. Gotta love those 80's, eh? At least people recognized their plasticity back everything is dressed up in pre-faded denim and fake 'retro' styles and sold on the mass market to people who think they're being individualists. Well, I'll tell you one thing: Japanese Whispers sure ain't gonna put you in a mood to stick your neck out much. I feel nothing but a vague urge to sway in slow motion to the fractured disco of 'The Dream', 'The Walk', and 'Lament', all of which take quite a cue from contemporary New Order, a band that had somehow continued to be two steps ahead of the Cure ever since they'd released their debut album as Joy Division. They'd taken gothoc brood music to the very edge with Closer, had their lead singer kill himself, and had quickly made the shift to arch, ironic 80's dance music that somehow embodied the times like nothing outside of a white linen sports jacket with the sleeves rolled up. The Cure just can't top the Order at their own game. The only time a new fusion really sparks up out of all this electrosynthesis is on the closing cabaret 'Lovecats', which almost sounds like a Snoop Dogg track with it's tinkling piano and shifty drumbeat before shifting into a sort of soft shoe shuffle that sounds like the most sincere thing to come out of Smith's mouth. The lyrics, well, they're on the grating side of corny, but isn't that to be expected of a man/boy like Smith, a man who never figured out how to really have an acid tongue...he's just too darn sensitive, man!

Man, Japanese Whispers is just shocking to hear for the first time, especially if you're listening to these things in order. The songs aren't necessarily bad as a group (they're not necessarily any good either, but hell...I'm not complainin' too loudly here) but they're about as lightweight and girly as Pornography was heavy and cold. Still, Robert's pop masterpieces like 'Pictures of You' and 'Friday, I'm In Love' didn't just appear out of thin air...he had to pull his hooks outta somewhere. Whispers just happens to be the place where he first started practicing how to be a memorable songwriter...he's just not doing it yet. If it were up to me, I'd combine The Top and Whispers into a halfway decent transition album rather than a collection of pop oddities on one LP and an album of failed stylistic fusion on the other.  I guess as it is we can simply say that 1984 was pretty much a wash for the Cure and quickly move on down the line to where the real songwriting begins.

Capn's Final Word: Girly dance music...totally incongruous.

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The Head on the Door - Elektra 1985

The first thing I notice on Head is that the Cure sound like a band again, and not just a motley collection of studio hacks brought in to do overdubs and then fuck off to the pub. The songs sound tight and alive, little pop-rock nuggets that wouldn't have sounded so off-base coming from a Big Star or an REM album, or any other power-folk-rock outfit you care to name.  They create a strong, buoyant, jostling sound that is unbelievably confident when compared to any of the albums we've heard so far (including Pornography) The Cure have somehow found a way to finally fix Robert Smith's stylistic rift by tempering the most gloomy aspects and by losing the dance-pop trendy horse pucky that was best left to idiot simulators like Simple Minds.  And when you subtract some of that contrived bullshit, not to mention some of the guitar effects that they hadn't ever really learned how to use effectively (see Spacemen 3 or My Bloody Valentine for further study of how to take the Cure early 80's sound and make it...kaleidoscopic and HUGE) it creates room for some new tendencies to surface...we already mentioned that odd folk-rock thing that pops up from time to time, but there's also a nice Roxy Musicish, romantic Euro-rock feel to this record that's surprising to an old Bryan Ferry fan like myself. You can't just pull that crap out of nowhere...this is music that, first off, is very centered melodically, is professionally and spiritedly performed, and has a little more emotional depth than 'woe is me...I want a cookie'. Of course, so was Pornography, except for the melodic part and the fact that Porno was coming from a very different bin of the produce section, if you 'pinch' my 'prickly pear' for 'freshness', and I think you do.  Door is arranged well, almost always sounds full and warm, and the synergy of the band is infectious.  Show me a geeky pop fan who isn't impressed with the opening single 'In Between Days' (the Cure's first minor ripple on the US airwaves), and I'll show you someone with a heart frostier than Hilary Rodham Clinton's love taco.

Otherwise, I'd like to gripe that, for as nice as Head on the Door sounds, there really aren't that many memorable tunes to file away in your Big Ol' Box of Songs You Remember Because the Cap'n Told You To. Besides the opening 'Days', there's the weird 'Kyoto Song', which is like halfway between Kajagoogoo, 80's King Crimson, and a Philip K. Dick story, but with a real live synthesizer synthesizing a rather synthetic sounding kytoto. And it's long and unsettling, mostly because of the line 'it looks good, it tastes like nothing on Earth, it feels good, it tastes like nothing on Earth, it's so smooth, it even feels like skin, it tells me what it feels like to be new...' Eew! Tastes like skin? Gross! Are you one of those guys who likes to eat sheets of sunburned off his own arms in the summertime, Smith? Gah-rody, mister. You can just keep lines like that to yourself, Chief, and don't come crying to me when you're walking around with your organs hanging out because you just couldn't stop self-cannibalizing, just like Alanis Morrisette did. 'Close to Me' just sounds like Kajagoogoo, and the Crimson and Dick stay at home (no, not the Crimson Dick, which is what I had that one time after I hitchhiked to N'Awlins for the Mardi Gras love-in orgy at the Home for Sexually Deranged Young Women back in 1968. Man, that was a time...and I was lucky enough to remember to inject myself in the genetalia with 500 cc's of pure liquefied penicillin cultures first, too! Oh lucky day!).  'A Night Like This' is pure Cure filler,

 Things pick up for a spell starting with 'The Blood', which features frantically strummed acoustic guitars straight out of Pete Townshend's latest song about being an old useless fuck. 'Six Different Ways' sounds like a theme to a children's television show hosted by a huge carnivorous animal, and Smith attempts high notes that are probably not recommended by your local ear, hoes, and Deep Throat specialist. 'Push' is macroscopic and big-sky anthemic and sounds like what U2 wanted to be on The Unforgettable Fire. Except U2, and most other people who can get themselves out of bed in the morning, wouldn't write songs that hit with the stealth thrill of 'The Baby Screams', which shows off all Smith has learned about arrangement since Seventeen Seconds, which this song nicely updates in it's speediness. The Prince-meets-Throbbing Gristle of 'Screw' is pretty frigging danceable, and 'Sinking' is like a preview to the lush satin pillow of sex-fuck that would be their next album, the double Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. All in all, a fair number of good-to-lame songs, but there's really not a ringer in the whole bunch. Considering that Smith has just recently to write songs in the first place, I wouldn't go and start nailing up the hangin' post quite yet...this is still a light-year jump past what he'd been capable of doing just a year before with the Top, which sucks all the more in contrast.  Listen, pretty much avoid any Cure album made in 1984 for the time being, okay? Maybe when ass-awful songs with flimsy plastic drums and My First Casio demo-melodies come back in style, I'll change my tune. Though I doubt it. Head, on the other hand, is almost guaranteed to please at least to a certain level of hunger satisfaction, and shouldn't be stuck too far away from Disintegration, Pornography, Wish, or Bloodflowers as a first purchase. 

Capn's Final Word: Something like the Cure doing REM doing U2, but better.

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Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me - Elektra 1987

Some moments of pure and utter brilliance mixed with too much filler material that's really just failed attempts at pure and utter brilliance, the double LP KMKMKM (not to be confused with KMFDM, which is just a common acronym for Kreating Music only For the Deutsch Marks, or Keep My Finger jammed Deep in my Mouth, or Khrist, that Ms. Fran Drescher sure can Masturbate!) is like falling asleep next to a couple of really fat naked girls...warm and cozy and liable to make you suffocate before its all over. Plus, with all those twists and turns, it's easy to lose your wallet in there somewhere. Hell, when you're subjected to the hot-cold treatment that the opening feedback-orgy 'The Kiss', which seems to preach the inevitable connection between a screeching wah-wah guitar and the cries hatred of self and others (Smith also says the f-word, as in 'KEEP YOUR FUCKING VOICE OUT OF MY HEAD!!!...I WISH YOU WERE DEAD!!!! I WISH YOU WERE DEAD!!!', which is exactly what I want to say to those DJ's on the Mexican short-wave radio stations my fillings keep picking up on cloudy days) and 'Catch', which is sweet enough to be played on those godawful irritating wedding shows my wife likes to watch. That's the thing with Kiss (no, not the one with 'Strutter' and 'Deuce' on it, you Neanderthal)'s so all over the road Glen Campbell is getting jealous. Sometimes the contrasts are between songs in close quarters, like in this example, and sometimes it's within the same song, like on 'Torture' ( #3 on the list...just so's y'know I'm reviewing this more or less in order because I'm feeling about as creative and original as a Billy Crystal monologue right now), which combines Godzilla synth grunts, some great lead bass playing, and some of Smith's best tortured vocals with a general bounciness and horns, apparently borrowed from Dr.-fucking-John or something. When Rob tried to pull such shenanigans on The Top, I mostly hated the results, but on here I think it's aces, mostly because the melodies are mostly rock-solid.  Sometimes I'm aware of a certain familiarity to this album, particularly as the running time begins to stretch past the 45-50 minute mark. The quantum leap was made between Top and Head on the Door, and he doesn't attempt another one here...this is simply an encyclopaedic investigation of everything the Cure encompassed circa 1987: Uptempo pop rock that sounds like Invisible Touch-era Genesis ('Why Can't I Be You?', another bonanza US hit for the band), brilliant Breakfast Club-earnest pop (title track) droning ambient guitar soup ('The Snakepit!s'), something that resembles Neil Young ('All I Want'), slllooowww, overdramatic ballad fog ('One More Time'), something that resembles Chic ('Hot Hot Hot!!!', which seems to singlehandedly provide the inspiration for every Dave Matthews Band song ever made...and Robert Smith is doing the world's best impression of Bobcat Goldtwaith on the vocal), something that resembles a cross between Page and Plant's Unleaded album and somebody playing ping-pong against the soundbooth wall ('Like Cockatoos'), and a whole mess of songs on sides three and four that sound like repeats of those tracks mentioned above, yet worse.

Things slow down so badly on the second half that Smith begins to steal guitar lines from James Bond movies ('Shiver and Shake') and the Byrds mixed with Glenn Frey ('Hey You') to get his point across. And his point seems to be that besides playing everything, he also wants to please everybody. There's enough bare-nerve classic Summer of hatred on the early tracks to fill whatever quota he feels he owes to his old-school grim fans and enough pure 80's Top 40 pop sounds to successfully expand the audience to include teenyboppers and Yuppies (hell, there's even an Extended Dance Remix of the execrable haircut-rock disco track 'Hey You!!', which is not to be confused with 'Hey Ya!', or 'Hey Joe', or 'Siberian Khatru', included at the end, right after the standard track, which is like 6 and a half minutes of this bitch all added together...what's the big idea with 80's artists thinking a remix is equivalent to a fresh new track, anyway? Remixes are for record geeks and idiots who disco dance in their living rooms.) One can't quite level the charge that Smith has forgotten his roots (not with a track like 'The Kiss' opening this bitch up, anyway), but I've got a sneaking suspicion that Smith was somehow trying to find out where exactly the sell-out line was, though. I honestly don't think he's crossed it, thankfully, and some of his closest brushes end up being some of the better tracks ('Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me' and 'Why Can't I Be You?').  I'm more overwhelmed by the breadth of this thing, plus the fact that there's no conceptual or organizational structure to carry you through.  I won't go through the tiresome old routine of describing how much better this album would be if it were a single sure as hell would be. Just think of the second disc as a bunch of previously unreleased outtakes and you'll be smiling all the live long day at your purchase. Kiss Me x3's main interesting point is also it's main fault - you simply don't know where it's going to take you next, other than to rest assured it's probably going to include an echoplex and a nice helping of British bleating.

Capn's Final Word: Kiss Me could be seen as The Cure's White Album, but only if I get to call Super Trouper ABBA's Tonight's the Night and Psychic, Powerless...Another Man's Sac the Butthole Surfers' Let's Get it On.

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Disintegration - Elektra 1989

Aw yeah, Bob Smith learns how to mope again, but he does it beautifully this time around. Billed as a sort of sequel to Pornography, this is more like a collection of all the best slow songs on Head (more so) and Kiss Me (less so) layered on top of each other in a lush ocean of warm echo and romantic proclamations.  The overall feeling of this record is one of overwhelming width...of big, clear skies and multicolored planets making lazy circles around distant stars.  Smith has found his inner poet, finally, and he goes about making his impressionist vision available to each and every person who isn't afraid of a few blatant synths or girly platitudes on his or her way up to the Promised Land.  He makes a landscape of sound and fits words just vague enough to be evocative no matter where you may be coming from when you put it on. Is it melancholy, desperate, depressive, or is it joyous and life-affirming. make the call. There's parts of Disintegration that sound far more realistically  heartbreaking than anything on Pornography, which is like a sledge hammer compared to this album's straight razor. Porno lacked subtlety and told you exactly how awful you were intended to feel, but Disintegration leaves big ol' spaces you are supposed to fill short, it's a gorgeous, deft piece of artistic expression in rock music on par with any of your favorite Forever Changes, Pet Sounds and Automatic for the People's in eliciting an emotional response without telling you what that emotion is supposed to be. Hell, metalheads and ur-rockers out there might actually get violently angry at hearing it, but if you wanted a reviewer that acted like that you should just go listen to Roland Frantzl all the time.

The main thing I want this review to get across is that this LP is the first time Robert Smith, the guy who startied figuring out what the hell he was all about around 1981, began getting excited about it in 1982, and became a good songwriter in 1985 has finally achieved balance. This guy'd been trying to figure out the proper combination of noise and melody, accessibility and inaccessibility, and light and dark for most of the 1980's, and he finally hit on the answer. He's fused his preoccupations into The Big Cure Sound, not tried to graft them in like someone else's hair plugs. Now 'Spiderman' is not a great song by any measure, and for sure not by any of mine, but I shudder to think what it would've sounded like with a disco drumbeat or with a lame-ass horn section.'s just a sneaky, gripping little song that contrasts the bouncy beatiness of the music with the breathy, explicit lyrics (describing a nightmare about being eaten alive by a huge spider, by the way. Those of you who have been paying attention might be able to add a few more ticks to the left side of your Is Robert Smith Gay? scorecard, by the way. Listen, Head on the Door had too many just-good tracks, and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me was like mindreading a crackhead with ADD (plus had too many just-okay tracks, and too many just-bad tracks, not to mention too many tracks period), but Disintegration is just exactly perfect. I wouldn't even ask for it to be more energetic and intense, like I usually do, because it's just right for me.  Hell, there's even goosebump moments on this record, which hasn't happened to me yet on a Cure album.  For example, let's just mention the moment in 'Fascination Street', otherwise a heavier-than usual epic gangbanger featuring some son-of-'Hundred Years' guitar squalls, where Smith finally reaches the point to which he's been building for several minutes and howls out 'Let's MOVE to the beat, like we know that it's over...' and all at once you realize that this is, in fact, a perfect dance song for two people who can't stand each other any longer (no sarcasm intended here, btw), one that simulates a lot of the pent-up anger and bitterness that sometimes can be used to fuel just one last blast through the night together.  Again, two seconds in an album that most artists can't achieve in a whole career...and this album has more where that came from.

I'm not without my reservations about this album, and I had a little personal argument with myself about whether it deserved an A or an A+ that degenerated into some cheap shots below the belt and finally into one side of my psyche grabbing my neck in a full-nelson until I blacked out and had a nice dream about Peppridge Farm cookies for about 15 minutes. This album sometimes feels about a song or two too long, and there's a definite tendency towards stretching a song out to five or six minutes when a good three and a half would do the dirty deed nicely, thank you very much. I also can't name any of the last three or four songs, much less remember anything about them other than they sound no better or worse than any of the rest of the songs. And, well, just a dab more of the Kiss Me pizzazz wouldn't be completely out of line on a couple of the tracks, especially near the end. Maybe some of the feedback could be turned up, for example...except maybe then this album would end up sounding like Psychocandy, and I wouldn't want that. Except, then I realize that blissing out to 70+ minutes of dreamy, repetitive emo-delia is exactly what is intended to happen, and that in that case, these songs aren't any longer than taste would dictate. But hell, there aren't too many albums I'd rate as highly as this one in the category of 'dense, emotional, dream-psychedelia', and indeed I can't name another album quite like it. Add to that the fact that I really am able to connect with this music, body and soul, in a way that's usually reserved for Rolling Stones country blues songs and Who rock anthems and I begin to believe maybe this is a masterpiece after all.

Capn's Final Word: A masterwork of thick emotions and thick sounds. A smooth trance to the skies...

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Josh     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: A masterpiece. And the song is called "Lullaby," not "Spiderman."

But you knew that.

Mixed Up - Elektra 1990

Because the trenchcoat mafia's gotta get it's groove movin' at least from time to time, we get a compilation album of Cure hits and near-misses that's suited for the disco, just as long as it's the slowest disco known to man.  Not entirely wretched, these are early 90's techno-bop remixes that are pretty much designed to fuck along with (some of the concoctions are 'extended', which I hear is good for the female or females in the group, though that's just a theory, just like the idea of a male orgasm. I mean...I sure have never seen one. Maybe that's just because all I watch is bull dyke porn...those trucker girls really can pee far when they cum, tho!), especially the opening 'Spiderman', which sounds like Mr. Smith has already started without us. I mean, it already was about the most homoerotic song I've ever heard outside of 'Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Your Big, Greasy Fuck Hammer Right Over', but now it's all Robert can do not to actually cover the microphone in Goth Jelly what with all the moaning and sighing that's going on. Thumpa thump thump go the drum loops that may have been fresh in 1990 but have since become irreprievably associated with Enigma (puuuke!) The rest of the tracks are 808'ed right up in similar ways, and for most of them, the 'remixing' consists of stripping away all the guitars and upping the volume on the dance-friendly horns and squiggly noises that were either stuck way under the background or were never there in the first place. Listen, most of the time electronic music isn't a good idea anyway, and when electronics guys start messing with songs that range from okay to flat-out-spectacular, trying to make them fit the prevailing winds of Top 40 fluff-product circa 1990, I'm gonna react darn violently. F'r instance, 'Pictures of You' is transformed into a fucking Milli Vanilli song, and I don't know how they do it, but they make otherwise scorching material like 'Fascination Street' (something that was damned danceable in its original form, if you ask me) into a doinky shadow of itself punctuated by some 'Like a Surgeon'-esque EKG bleeps. 'The Walk' is perverted beyond recognition, becoming something that's suspiciously similar to New Order's 'Blue Monday', which was a much better song anyhow (plus it doesn't have those embarrassing lines about 'looking like a Japanese Bay-bay!!', which never cease to torment my inner hairy-man). Only 'The Caterpillar' is treated with anything resembling care, and it sees a mutation into something quite like Peter Gabriel's contemporary world-beat stuff.

Besides 'Caterpillar' and maybe 'Spiderman', the only track that survives 14 years of dance-beat overexposure is 'Never Enough', which exposes something Robert Smith has kept well-hidden under years and years of delay-pedal sloporama...somewhere along the line he learned how to be a pretty great traditional hard-rock guitar player, and 'Never Enough' spins the motherfucker out with some great Stones-y/Hendrix-y guitar raunch like the mid-90's Primal Scream loved to rip out. Hell, the new B-side boxed set features Smith covering fucking 'Foxy Lady', so the next time I call him a sissy, don't hesitate to cut my balls right the hell off.

And then feed 'em to Robert. He'd probably like 'em, the fag.

Capn's Final Word:  Nothing half an hour alone in a room with ProTools and a copy of Disintegration wouldn't improve on.

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Wish - Elektra 1992

Not that they were ever particularly out of style, but 1992 was a very different year for difficult noise-rock than 1989 was, and Robert Smith may have finally started to get a little of what was due him for creating the entire generation of swirly, heavily chorused guitar landdscape-artists like My Bloody Valentine, Medicine, and Spiritualized (Jesus and Mary Chain? Pa-sha!) that cropped up in the late 80's in otherwise Stone Roses-obsessed Britain. That, of course, isn't even mentioning the whole alt-rock explosion in the US, which made frowning and loud guitars acceptable for at least three or four years before crashing and burning in a big mushroom cloud of Hooties and Cranberries. Disintegration had also pushed the Cure to it's highest worldwide success so far, and massive tours and MTV videos were now the magic words of the day.  Wish goes a long way towards attempting to continue that reign, but also tries to distance the band from it with some really solid, loud material that's too smart to be inaccessible and not dumb enough to become outright hard rock. It does, however, back off quite a bit from the density of Disintegration, and lets the sun shine on through the cracks and lets the kids have a little shiny happy fun for once. I'd say it lets off the hard-ass throttle so much it beats even Head as the least deadening Cure album so far, which isn't to say the music is light at all. Robert Smith the git-tar He-Man steps up and jaws out some of his most tasty licks, biting off deep gobs of sticky feedback and chewing up riffs that sound more Diver Down than Downward Spiral. Okay...not really, and the familiar ol' delay-jangle we're highly familiar with makes several appearances (like on the draggy 'Apart' and the giddy Byrds/REM-homage 'Friday I'm In Love'), but there's more confidence and more playing than we've heard out of Robert before. Listen, it's not gonna take your head off or anything, but the guy's pretty good at his trade nowadays, and has come a darn long way from when he couldn't remember the second chord to fucking 'Killing an Arab'. Disintegration is by far the best Cure album for musical impact and originality, but for guitarwork and melody, Wish is hard to beat. Smith leads these songs, and a lot of the lessons learned from the making of Disintegration have been integrated into making Wish more than the sum of its parts.

Songwise, there's little to really dislike, and some of the moments are career peaks.  'Friday' is a classic pop song that could have been a hit in the 60's, 80's, or even now, and while our more frowny-clown members of the Cure fanclub might sniff at it, but I think it's irresistibly wonderful even if it's earnest and soft-hearted. Hell, it's better than any of the songs on fucking Out of Time, and that album sold like a bazillion copies just because it had 'Losing My Religion' on it. Listen to me now and hear me later...'Friday' can eat the socks right off of 'Religion', so pbblt on you, you stupid early-90's record buyer for preferring the latter.  Now I think Disintegration served notice that Smith had grown up, and Wish shows some concessions to what it takes to, you know, stop being a sniveling childish simp all the time.  'From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea' even seemingly preaches against drugs and drink, which comes as some shock from someone as supposedly opiate-friendly as Smith was. 'Doing the Unstuck', hell, that's pretty much an 'Up With People', let's go get 'em, you-can't-make-it-if-you-don't-try, inspirational Hallmark card that tells us 'it's never too late to get up and go!', without a hint of irony. How are we to take all this u-turning after years of proclaiming to the 'white woman' about spiders and darkness and feeling like a lonely bunny and shit. Hell, I like it! That doesn't mean I reverse my love towards Disintegration or Pornography, but it's cool to hear Robert Smith sound like he's having a great time, and that's what this album is about over everything else. 

As the album moves towards the second half, the proceedings begin to get lusher and lusher, and indeed on 'A Letter to Elise' we begin reaching Disintegration proportions of bombastic gorgeousness. Unfortunately, things get so formulaic as to downright familiar on the sappy ballad 'To Wish Impossible Things', which would sound great if it didn't cop every last little bit of itself from the last record (besides the violin. No violins on Disintegration. Violence, yes, but no violins.) But 'Cut' beats the comparisons by being a classic song, sounding as strung out and wacked as anything on Pornography, but twice as fast and with screaming, mathematical guitar work that would've made the old Robert Smith contemplate becoming a librarian and makes Achtung Baby-era Edge sound like a twelve year old with an echoplex fetish. And the closing track 'End' act, as it should logically act, as a summation of what Wish is...loud, bombastic, psychedelic, and powerful. While it's not the Cure's absolute best, Wish does show them (and him) at a peak of their abilities that's high enough to make me get dizzy and fall down.  Plus, since it's not all darkness and incessant gloom, it's easier for the neophyte to dig right in and hear the world collapse as it does here in glorious fashion.

Capn's Final Word: Slightly rougher, happier take on the world around that's more mature, but more boy-rocker, too.

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Paris - Elektra 1993

Show - Elektra 1993

The early 90's being some sort of a watershed year for concurrently released CD's, what with those two Guns 'n' Roses releases and Springsteen's Fucky Town and Human(s please) Touch (Yourselves as You Listen to This CD, Because That's the Only Way You'll Ever Derive Any Please From It. Dogs Can Just Go Rot, Though) And then there's Show and Paris, which started the whole trend of releasing multiple live CD's from the same tour. Yup, we can blame our Mascara'd Mascot for leading Pearl Jam's record company to believe releasing several dozen live shows from each tour was an astoundingly good idea. Or wait, isn't Pearl Jam on their own label? And isn't the idea of Pearl Jam having their own label pretty funny when you think about it, considering that Pearl Jam's about as indie as a submarine sandwich? Anyway, live doubles used to be some major pinnacle of a band's self-absorption - think The Schlong Remains a Shame or Frampton Comes on his Wife or Love You Live - and live triples were saved for overbearing loons like Yes, ELP, and the Grateful Dead.  Now here comes the Cure, probably not too many people's idea of a live legend based on the previously available material that comprised Concert, which was decent but not revelatory, with what amounts to a live quadruple LP, taken from some 1993 shows in Pittsburgh, of all places. I mean, Pittsburgh isn't gothy! It's, like, cute and kinda Polish and stuff. I guess it's 'rust belt', but all I know from my wife's friend who lives there is that there's a shitload of bike trails. Bike trails are about as dark and foreboding as an episode of the Tellytubbies (and don't go whining to me about how Tubby Custard is Pure Goth, or about how Satanic that sun-baby looks! I KNOW how Satanic the sun-baby looks, okay?!?) You have to go to Detroit or Gary, Indiana, or some rusted out, post-apocalyptic hellhole like Amarillo, Texas (where I am now, btw) that resembles nothing less than The Hub in the Fallout games.  Anyway, now that I actually have to discuss the music available here, I'm gonna take a major obvious copout and plead my Live Album Rule of B+'s, since both of these albums are immaculately performed, sung bravely by Smith, well-programmed and paced, but add not one tickle over the studio counterparts. Again, since I'm not Mr. Photographic Memory, I would hazard to guess that one or two songs might have a slightly lengthened guitar solo section, or maybe the drummer screws up and hits his cymbal twice when he should've hit it once (the incompetent little turd!)(Not really...the rhythm section isn't exciting, but they're rock-solid. I guess playing along with echo-plexes all the time really helps one keep the tempo steady, huh?), but there's not even any interesting between-song babble going on here.  The band stops one picture-perfect version of one of their signature songs (or signature Disintegration songs, or signature Wish songs, or filler Wish songs, or whatever other Wish songs they may have forgotten to play yet) and starts another with just a couple of seconds in between to fix mascara or pull up their thigh-highs or whatever. This is one professional bunch of cats...I wouldn't be surprised if in real life Robert Smith is a regular General Patton with his bandmates, breaking fingers when they blow a cue or whatever. I guess that might explain why he goes through them so fast...

 Okay, so the only real reason one would want to buy these records, other than the fact that they're cheap as fuck to find used because every idiot who liked 'Friday I'm In Love' bought both of them, is that they make a darn fine compilation of the late-80's, early 90's peak years for those of you too wooden to actually go out and buy Disintegration, Wish, and Kiss Me like I told you to. Okay, it's all a bit slick and stadium-ready, and whatever edginess that might've been evident on Concert is quashed underneath the steady march of polished progress with the new band. They're as well-honed as a Rolls Royce, but not quite as willing to break into some ripping guitar solos. As for the difference between the two CD's, I'd say Show has all the poppy hits on it, and has a generally more girly feel, and Paris is the darker, Disintegration-heavy one of the pair. They really sound great all the way through, and I can't really find fault in the song selection here, other than to say that if I ever have to sit through 'The Walk' again, I'm liable to start spewing vomit like a fire hose. Come on, Show and Paris are, quite clearly, pure product, as much or more so than even that fucking Mixed Up bag of snot, but for the Cure fan on a budget, I wouldn't hit your thumbs with a tire iron if you were to use these as a substitute for buying the real albums.

Capn's Final Word: Pristine, well-programmed live performances that can almost not be discerned from the real McCoy.  What's the fun in that?

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Wild Mood Swings - Elektra 1996

A fairly low, disappointed C+, too, because Wild Mood Swings is a fond nostalgic yearning for the fucked-up pop-fractured days of The Top, which to me is rather like having a wet dream about your first root canal. As Wish was more of a collection of songs than a cohesive album, Wild Mood Swings is more of a jumbled mass of different stylistic exercises masquerading as a real, live Cure album than a, well, real live Cure album.  I suppose, now that I think about it, that Robert Smith is limited to having, oh, about three different types of albums.  There's the intense burner, the Pornography or the Disintegration (or, less successfully, Faith and Bloodflowers), albums of such nerve-laid-bare teeth-gritting gristle that define the Cure as a 'goth' band, there's the masterful pop excursions, like Head or Kiss or Wish, and then there's the Boy George albums like The Top and this one, albums that somehow girlify the Cure ideal into something that looks a lot like Mr. Smitty himself...a fat, aging kid with thinning hair and too much messy makeup.  Just not very aesthetically pleasing at all.  Wild Mood Swings is maybe one of the more 'difficult' Cure releases, not difficult like Disintegration, which was just mind-blowingly intense and beautiful, but just sounding like nothing is coming easily whatsoever.  And when things stop coming easily, we start getting U2-aping Zooropa bullshit like 'Club America', where Smith does a godawful Michael Hutchence impersonation while the guitars play wah-wah'ed Mr. Macphisto discotecque over a backdrop so ironic it may as well not even exist at all.  But the fun only begins there... 'This Is a Lie' flips the dick with an incessant barrage of weepy glop (this time addressing religion and how Robert doesn't 'get it'.  that always threatened to lie under the surface of a lot of the superior Cure material that's been released since Head. Well, this time we actually get knee-deep in it, and get to feel the worms crawling over our kneecaps.  But, Jesus Mary Mother of Fuck, nothing prepares us for the Carribean-brand bullshit of 'The 13th', most definitely one of the two or one single worst songs of the Cure's twenty-five-plus year career. Now, I don't know if the Cure would have been able to do a good sluggish straight-faced Samba-thingy (my musica Latina vocabulary is like one and a half words long, so forgive me if it's actually something else) about sodomy, but this certainly isn't it.  Words fail as I attempt to describe this disgusting spew of random horn hits and cloying, overloud singing, but I'll leave it like this.  Imagine Robert Smith, after downing a few cases of Guiness, puts on a sequined cocktail dress four sizes too small and a wadded-up silver-haired wig with chewing gum stuck all up in it, smacks on some Wet 'n' Wild lipstick and a couple of pounds of Revlon's Extra Runny Mascara, and heads on down to the Havana Club, stumbles up onstage with the house band, and does a Ricky Ricardo impersonation while simultaneously beating away security guards and urinating on himself.  Something along those lines...

Luckily, things never dip as low as that sick first sequence (not counting the opening 'Want', which is hopeful and acceptable in that noisy Wish kind of way), but nothing reaches the level of goodness that's marked everything since the second disc of Kiss Me bored me half to death back ten years before. 'Mint Car' isn't 10% of 'Friday I'm In Love', 'Gone' isn't 'The Spiderman', and 'Return' isn't 'Hot Hot Hot!' all of which are faintly echoed by these songs, and 'Round, Round, Round' and 'Trap' sound like the most archetypically fillerish Cure songs since Head on the Door defined such things. In fact, the whole second side is packed with single-word titles ('Gone!', 'Trap', 'Treasure', 'Bare') that fail to distinguish themselves even one little Heidi Klum. Wild Mood Swings isn't just's depressing.  Is Robert Smith so cashed out in his creative bong as to go sifting through his old ashtrays for the odd seed, the little bit of shank that might be used to cobble together the least impressive Cure album since the Top? It sure seems like it from what's evidenced here. I guess you just have to ask yourself if buying an album of the Cure rehashing old glories boringly is worth your hard-eared spare change and spare time.  This is one I'm sure I'll never want to put it on again too soon...even the fans aren't convinced by it.

Capn's Final Word: God, when he gets messy, he gets downright discombobulated.  Why can't he experiment in style?

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Bloodfowers - Elektra 1999

Okay, can we all agree that Robert Smith's last big unmitigated bonanza hit-bomb masterpiece was Disintegration? And that Wish was the last time he attempted anything truly new and interesting? And that we all took a few steps back and wondered if it was all over around the time of Wild Mood Swings? And that Bloodflowers, allegedly the third in a dark 'trilogy' with Pornography and Disintegration, is not only far inferior to both of those classic releases, but is also about as derivative and unimaginative as Jack Black doing his stupid ironic Meat Loaf impersonation for the 50,000th time? Okay...well then, through the power of suspended disbelief invested in me by the State of Texas and the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States of America, I declare Bloodflowers to be a darn good album that no Cure fan will easily be disappointed by, regardless of the above disclaimers.  Why be so picky that each album has to be something extremely exciting, when I'm so damned happy to hear a solid release of high-tech swirly tracks like what's given to us here. All of the idiotic day-glo yelling that categorized Wild Mood Swings gives way to a subtle whisper and some of the lushest shoegazer guitar-textures outside the first side of Disintegration. Sure, it's overlong and lacks pretty much any big, memorable song to carry it through...when I'm done with Bloodflowers, I know I've heard the Cure, dammit, and not just because of that heavily treated picture of Smith that cackles out from the CD cover, either. Smith sings about flowers dying and birds tweeting and cold rays of summer and other fugitives from a high school poetry club collection, just like he always has, and the grimy, echoey undulations of his ever-present guitar poke just the same buttons they always have.  There's maybe slightly more acoustic guitar underpinning, and the drums always sound like the product of drumsticks rather than hard disks, leading to a more organic tone than we've had for some time.  And though we may have heard it before, I don't doubt Smith's undying an old guy he certainly sounds more believable expressing confusion at the lawlessness of nature than he does talking about having lots of hot sex or whatever he was blathering about on the last album.

As for the comparisons to 'The Big Two', all I have to say is that Pornography was born of a deep and real pain on the part of Smith and his drug use, and sounds as real as an icepick to the forehead and Disintegration is the culmination of years of preparation and false-starts by every creative bone in Smith's body. Bloodflowers is the product of practice and craft rather than inspiration and emotion.  It's highly calculated, as if Smitty brought out his slide rule and pocket protector to precisely pinpoint the exact necessary location of each and every little feedback whistle or unguarded whelp.  He obviously hyped it up as a masterpiece because he desperately wanted it to be one, something that would make up for almost a decade with nothing more than one unpopular studio album, a greatest hits package, and two live albums to show for it.  Not shockingly, though, Bloodflowers isn't a masterpiece, it's prime solid artistic product halfway between a manipulation and a display of powers.  Hell, it isn't even 'great', but I can say that I buy into the wistful soar if 'The Last Day of Summer' just as much as I do the Enigma-electronic thinness of the brittle 'Loudest Sound', which is to say, I like 'em just darn fine, thanyouverymuch.

Hell, maybe my sights have been set too low on this band all along...their only true flawless gem is Disintegration, and everything else they've ever done is either building up to that peak or winding down from it, and while the descent on Bloodflowers isn't so steep as on Wild Mood Swings, the simple fact that Robert Smith is recycling an entire sound decently rather than a bunch of individual songs is still enough for casual fans to probably be bored to death by Bloodflowers.  Which is why I give it a B+...I personally get a nice kick out of the great production and singing, and while there aren't any great songs ('Maybe Someday' is the closest thing to it, but still sounds like a forgotten, second-tier track by 1989 standards) there aren't any bad ones either.  Listen, my particular standards, if you haven't figured it out already, aren't too complicated - don't embarrass me, don't outright bore me, don't offend me, and don't treat me like an idiot, and chances are I'll at least give you a B. Well, Bloodflowers gets a B+, which means there's some 'there' there, even if it's a hard fucking thing to track it down and figure out what exactly it is.  Perhaps I like Bloodflowers because it doesn't demand close analysis with a pair of tweezers and a high-powered microscope...and maybe it doesn't deserve it, either.

Capn's Final Word: Umm, well it's damn sure the Cure, but wasn't the Cure never sure what the Cure was before?

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The Cure - Elektra 2004

Who woulda thunk, 25 years or more down the line, that Rubbery Smith and his rotating band of ladyboys would come out with an album that's almost too intense, almost too angry, and almost too abrasive? Man, considering that Bloodflowers was supposed to have been the Return of the Jedi to Pornography's Star Wars and Disintegration's Empire Strikes Back (Japanese Whispers being, I suppose, the band's Ewok Adventure), we had every right to expect a 2004 Cure album to be a return to the unabashed sissy pop of the mid-80's era that was hinted at on Wild Mood Swings. This sure as hell isn't that (though it's not without it's unabashedly poppy moments), but what it is happens to be proof that while the Cure's days as the premier soundscape artists of the early 90's may be over, they still have plenty left for fans to crack secret wry smiles at. They go for busted-vena cava screams of pain rather than craftsmanship....the guitar tones are nearly grungey in their crudity, and Robert Smith howls and yelps like he's been strapped into the driver's seat of Dubya's torture chamber and left there to scream away a few extra pounds.

Actually, this album's gotten to be like an old pal to me now, since I've had it sitting and rotting on my hard drive for probably close to 4 months now, and whenever I need to take a little break from the Neil Young I've been reviewing, I'll put on The Cure and listen to Smith squelch out 'Get my fucking head out of your world!!' (on 'Us and Them') or whine about some crumbled relationship or another, of which there seem to be several on this record. Man, for a guy with more lipstick than Betty Boop and a softer ass than Betty White, Robert Smith sure seems to get a Hefty Man's share of the sweet sweet jelly roll. Not to mention somehow getting by with blaming them all for their failed affairs, which seems to happen a lot this time around.  If anything, it's interesting to hear our boy act a bit macho, y'know? He screams out 'She will never be the one for me...she will never be enough!!' and pretty much stands up for anyone who's less than enthused at the...erm....shall we say 'Teutonic' worldview of the current leadership in the US and Britain on the raging 'Us Or Them'.  This is also one of the few, if any, Cure albums I can name that aren't really in any way gloomy or depressed - Smith doesn't seem to be walking on the sunny side of the thoroughfare or anything like that, but the teeth are gritted and the guitar strings sound like they’re being wrapped around some cheating bitch's neck during the 8th minute of 'The Promise'. Something tells me that promise wasn't kept, hmmm?

After about ten bazillion listens of this album, I'm still not convinced of the melodic content of much of it, and a lot seems to have been derived from Smith getting frothy angry, putting down a couple of tracks on his own, and then hiring a bunch of suitably glowering session men to come in and play ass bongos all over them. The songs sound great when they're on, but I wouldn't go so far as to call them too memorable. Stream of know. Kinda like this review that I've been trying to write for half an eternity already, except, you know, people will actually pay money to hear The Cure and my webspace is in constant danger of being revoked without warning and given over to some lady showing off her collection of Beanie Baby S&M torture photographs. Still, good stuff, and far more kicking than I expected, certainly. So get 'em while they're hot, smokers 'n' smokees, because any day now Robert Smith's gonna wise up and realize that people are gonna buy whatever crap he puts out, and the minute that happens, U2 and R.E.M. will find they have themselves a new pal in the 80's alt-dinosaur cash-in sweepstakes. Until then, God bless the acid that pours through Robert Smith's veins.

Capn's Final Word: Roid rage? Quite probably. Cure crunch rock that'll knock your breath out, if not your socks off.

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