Although The Cure were lumped in with Goth Rock and had a sea of powdered skin, thick black eyeliner and raven-haired heads undulating at their live shows, they never became a parody of themselves. The Cure had more substance and sonically reinvented the band through psychedelic rock, dance music, and even wonderfully written pop singles alongside the ethereal dirges. Despite the mutating line-up changes, The Cure are still going strong, and that just goes to show they have never been a ‘jump-on-the-bandwagon’ type of act.
Legend has it that on several occasions Smith tried to ‘kill the band’ by jarring Cure diehards like myself with more commercially accessible tunes such as ‘Let’s Go to Bed’, ‘In Between Days’ and ‘Why Can’t I Be You?’ Head on the Door and the ensuing Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me were their most commercially successful albums up until that point and featured some jaunty numbers that opened the band to a wider audience. They then embarked upon a lengthy sell-out worldwide tour, but it was a rough time for the band, due at least in part to original drummer turned keyboardist Lol Tolhurst’s heavy drinking. When they returned there was a double teenage suicide in a nearby town. The Cure’s music had been played during the act.
The mood was not too chirpy when they entered the studio to record their eighth album. Smith was pressuring himself, as he was about to turn thirty and was aware that many of the greats such as Hendrix, Bowie and The Beatles had already achieved an opus before they hit their fourth decade. Once again he considered breaking up the band and played his fellow members the more introspective and personal songs he had penned for the new record. Even though he would have been happy recording on his own, the other band members were enthusiastic about the new tunes, and they re-enlisted producer David M. Allen, with whom they had worked since The Top days.
Once again Tolhurst’s drinking became a liability and after very little contribution he left and was replaced by keyboard player Roger O’Donnell whose textured layers of synths became a trademark sound of the new album. Most unwelcomingly, Smith instigated a communication breakdown and was creating an unpleasant atmosphere with his monk-like silence. It is little wonder the resulting album was coined Disintegration.
The double album is certainly less upbeat than their previous two and almost feels like it runs in slow motion in contrast. However, even if most of the themes rotate around despair, there is a devastating honesty and hypnotic beauty that appeals to listeners who want to really feel music. Sonically, it has a grand, lush, orchestral flair that underpins Smith’s incurable sense of melody.
The Cure’s American label Elektra was not too impressed with the new album, dubbing it “commercial suicide” and “willfully obscure”. But three million fans cannot be wrong and Disintegration became the band’s biggest success, charting high in both the UK and USA.
Sitting alongside some of the gloomier tracks is the heartfelt and beautiful ‘Lovesong’, which Smith wrote as a “cheap and cheerful” wedding present to his fiancée Mary Poole. Reggae rockers 311 and soul siren Adele each have wonderful interpretations, proving this song stands on its own accord.
Smith and The Cure obviously wanted the listener to be immersed in the recording and to hear the details and subtleties as the liner notes state “This music has been mixed to be played loud so turn it up.” Now that does not sound too dour, does it?
Recorded: Nov 1988-Feb 1989 at Hookend Recording Studios, Oxon
Produced by: David M. Allen, Robert Smith
Released: 2 May 1989