Two years ago, an issue of WIRED hit me hard. Page 55 especially intrigued me. “What’s wired this month” featured the following: “The Cure:Disintegration, deluxe addition — everyone has a favorite Cure album, but anyone who says Disintegration isn’t the best should have their black eyeliner confiscated. The 21st anniversary of this goth-pop classic from godfather of gloom Robert Smith is being celebrated in style. The three-disc set includes rare tracks and a live Wembley Arena recording from 1989.”
21 years? Simply astounding to me at the time I read this. Now, two years later, I’m still astounded. We’re coming up on the 25th anniversary of the album.
I have owned and listened to Disintegration for roughly half of my life. It came out right before the Berlin Wall fell (no connection, as far as I know; though, the title of the album is telling), the summer between my junior and senior years at Notre Dame. What had come before—Japanese Whispers, Head on the Door, etc.—was really good, and I had played each frequently on my turntable. But this 1989 album—Disintegration—ranks up there with Security, Hounds of Love, Spirit of Eden, The Color of Spring, The Flat Earth, Heaven Up Here, and Ocean Rain as one of the best albums of the 1980s. This wasn’t typical rock, “music with an attitude,” but music as art. It still is.
When pushed on this, I have argued Disintegration is one of my top 15 non-classical albums of all time. Though the older I get, the less taken I am with such rankings, even my own. But Disintegration? Is there a flaw in the album? Nearly every note is perfectly placed, and the music holds together beautifully from the opening track, “Plainsong,” to the strange finale, “Untitled.” Lyrical intensity, driving bass, timeless keyboard work, and even some periodic optimism, ala Eliot, fashion, predominates on the album. The Cure’s great flaw is their attempt (commercially lucrative, to be sure) to write bouncy pop songs. While songs such as “Friday, I’m in Love,” are fun, they have absolutely no staying power. If I never hear any of these pop songs again, I will not be sad.
But, “Disintegration” avoids all attempts at commercialism. It succeeds brilliantly.
There are some truly weird songs on the album, such as “Lullaby.” Taken in isolation, “Lullaby,” would not be special. But, in the context of the album, it is stunning.
Many people, especially those older than I am, tend to think of Robert Smith only in terms of nihilism and drugs. These things about Smith are undoubtedly true.
But, frankly, I find much of his work haunting and inspiring. I would much rather spend time listening to Smith’s 1981 Gothic anthem, “Faith,” then any song/hymn I know of by either Dan Shutte or Marty Haugen, modern Catholic drivel. Raised Roman Catholic himself, Smith — no matter how drug-induced his music and lyrics are — possesses a rare sense of the contemplative and even, dare I write it, the liturgical. Thankfully, his music never gets political, but it is always intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally stimulating.
Though the Cure achievesthe creation of some profound moments on their following albums, about 1/2 of Wish (1992), Bloodflowers (2000), and The Cure (2004), Smith and co. never quite reached the level that they established with Disintegration.
1989’s Disintegration serves as the adagio of the Cure trilogy: beginning in 1982 and ending in 2004. To me, the album only has one serious flaw — the few seconds of silence between each song.