Mini-review: The Cure, “Disintegration”

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 WhispersHead 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 LoveSpirit of EdenThe Color of SpringThe 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.

3 thoughts on “Mini-review: The Cure, “Disintegration”

  1. I always found the Cure’s music uplifting, with a sense of humor missing from a lot of gothy new wave. This is their summit, you are spot on. All the songs hang together as of a piece, and there’s a languid looseness and meditative feel that make it their most musically complete record. That Wembley show on the re-release, where they play the entire album live, is great. Part of it was released on an EP years ago. Wonderful to hear the whole thing in its entirety.

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  2. A great album that I admit I didn’t really get into until just a few years ago. For some reason, the Cure just slipped under my radar in the ’80s. I have a soft spot for the Paris live album as well. There are some fine performances of their more obscure songs.

    For a trip down memory lane, Google has digitized all the back issues of Spin magazine. Here’s one from 1988 with Robert Smith on the cover:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=kSEbtY6IkTgC&printsec=frontcover&lr=&rview=1#v=onepage&q&f=false

    The ads are a hoot!

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  3. Brad, a great article about a superb album and in my view a truly ‘progressive’ band. Being a bit older than you (!) i first saw them at Uni freshers week in 1980 and was captivated by ‘A Forest’ and ‘Play for Today’ from their recently released album Seventeen Seconds. At the time I thought they were so cool and adopted a very similar image to Robert Smith (minus the eyeliner i might add !) I also had the good fortune to spot a young lady who became my first serious girlfriend. I have seen them so many times and am rarely disappointed. I still think Head on the Door is their best, a return to form after Pornography and The Top but I agree Disintegration is superb as well as the later Bloodflowers. Personally I like the fact that RS produces catchy pop songs as well (his alter ego ?) – many people don’t realise how many he wrote in the 80s. But I agree I would prefer them ‘off’ the albums (many of them are) as they dont always fit in. The albums have always been challenging, dark, moody, gothic (Faith), gloomy…certainly reflecting his view of the world not helped by ‘dark’ substances. RS is not the most engaging character and many fans in the UK have been disappointed by the numbers of shows played here in the last 10 years. However, I thought they were outstanding at the Reading festival this year and he even acknowledged the crowd !!! – music needs people like RS.

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