soundstreamsunday: Entreat by The Cure

cure_entreat-812x1024The Cure’s Disintegration is a lush, beautiful masterpiece. When it was released in 1989, the band was cresting a wave of popularity, and rare was the college dorm room in America that didn’t have a copy of their singles comp, Staring at the Sea (1986), sitting next to the deck, while Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (1987) was radio ready.  Robert Smith had become an unlikely hero, a post-punk goth who had paid his dues and, with a colossal songwriting talent, was reaping the rewards of someone who virtually created his own genre.  Nobody else sounded like the Cure.  Neither psychedelic nor prog nor punk, but fearless in their approach, comfortable in their painted skin.  On Disintegration the band slows the tempos, backgrounding Smith’s economical lyrics with huge keyboard/guitar drift pieces that seem to exist in the gloaming.  A perpetually wilting flower, the first-person character in Smith’s work has had a long shelf life, and would rot if it weren’t for Smith’s genius with song and his ability to effortlessly write pop hits at will.  Entreat is from the tour supporting the album, recorded at Wembley in ’89, and consists of the all the songs on Disintegration in the same running order.  It had a very limited release originally, but pieces of it emerged here and there on CD singles taken from Disintegration (I first heard parts of it on the Pictures of You EP), and was eventually, finally bundled with Disintegration on the 2010 re-release.  Entreat was a bold move, a full performance of a newly-released record, and demonstrates just how confident Smith and his band were in the new songs.

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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.