Robert Smith–The Cure Redux!

Cure Disintegration
1989’s DISINTEGRATION.  Still waiting for its proggier sequel.

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love The Cure–at least the non-bubbly Cure.  P—ography and Distintegration are two of the greatest albums of the rock era.

Needless to write (or, maybe, needful to write), I found this interview with Smith somewhat disturbing and a bit painful.  How he’d can’t recognize his own influence on at least two generations of those of us living in western civilization is simply beyond me.

And, Robert, please–just go full out prog and experimental and artsy on the next album.  What do you have to lose!?!?!


Unapologetic hippie prog!

The older I get, the more I love the past, even as I’m profoundly enjoying the present.  2017.  It has a nice sound.  2017.  Looking back over the years of which this current one is an important anniversary (ok, not the best writing in the world), I can’t help but think of several important years and albums that spring to mind immediately.

Continue reading “Stardust”

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.

soundstreamsunday archive and playlist

Some Random Prog Thoughts

Press play.  Repeat.  Thank you, Glass Hammer.

My apologies for being so quiet for a bit now.  After the great visit by the Reverend John Simms and his beautiful bride, Jude, I’ve been working on tons of things not directly related to music or to progarchy.  Mostly classes and lecturing, but quite a bit of traveling as well.

Yet, at the back of everything, prog keeps reminding me what matters most in the world–hearth, home, kids, my students, beauty, truth, and goodness.

I’ve been rather obsessed with a few albums through the first third of this academic semester: Glass Hammer’s VALKYRIE; Marillion’s FEAR; and SAND’s SLEEPER.  If you’ve not gotten these yet, please do so.  They have  been in constant rotation.

Continue reading “Some Random Prog Thoughts”

The Catholic Imagination of Roland Orzabal: Tears for Raoul

Review retrospective: Tears for Fears, RAOUL AND THE KINGS OF SPAIN (Sony, 1995; Cherry Red, 2009).

Twenty years ago, Roland Orzabal (born Raoul Jaime Orzabal de la Quintana to an English mother and a Basque/Spanish/French father) released the fifth Tears for Fears studio album, RAOUL AND THE KINGS OF SPAIN.

Overall, we should remember, 1995 was a pretty amazing year for music—really the year that saw the full birthing of third-wave prog.

Raoul's mythic mother.
Raoul’s mythic mother.

Not all was prog, of course, but there was so much that was simply interesting.  Natalie Merchant, TIGERLILY; Radiohead, THE BENDS; Spock’s Beard, THE LIGHT; The Flower Kings, BACK IN THE WORLD OF ADVENTURES; Marillion, AFRAID OF SUNLIGHT; and Porcupine Tree, THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS.

As the time that RAOUL came out, I liked it quite a bit, but I didn’t love it.  The first five songs just floored me, but then I thought the album as a whole fizzled in the second half.  Or course, when I write “fizzled,” I mean this in the most relative sense.  Even Orzabal’s weakest track is far better than most musicians will ever achieve in and with their best.

So, I’m judging one TFF song only with another by TFF.

There’s a bit of interesting history behind the release of the album.  This would be the second of only two albums that appear under the name Tears for Fears without Curt Smith.  Whereas the first, 1993’s stunning ELEMENTAL dealt with the breakup of the twosome, RAOUL tells a mythical story about himself.

More on this in a bit.

So, not only was this the last album without Smith, it was also the first album on the new label, Sony.  Previously, Tears for Fears had shared label space with Rush: on Mercury Records.  Mercury had gone so far as to release promo copies of RAOUL, complete with different artwork and a different track listing.  I’ve never actually seen a copy of the Mercury promo, but I’d love to get my hands on one at some point.  Instead of the tracks “Hum Drum and Humble” and “I Choose You,” the original listing had “Queen of Compromise.”

Since its official release in 1995, there have been three different versions of the album: the Sony 12-track original; a deluxe cigar box edition; and the 2009 Cherry Red edition—the original release remastered, five b-sides, and acoustic versions of the tracks “Raoul and the Kings of Spain” and “Break it Down.”

Not surprisingly, given Orzabal, the b-sides are every bit as good as the full-blown tracks, and the acoustic version of “Break it Down” is quite moving with its additional line: “No more walls of Berlin.”  My favorite of the b-sides is “War of Attrition,” a martial exploration of relationships that simply slide out of existence.

Though written and produced in a post-LP/vinyl world, RAOUL has, for all intents and purposes, two sides.  Tracks 1 through 5 make up the first side, and the seven remaining tracks, bookended by versions of “Los Reyes Catolicos,” make up the second side.  This isn’t surprising either, given that SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR and ELEMENTAL have the same structure.  Orzabal has never embraced the term “progressive,” identifying it with Pink Floyd, but he is certainly the most experimental pop musician alive—rivaled only by Paul McCartney, Robert Smith, Andy Partridge, and Peter Gabriel.  From my perspective, Orzabal is the greatest living pop musician, but I think this would be open to debate.  And, of course, the debate would demand a proper definition of pop.

Side one of Raoul is jaw dropping.  The first time I played the second track, “Falling Down,” for fellow progarchist, Kevin McCormick, back in late 1995, he replied, “Wow.  It’s just so earnest.”  I’ve never read or heard a better description of the song.  It is, utterly and essentially, earnest.  There exist both revelation and humility in the song, perfectly intertwined.

Some of us are free

Some are bound

Some will swim

Some will drown

Some of us are saints

Some are clowns

Just like me they’re falling down

All five songs of side one—again, as I’ve defined the sides—flow so readily from one to the other.  No break in sound.  Essentially, these are five parts of a single track.  While my favorite track is “Falling Down,” “God’s Mistake” is also a standout.

And, frankly, so is the finale of side one, “Sketches of Pain,” an obvious and intelligent allusion to Miles Davis’s “Sketches of Spain.”  As with “Falling Down,” this track is confessional without mere navel-gazing.

Side two, gives the listener snippets of what can really only be described as a mythic autobiography.  And, yet, despite the autobiographical nature of the entire album, side two seems to look at the life of the protagonist from a broader perspective than side one.  If side one is confessional, side two is almost historical and analytical.

What if, as family history has suggested, Roland had been Raoul, descendent of the Catholic kings of Spain?  Naturally, this side begins with a version of “Los Reyes Catolicos”:

When time is like a needle

And night is the longest day

A home is a cathedral

A place where a king can pray

Ghosts all gone

Ghosts all gone

The following track, “Sorry,” explodes into a bitterness that emerges every once in a while in TFF songs.  Accusations and questions fly.  “Do you love or do you hate?  Why do you hesitate?”

“Humdrum and Humble” begins with an experimental loop before transforming into a clever pop song.

“I Choose You,” a piano ballad of emotional depth follows.

Immediately after comes an up-tempo song filled song effects as well as some appropriate absurdities, “Don’t Drink the Water.”  This is pure pop sweetness.

The penultimate track, “Me and My Big Ideas,” sees the return of soul diva, Oleta Adams.  Much as they had on “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” she and Roland offer a meaningful—if not downright profound—duet, balancing the strengths of each other well.

The album ends with a softly building version of “Los Reyes Catolicos.”

My blurry picture of TFF in Denver, June 2015.
My blurry picture of TFF in Denver, June 2015.

Like all of the music of Tears for Fears, this album holds up very well, even after twenty years.  Indeed, the flaws I thought I perceived when this album first came out simply don’t hold up.  I don’t think the flaws have disappeared as much as I simply didn’t understand or appreciate what Orzabal was doing in 1995.

In hindsight, I appreciate the art and the choices he made to make this art.  Not that he needs my appreciation, but Orzabal certainly has it.

Remember 1992? The Cure or Dream Theater as the Future of Prog?

For me, the only great thing to come out of the Mike Portnoy/NHS controversy (which doesn’t seem like it should have been a controversy, at least to this American) was that it re-awakened my interest in Portnoy’s time in Dream Theater. I’ve followed him almost religiously in his non-DT efforts (Transatlantic, Neal Morse Band, Flying Colors), and I think the world of him—as a person and as a drummer. Yeah, he’s got a bit of a temper—but he seems to let it run wild only when life calls for it to run wild. I can’t really blame him. Plus, the guy is so outstanding in what he does, I can’t help but admire him. I would give a lot to have his restraint, frankly.

dt images words
The first prog metal album, IMAGES AND WORDS.

But, my point in this post is not about that “controversy.” Instead, that moment in England caused me to pull out all of my Portnoy-era Dream Theater, 1992. I’m not what you’d call an intense fan of Dream Theater, but I have purchased every single album (studio, live, ep) as it’s has come out since IMAGES AND WORDS.

When I first got IMAGES AND WORDS, I was impressed with it. I listened to it with fervor, but, even then, I really loved side two and I really didn’t love side one.

Remember 1992?

1992 was a great year for music, but it was an uncertain year for prog.

cure wish
Half prog (in a Traffic kind of way), half wacky pop. WISH.

At the time, The Cure’s WISH seemed as likely a candidate for inheriting the mantle of prog as did Dream Theater’s IMAGES AND WORDS. In hindsight, it’s easy to give the award to Dream Theater, but not so easy in 1992. Go back and listen to “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea,” but also listen to “Open,” “Cut,” “To Wish Impossible Things,” and “End.” There’s a LOT of prog on that Cure album. Plus, I would consider DISINTEGRATION a prog album. My point: if you listened to Dream Theater (metal prog) and The Cure (pop prog), it was impossible to determine who was more prog.  At least in 1992.

Add the albums from Phish, Pearl Jam, and U2 that year.

A lot could’ve happened.

Well, here we are 23 years later. Thanks, Mike. You paved the way then and you continue to do so.

Covering Steven Wilson

A review of Steven Wilson, COVER VERSION (Kscope, 2014).  12 Songs total: Thank You; Moment I Lost; The Day Before You Came; Please Come Home; A Forest; The Guitar Lesson; The Unquiet Grave; Sign ‘O’ The Times; Well You’re Wrong; Lord of the Reedy River; An End to End


Steven Wilson is nothing if not interesting. Vitally so. Everything he does matters in some way to the contemporary world of music. He’s even made it somewhat big, at least by alternative and prog standards.

This brand new release from Wilson is a compilation—slightly redone—of cover versions (not surprisingly) of some of his favorite songs over the past two decades. Several of the songs he recorded in professional studios, he notes. Others, he recorded in hotel rooms as a form of music diary. I am exactly two months older than Wilson. Though I lived in Kansas and he in England in the 1980s, it’s pretty clear that we grew up with the same music in the same era. He, himself, notes this in his choices. Songs covered come from Donovan, Abba, and The Cure, to name just a few. Some of the songs, such as Wilson’s version of The Cure’s A Forest are deeply electronic, while others very much feel like the acid folk he produced with Storm Corrosion.

In many cases, Wilson’s versions are superior to the originals. In all cases, they are worth listening to.

Wilson has never been shy about borrowing from others in his music—Pink Floyd in early Porcupine Tree, U2 on his first solo album, and Andy Tillison (to the “nth” degree) on his most recent solo album (THE RAVEN THAT REFUSED TO SING sounds very much like a The Tangent album from roughly 5 or so years ago).

It’s great to see Wilson openly name his sources and proclaim his heroes with COVER VERSION. In particular, his take on A Forest makes the entire album worth purchasing. But, then again, this is a Steven Wilson release. No matter what he does, we need to pay attention.

Our Progarchist Week

GlassHammerPerilous2012borders_001Just in case you missed any of this, we had yet another brilliant week at Progarchy.  Dr. Nick and Alison Henderson reviewed the new Steve Hackett album, Genesis Revisited II (Insideout).  Tad Wert posted about guitarist Michael Hedges.  Chris Morrissey reviewed (briefly) one of his favorite albums of the year, the debut album from Flying Colors, and he posted about the excellence of Mike Portnoy.  I had the great privilege of interviewing Blake McQueen of Coralspin.  Ian Greatorex (doesn’t everyone want an ubercool last name such as Greatorex?) looked at the past of Beardfish.  Roger O’Donnell remembered his time recording Disintegration with The Cure.  Jazz legend, Dave Brubeck, passed away, the day before turning 92.  Carl Olson offered a nice review of his career.  Finally, our Englishman, turned-Kiwi, Russell Clarke, explained why Big Big Train allows him to remember, fondly, his homeland.

Forthcoming, more reviews of Steve Hackett (at least one more, maybe two) as well as a review of the forthcoming King Bathmat.  Several (if not all!) Progarchists will also be explaining our “best of 2012.”  Lots and lots to come before 2012 is done.

On a personal note, I’ve spent much of my free time this week, going back through the myriad interviews with the various members of American prog demi-gods, Glass Hammer.  There’s plenty of quotable material from these guys.  My favorite, though, comes from a 2002 interview with one of my oldest friends, Amy Sturgis.  In response to one of her questions, Steve Babb stated: “We were attempting to repackage progressive rock (which we though had long since vanished) as fantasy rock.”

Continue reading “Our Progarchist Week”

Roger O’Donnell and the making of The Cure’s Disintegration

A huge thanks to my friend, Pablo Daniel Bujan Matas, for posting this on Facebook.

People often ask me what I remember about making Disintegration, it’s over twenty years since it was released in April 1989 and perhaps now is a good time to put my thoughts and memories into words. I know that this record is important to a lot of people for many reasons and in many ways it has had a big effect on my life.

The whole process of Disintegration started for me while on tour in 1987. I had joined The Cure on the basis that I would just tour in support of the Kiss Me album, I was hired as a musician for just the period of the tour and that was it. I really didn’t know very much about the band at that time and was on tour with the Psychedelic Furs, all I knew about the Cure was that one of my best friends was the drummer Boris Williams. When there was talk of adding a keyboard player he asked me if I was interested and initially I wasn’t until I heard KMKMKM and realised what an amazing band this was aside from all the weird hair and make up! After about a week of the tour in a hotel room sitting on the floor next to Robert he said to me “I want you to be a part of the group, I want you to play on the next record and be a member of The Cure.”

For the full recollection, go here: