The fact that "The Cure" is not only listenable, but actually bold and fresh must be ranked as a minor miracle
There are dozens of reasons to love and cherish The Cure, but the most important is their originality. Over their career they have written songs in such a dizzying range of moods, styles and textures that they sound unlike any other band on the planet and yet always, always like The Cure. There could scarcely be two more diametrically opposed albums than the nightmarishly oppressive "Pornography" and the giddy pop of "Head On The Door", yet The Cure's identity is unmistakable on both.
That said, the schizophrenic "Wish" was the last satisfying Cure record, and that was in 1992. On recent efforts they have seemed as exhausted a musical force as approximate contemporaries Siouxsie and the Banshees or R.E.M. So the fact that "The Cure" is not only listenable, but actually bold and fresh must be ranked as a minor miracle. Most hearteningly, it has the rough edges and exuberance of a far younger band.
Opening with the lo-fi, thrashing angst of "Lost", this album peels back the layers of studio-pampered lushness that has blighted their records since "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me". Robert Smith's strangled whine sounds acutely distressed rather than a performance of distress, and is assailed by wave after wave of grimy guitar. It has a brutish, almost naive structure and a raw sound that recalls PJ Harvey's Albini-produced masterpiece "Rid Of Me". It's as bold an opening as the beginning of "Saving Private Ryan", and similarly pulls the listener into the album's narrative.
Perhaps narrative is the wrong word. At times, "The Cure" feels instead like an essay on the Cobain theme of "married, buried". Smith's solitary two themes are memories of better times or the emotional suffocation of a relationship. On the dark, doomy "Labyrinth" Smith begs "say it's the same you" while on the chaotic, malevolent "Us Or Them" Smith howls "get your f*cking world out of my head". What Smith's wife of two decades thinks of all of this is unknown, but there's no doubt it makes remarkably intense music. On "Us Or Them", a kissing cousin to "Fascination Street", the band
summon up a sound of such thrashing intensity that it even overcomes laughable lyrics like "death is with us all."
The album isn't all doom, though. There's gloom, too. "The Promise" is gloomy in the worst way, never compensating the listener for its funereal pace by offering a beautiful melody. "The Anniversary", on the other hand, is simply gorgeous, looping piano melodies and swirling synths rendering it both lovely and hypnotic.
It's when "The Cure" turns to poppier sounds that it loses its impact. The man who wrote such sublime pop tunes as "Just Like Heaven" and "In-between Days" simply has no business palming us off with adequacies like the breezy but hookless "Taking Off" or the frankly aimless "Truth". Only the single, "The End Of The World", really works as a pop tune, all gawky riffs and a hiccuping, nagging chorus.
It's not a perfect record, but "The Cure" does achieve something quite remarkable and unexpected. It leaves you looking forward to their next one.