[a]Cure[/a] have been together longer than most NME readers have been alive. Robert Smith, his hair, his lipstick, his band, his songs about claustrophobia, love, loneliness, love, huge spiders and love, they’ve always been there. Twenty-five years since their debut, the band’s influence is all over the place, from [a]Hot Hot Heat[/a]’s fevered thrum to [a]Rapture[/a]’s spectral dilation. But it’s been close to 15 years since their last truly great album (the still stunning ‘Disintegration’). Each new record comes with the veiled threat from Smith that he’s about to pull the plug on the whole affair – seemingly much less veiled on this than many others. But he’s been threatening that since 1982, so why worry? Because if this wilfully aggressive, powerfully dark record really is the final one, then it’s a staggering way to go out.
For the first time ever, Smith isn’t in charge of production. Ross Robinson, who’s worked with [a]Slipknot[/a], [a]Korn[/a] and At The Drive-In, drove the band to near-mutiny in his search for the ultimate performance. And it shows. No easy walk through a few pop moments and the odd glum one for the old skool, it is startling from the first listen. Opening with the brooding dirge of ‘Lost’, the band are heavier, more menacing, more rhythmic than ever. Smith recalls being “so happy and so young”, but admits, “I got lost in someone else”, perhaps his own myth. ‘Labyrinth’ barely lifts the mood, its deep blue psychedelic heart carrying Smith’s tortured performance. “The day is done/The house is dark/It’s not the same you”, he cries, his voice rising to a scream. [a]Cure[/a] haven’t sounded this malevolent since ‘Pornography’ and Robinson is intent on not allowing Smith’s melodic side to throw easy pop bait over the side of his sleek, black destroyer. When the classic [a]Cure[/a] moments come – and ‘Taking Off’, ‘Before Three’ and ‘The End Of The World’ are up there with the best – they’re still heavy, still focused on moving [a]Cure[/a] forward if, at the same time, Smith’s lyrics are as unguarded and romantic as ever (“We were so in love/In the sea of gold”, “Tonight I share with you/ Tonight I’m so in love with you”, “I’m trying to be the one for her/Trying to be in love”).
Elsewhere, ‘I Don’t Know What’s Going On’ finds Smith scat-singing his way to a falsetto chorus that’s so un-[a]Cure[/a] it’s like a tiny, pointed reinvention all of its own. ‘Anniversary’ has a Moroder-ish disco tint and an operatic chorus. ‘Alt.end’ rides a riff halfway between [a]Cure[/a] of 1980 and [a]U2[/a]’s ‘New Year’s Day’ as Smith celebrates this “big, bright, beautiful world” while insisting, “I want this to be the end/I want this to be the last thing we do”, while ‘Us Or Them’ (a reaction to 9/11?) is the angriest [a]Cure[/a] track since ‘Shiver And Shake’.
Smith has said of this record, “If you don’t like this, you don’t like us,” and when you give your album the same name as your band, you need to be sure you can stand by every moment. They can, and they undoubtedly will.
‘The Cure’ is not an easy album to love. It’s oppressive and relentless at times, it never, not once, lets you off the hook without a fight. But it shows a band on the verge of a whole new future. Whether they actually want it or not is a lot less clear. Rob Fitzpatrick
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