The Cure (Geffen)
Thanks to tepid records like Wild Mood Swings and Bloodflowers, the Cure haven’t mattered to anyone beyond their devoted fans for more than a decade. But during this recording slump, the Cure also had a strange renaissance—they channeled their ambitions into live performance, putting together elaborate shows that spanned the astonishing breadth of their career. Their set lists ranged adventurously from the short, sharp, poppy B-sides collected on the recent boxed set Join the Dots to the gothic dirges of the band’s classic Pornography. As impressive as these shows have been, however, this relentless working of the back catalogue suggested a serious shortage of new ideas. So when it was announced last year that the Cure would be working with producer Ross Robinson—best known for working with nu-metal bands like Korn—it seemed like nothing more than late-career desperation, a naked attempt to connect with pop’s younger audiences. But now that the album, simply titled The Cure, has arrived, the wisdom of this unlikely choice is evident. By bringing an unvarnished, almost live sound to the record, Robinson proves that he’s not just a Cure fan but an astute Cure critic. From the recording-room clatter (actually Robinson’s kicking over a music stand) that opens The Cure to the almost crude use of stereophonic sound (guitars on one channel, front man Robert Smith’s vocals on the other), Robinson keeps things excitingly loose even when the songs are centered on a simple, unrevealing lyric like “I can’t find myself” or “I don’t know what to say.” Robinson, too, has kept the the Cure’s worst instincts (slight love songs, annoying bouts of whimsy, typified by the childlike “Yeow!” that has become a Smith trademark since 1992’s Wish) mostly in check. The Cure’s talents don’t feel tempered, though. Singing and howling with such intensity that it feels as though he’s pitting himself against the song, Smith’s typical rant—“You don’t want me anywhere near you”—becomes real punk on “Us or Them.” And the rich palette of mordant piano, echoing percussion, and zigzagging synth sounds of “Anniversary” is the sort of gorgeous pageantry the Cure haven’t really pulled off since the Disintegration days of the late eighties. At long last, the Cure’s emotional swells seem not bathetic but beautiful.