The Cure: ‘Disintegration’ (1989)

❉ An appreciation of ‘perhaps the finest British album of 1989’.

The Cure were never in fashion, never in vogue. They were too nice for punk, they were too dense for pop, too versatile for most rock audiences, too verbose for Top of the Pops. One thing they were, however, was miserable. Where Morrissey played misery as a pantomime, Robert Smith played it as a never-ending dream, his music as dense as his lyrics. Fittingly, he called the band’s masterpiece ‘Disintegration’.

Nearing his thirties as 1988 progressed, anxiety hit the pale-faced veme-goth with a vengeance. Aware few had recorded a masterpiece as they hit their fourth decade, took to writing music for his own comfort, aware that his thirtieth birthday was only a year away. Recording a staggering thirty-two demos with his band-mates, Smith’s downbeat personality had never been so alluring and so painstakingly enjoyable.

Plainsong proved a grandiose opener, an underlying keyboard and drums banging their way into the listeners vicinity, largely instrumental, Smith’s few lyrics, seem desolate, yet hopeful, the poverty of life opening to other possibilities, Smith’s staccatos a fine performance of small, but articulate playing. The murky Closedown was a seductive number with a forlorn vocal, echoing insomnia and insanity, an African drum beat giving an intensity not often heard in eighties pop.

The album’s poppiest moment arrived in the form of Lovesong, a sweeping three-minute song that exploded in the U.S. Billboard 100. Orchestrated and elegant, the song pulled at the heart strings, where much of The Cure’s material grabbed the earlobes. Soul singers Robert Plant and Adele later covered the song, providing new life to an eighties standard.

Pictures of You proved a finer song than Lovesong, a seven minute epic floored by beautiful guitars seeping and peeping at its listeners, a wall of beautiful instrumentation growing ever bigger and bigger, its lyrics more earnest and romantic than any could hope for. ” Looking so long at these pictures of you” Smith whispers into the microphone, his voice only seconds away from tears, perhaps the most honest vocal he ever recorded.

Lullaby gave the audience one of the greatest examples of misanthropical pop, a nastier fairy tale far grimmer than any Wilhelm and Jacob ever composed. Underlined by Simon Gallup’s excellent bass playing (only Peter Hook maintained a similar bass presence during the late eighties), ‘Lullaby‘ shivered like no pop song ever should. Fascination Street screamed with loud guitars, a fine throwback to their Pornography days, psychedelic Prayers For Rain an ennui raver a la R.E.M’s best work.

But it was their eponymous track that proved the greatest monster of the lot, an eight minute song of debauched miserabilism, part throwback to Ian Curtis, part forward moving to a desolate, unknowing decade ahead of them. “I never said I would stay to the end” screams Smith, his haunting wails a far cry from the delicate melodies sung only twenty minutes earlier. Complete with electronic drums and samplers, it was the closest the band ever came to sounding like any decade they encompassed.

Perhaps the finest British album of 1989 (it was certainly the most inventive, The Stone Roses’ wonderful debut song based rather than innovative), Disintegration proved there was still some eternal grief to be found at the end of one’s twenties, the template for the next twenty-five years of their live set and a generational kindred spirit for Nirvana, Manic Street Preachers and Radiohead to look up to.

❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng watched The Cure live in 2012 at Electric Picnic, Ireland. It transformed him, their rendition of ‘Pictures of You’ the most stirring live song he has ever heard. He wrote this article in tribute to their work. Eoghan Lyng’s writing has also appeared in Record Collector, CultureSonar, Punk Noir Magazine, DMovies, Phacemag and other titles. Follow him on Twitter. Visit his homepage.

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