In May of 1989 I was blissfully wandering a record store looking for something that would reflect the raw emotional discord that I often felt at the time. It had to be good — in my mind that usually meant that it needed some kind of emotional complexity. I tended towards a wide range of music including Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, The Alan Parsons Project, Rush, and Depeche Mode, as well as the guilty pleasure of Debbie Gibson.
As I browsed the record bins (remember record bins?) there was a change in the music being played over the store's sound system. I didn't recall there being music playing at all when suddenly a song began that I couldn't ignore. It was like listening to Beethoven with drums and keyboards. It was powerful, even epic. I can't remember ever being transfixed so quickly by music I'd never heard before.
I made my way to the counter and asked the guy what he'd just put on, what this music was. He looked at me like he was on the verge of dozing off and grunted something to the effect of, "The Cure, Disintegration. Just came out."
The Cure? I was pretty sure I'd heard a song or two by them. I seemed to remember seeing a video with a strange looking guy in some sort of furry costume ("Why Can't I Be You" from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me). I quickly made my way to the 'New Release' rack to see what I could find.
In 1989 the format choices were either record album or cassette and I rarely bought cassettes. My money was limited and I always felt that an LP was a much better investment than a little plastic box with a fold-out that may or may not have the lyrics printed on it. Besides, I always recorded my LPs onto blank cassettes for listening in my car. In this case however, I had an hour long drive back home and I had to hear this album now. I bought the cassette and listened to it exclusively for the next several weeks.
The song that captured my attention so much that afternoon is called "Plainsong" and 17 years later it still has a profound effect on me. A few days ago I heard this same song on an advertisement for the new movie Marie Antoinette. I was a bit surprised but pleased as the song fit the movie trailer well. As you can see, it also got me to thinking about this stunning album and how it has held up after all this time.
After listening to this album again (on CD now) it's important to point out that this is a solid album through every track. Each song is like the labored over brush-stroke of a modern masterpiece. It takes you through a heart-rending path of broken promises, lost love, desperation, and finally hope for emotional peace. Robert Smith's vocals, at first striking and a little raw to the first time listener, are bold and plaintive. He echoes the pain that most of us have felt at some time in our life and offers a voice for any of us that have ever wanted to bury our head in our arms in a dark corner of the room and cry uncontrollably. There are a few stand-outs amidst the no-filler track list that I think will have an immediate appeal: "Pictures of You", "Love Song", "Fascination Street" and "Lullaby" are the most likely to be familiar. With a listen or two, "Prayers for Rain", "The Same Deep Water as You" and the title track "Disintegration" will leave you haunted by loss and hope.
There is a tremendous amount of power in this album, the synth-strings, ghostly weaving guitar and complex drum rhythms make sure of that. As good as it is though, I can see this being a 'love it or hate it' album. It is dark, moody, desperate, and melancholy to a degree that can be emotionally wearing. It's a welcome friend when you want to wallow in the grief of something or someone lost to you, but could be much too heavy for those in a lighter mood.
For Cure lovers, I've not revealed anything to you that you don't already know about this album. You've been nodding your heads along with this review, maybe you have the urge to dig the CD out and relive it. For everyone else, I hope you give this album a chance. Many will find this music to be a revelation, an '80s album that sounds as deep and relevant as anything being produced today. If you've been curious about The Cure at all, this is the place to start.
i leave you with photographs
pictures of trickery
stains on the carpet and stains on the memory
songs about happiness
murmured in dreams
when we both of us knew
how the end always is — The Cure, "Disintegration"