What does a 22-year-old have to say about an album that should be “before his time?”
Hopefully, enough to write a review that does it honor.
Disintegration is one of the those rare albums that just reached out of the speakers and grabbed me instantly, so much so that 1989 might as well have been yesterday. The last time an album affected me so was probably Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot back in 2007.
It was probably two in the morning when I had my first Disintegration listening. If it had my attention by “Plainsong,” I was completely hooked by “Pictures of You.” I rocked to the energetic “Fascination Street” and slowed to the the Gothic groove, “Prayers for Rain.”
By the time the album finished, it was probably 3:30 in the morning. But I didn’t go to bed. I stayed up the rest of the night listening to it.
Listening to Disintegration is like swimming through water. The water is often cold and deep. For some it might not be easy to listen to. The music is thick. Yet Robert Smith’s lyrics float above this tapestry of guitars and strings and pounding drums. The effect is quite hypnotic and joyous in a way.
But the music itself strikes a deep chord of sadness. The album begins with the wordless “Plainsong.” From its first notes, I knew Disintegration would be a great and rare album. The songs really dance a line between being rock and being symphony.
Disintegration emphasizes speaking through music rather than just through words. Track two, “Pictures of You”, is practically a perfect song. It’s simple, laid back, and catchy. The guitar strumming, harmonizing, and the drumming carry the song for about a full two minutes until Smith begins singing.
I’m usually pretty harsh on lyrics — even in great music, many songwriters, sadly, don’t know how to write. But in this song, the lyrics are simple and well-done, especially when coupled with the music that adds so much weight to the words. I don’t think there is anyone who couldn’t relate to “if only I’d thought of the right words, I wouldn’t be breaking apart.”
But the soul of Disintegration, for me, is “The Same Deep Water As You.” If a lot of the album sounds like you are underwater, this song sounds like you’re at the bottom of the ocean, with a storm and thunder raging above the waves. The music and lyrics conjure images of physical drowning to describe the feeling of being over-infatuated with a person – to be drowning in them. The song is one of the most dark and haunting songs I’ve heard – and to some extent, even horrifying, as there is no hint of light at the end of the tunnel.
Most of Disintegration is this way. It doesn’t pretend to offer easy answers, and Smith isn’t afraid of describing his reality as he sees it. From the album title itself, Disintegration gives an image of falling apart. If you can stand the heavy themes, the music itself is almost perfect. From a musical standpoint, everything about Disintegration is top tier.
You will be hard-pressed to find an album similar to this one, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the greatest albums of all time. But I could easily see how people could get lost in music like this and wallow in negative feelings it is saturated with.
So with that small warning, I recommend Disintegration to anyone who hasn’t yet heard it. The Cure have a vast discography, and there is no better place to start than here.