Part 9 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays
Throughout my high school years I was a very hard worker (still am, in fact). Before school I would wake up at 4:30 in the morning to deliver newspapers to 200 or so houses. Slog through the school day and then would go to work at the little store across the street from my parents modest house. Strangely the store always seemed to have a different name over the years, but it was always called “The Quick Shop”. I worked with a really cool guy there who was about 10 years older than me and was always telling me stories about his dating exploits as well as crazy concerts he would go to. I was absolutely smitten with his stories of wild antics and would always borrow cd’s from him. It was through him that I learned of Fugazi, for which I am forever in debt (one of my absolute favorite bands of all time). Curiously I had not yet discovered (or gotten into, I should say) The Cure. I had seen the videos for “Lovesong” and “Fascination Street” but hadn’t yet heard the album Disintegration.
Once he lent me that album (this was right around when Wish was coming out) I became a boy obsessed (or is it possessed?). I HAD to have each album The Cure had released, i just HAD to. Each album purchased was a milestone reached – each album bringing something special and unique to listen to (sadly for me, this wouldn’t hold true after 1993). My favorite period of The Cure is still the years 1977 to 1982 – the Easy Cure demos through the gothic masterpiece Pornography. In a strange sort of revisionist history this album became the 1st part of a pretend “Trilogy” (Pornography – Disintegration – Bloodflowers) when in fact, I’ve always viewed it as the last part of a true trilogy. The albums prior to this – 17 Seconds and Faith provided the backdrops of sadness & doubt leading into the logical conclusion – anger & hopelessness. (for more on the original Trilogy, try to pick up a copy of the 1987 book Ten Imaginary Years). The definitions of the word “pornography” as stated by Websters are:
1: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement 2: material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement 3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction (pornography of violence)
The Cure created a masterpiece in 1982 entitled Pornography which used the 3rd definition as a basis for one of the most nihilistic albums ever created. Not coincidentally, one of my favorite albums of all time.
Is it always like this? Let’s talk about the music:
One Hundred Years starts the album off with tribal drumming before a depressing post punk guitar comes into play. The feeling is like being a funeral in the rain, emotions out of control. The drums (as they will be for the entire album) grab your attention, beating into your soul. Robert Smith‘s impassioned vox are the best he ever laid to tape “It doesn’t matter if we all die / Ambition in the back of a black car / In a high building there is so much to do / Going home time / A story on the radio”. The song builds and builds with an overwhelming sense of dread, leading up to the finale “Over and over / We die one after the other / Over and over / We die one after the other / One after the other”
A Short Term Effect a little squelch of guitar before the tribal drums become the focus yet again. Simon Gallup’s bass kicks in anchoring the song. This song provides a slightly less doomsday feeling than the opener. Robert’s vox are full of echo and convey emotion in a way that makes you feel it. Key lyrics “A day without substance / A change of thought / The atmosphere rots with time / Colours that flicker in water / A short term effect”
The Hanging Garden was the single from this record. Again features tribal drumming (the only album I can think of with a drum sound like this is Public Image Limited’s Flowers of Romance). The bass kicks in, giving a full band feel to it. Very catchy, perhaps the most “pop” feeling song on the album (but still not a very sunny disposition). The bass really drives this song, absolutely stunning. Key lyrics “Creatures kissing in the rain / Shapeless in the dark again / In a hanging garden / Change the past / In a hanging garden / Wearing furs / And masks”
Siamese Twins has a nice chiming effect to start it off, slow drum pattern (still very high in the mix). Mournful bass comes in, followed by a melodic guitar refrain. Atmosphere is perfectly set up. Sadness permeates the air. Robert Smith’s vocals come in, singing with an air of resignation “I chose an eternity of this / Like falling angels / The world disappeared / Laughing into the fire / Is it always like this? / Flesh and blood and the first kiss / The first colours / The first kiss” As the song progresses Robert’s vocals become more and more laced with emotion, always leading back to the refrain, chilling in its simplicity and implications “Is it always like this?”
The Figurehead Another funeral march kind of song. Heavy, heavy drums, bass exploding in my headphones. Minor key guitar tying the noise together. Impassioned vox “A scream tears my clothes as the figurines tighten / With spiders inside them / And dust on the lips of a vision of hell / I laughed in the mirror for the first time in a year”. The song progresses with an overwhelming sense of dread, truly a vision of hell. Stunning.
A Strange Day a lighter tone to this song, very welcome after the emotionally draining previous song. Bass holding the song down, heavy effects on the vocals. A deep album cut, absolutely needed for the flow of the album. Guitar throughout the song is stunning, offering feedback over top of everything at times.
Cold is this one of the darkest songs ever created? In my opinion, yes. The drums are the heaviest on the album (that’s saying something), ominous tones coming from all instruments to produce an orchestra of darkness. Robert Smith starts singing about a minute in, an impassioned plea “Scarred / Your back was turned / Curled like an embryo / Take another face / You will be kissed again / I was cold as I mouthed the words / And crawled across the mirror / I wait / Await the next breath / Your name / Like ice into my heart”
Pornography the song begins with strange voice manipulations, like turning a dial through a demonic radio. Ominous synths in the background, the drums start coming into focus a minute into the song. The drums take over the speakers, militant, dark. The music continues on in this fashion for over 2 minutes, a march into madness. Robert’s vocals come in after 3 1/2 minutes, anger barely contained in his violent imagery. There is almost no melody in this song, just noisy (and heavenly) anger. “But it’s too late / But it’s too late / One more day like today and I’ll kill you / A desire for fleshAnd real blood / I’ll watch you drown in the shower / Pushing my life through your open eyes / I must fight this sickness / Find a cure / I must fight this sickness”. The anger, words, and music are still shocking, even 20 years after I first heard this song. And I must say, as a form of artistic expression it is absolutely perfect.
This album is one of my favorite Cure albums ever. I recommend purchasing everything up through 1992’s Wish and then pick and choose which albums you want to explore after that. Even the most recent album has highlights, but none hit me in my emotional core like the early albums. For pure nihilistic fun, there are only a few other albums comparable to this masterpiece – The Closer You Get by Six by Seven and Closer by Joy Division come to mind.
Join me next week as I discuss Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell