Twenty-two seconds warning, that’s all it takes. Then the nightly sky opens wide, the rain falls down and you are right in the middle of one of the greatest albums ever recorded. It always fascinated me how Plainsong opens The Cure‘s Disintegration with this mixture of mysteriousness and tender exaggeration. It’s the perfect introduction to the seventy-two minutes that follow Plainsong‘s twenty-two second long intro. As a listener you quickly suspect: This is going to be massive, dark and probably also a bit exhausting… well, you can’t deny that. Even thirty years after its initial release Disintegration still marks the peak of The Cure‘s four-decades-spanning career. ‘It’s the essence of The Cure’ as longtime fan Trentemøller once told me and I couldn’t agree more.
Unlike the Danish artist I was probably born ten years too late to live through a similar 80s Goth youth phase. I was five when Disintegration was released and I think I didn’t fully listen to it before my early twenties which is a shame. I actually had a short Goth phase in my teens but back then Depeche Mode have been my favourite choice for gloomy mood swings. Nevertheless over the past twelve, thirteen years the eight full-length of The Cure became one of my all-time favourite records and I probably listen to it at least once every two months – and more often during winter times for obvious reasons. On these twelve tracks Robert Smith and his band capture the essence of late 80s dark wave pop in an almost perfect notion. And while many people might argue it’s a typical Cure-sounding record its sound is indeed pretty unique within the group’s discography. Well, but you could actually say that about more of their albums than one might think.
“I think it’s dark and it looks like it’s rain, you said
And the wind is blowing like it’s the end of the world, you said.”
[ Plainsong ]
Disintegration happened as a direct counter reaction to 1987’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me whose poppy direction was also a reaction to the band’s earlier work. Well, you can sense a pattern here. Forever being a misunderstood character, leading man Robert Smith always tried to work contrary to expectations that outsiders had of his band. After their post-punk infected debut they quickly entered goth territory only to later release joyful songs like Let’s Go To Bed and In-Between Days ’cause they didn’t want to be labelled as the ‘miserable goth group’. The Cure always worked that way and the fact that they are planning to release their first album in eleven years in 2019 is partly also a reaction to people saying ‘They are done and have nothing to add artistically these days.’ Well, as you can see that’s not how they work.
Born out of depression and addiciton
Smith has always been a brilliant songwriter and the ever-changing line-up of The Cure did its best to support him. There are great memorable pop songs on Disintegration but they happen to disguise them in the nocturnal musical surrounding they exist in. Lovesong is timeless and so is the funky groove of Lullaby which is still one of the band’s most popular songs despite lacking a proper chorus. Pictures Of You is another example for a great pop tune but with a runtime of seven and a half minutes it’s obviously a bit too long. Closedown got this catchy keyboard pads but it takes two out of its four minutes before Smith actually starts singing. It are unusual twists like this that make Disintegration so tempting and an ongoing listening experience even if you listen to it for the 100th time. Inspired by his own existential depression back than (Smith was turning 30 and thought he hasn’t produced anything of profound artistic greatness yet) and the songwriter’s love for of hallucinogenic drugs during the recording process the album became an intense piece of gloomy psychedelic stadium rock. This cohesive atmosphere of impending doom runs like a dark, red line through the LP and manifests in various shapes and forms. Prayers For Rain feels like a tribal gospel while the almost ten-minute-long The Same Deep Water As You drowns in an anxious sea of despair and is probably the sinister peak of the record. But then the title-track suddenly brightens up the mood and that contradiction totally works in the dramaturgy of this album.
My favourite song is probably Fascination Street. Simon Gallup’s bass play in this one still fucks me up every time. It’s the driving force that keeps this pretty funky dark wave disco anthem on the road. It’s got everything you can either love or hate about 1980s wave pop – the epic drums, the reverb-filled guitars, the synths, the longing voice of the singer, the love for the melodramatic and of course that freakin’ bassline! On Disintegration The Cure created the prototype sound for an entire generation of miserable goth rockers to follow. They were of course not the first band to do that as others like Bauhaus, Echo And The Bunnymen, Joy Division (and parts of New Order), The Smiths and also Depeche Mode played their part in the shaping of this sub-cultural genre. However, I think no other record sums up that period of time and special sound better than Disintegration does. It’s got the perfect length (because it needs to be that long to unfold its hypnotizing magic), the right amount of good and diverse yet very cohesive songs, a great tracklisting (every song appears to be exactly at the right spot), haunting and heart-wrenching lyrics and a stunning undertone that holds it all together.
“Kiss me goodbye, bow your head and join with me
And face pushed deep reflections meetThe strangest twist upon your lips.”[ The Same Deep Water As You ]
In this day and age we tend to forget how great and fulfilling the art form of ‘the music album’ can be. And it’s not just about the streaming age’s focus on stand-along tracks and the quick supply of new music. Disintegration is a prime example on how to actually tell a story with such a record. From the massive opening Plainsong to the gloomy middle part to the tender and almost hopeful finale with Untitled – it follows a path, a certain consequence and natural order that does far more than just adding one song after the other. Smith’s ambitious yet successful plan to create a fundamental album before turning thirty also broke the band and it’s original ‘family idea’. The Cure were never the same and probably never as good as in their golden 1980s period so this record is a fitting swan song to the band’s high times. Disintegration is a massive and exhausting affair that demands time of the listener, time we need to force ourselves to take in this accelerated society. If you agree to do that this album is still one of greatest companions when it comes to coping with the world’s despair. Unfortunately we still need this record more than ever these days but the fact that we got it still makes me quite happy. And yes, I’m aware of that contradiction. Happy Birthday!