Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Cure, 4:13 Dream

Robert Smith has a habit of singing that he 'won't do this anymore'. Time to practice what you preach, Bob?

This is it. I'm not spending any more of my money on a Cure CD. Now, it may as well be there won't be any CDs around in four or five years' time, or whenever Robert Smith plans his next move (but such has been their productivity rate for the past decade and a half). But frankly, I'm better off being spared the sound of the band I used to love drifting off into Blandland.

Two are the possibilities.

Possibility Number One. My tastes have changed. The same Robert Smith lyrics that I used to find so inspiring are now looking remarkably samey, insipid and even a touch pathetic. The same voice I used to worship now feels grating to the point that I yearn for some instrumental respite. Their elegant layers of music that would convey beauty through sheer minimalism are now a lump of directionless droning about. It's me. I'm getting older, boring and incapable of appreciating Bob's quality output. Who knows, it may even be that if Disintegration or Wish were released today I wouldn’t fall under their spell the way I did as a teenager.

Possibility Number Two. The Cure have lost it. They simply cannot pull the same tricks that gave them world stardom. Just compare Lovesong, Lullaby, Just Like Heaven or High with the current singles. And I'm not just on about chart-friendly stuff. My favourite Cure tracks were always the album ones. Prayers For Rain, The Snakepit, Six Different Ways, Open, just to mention a few. They were all laid out in a certain way. They sounded quirky, yet factual, tangible, instantly grabbing. They sounded like Robert Smith had come up with an actual melody and put it to music or the other way round. The Cure were never 'growers'. They'd either instantly capture your imagination or nothing.

You listen to 4:13 Dream now and it's the sound of a man sitting in a studio able to afford unlimited recording time but clueless as to where to begin. Worse, it's the same template that characterised 2000's Bloodflowers and 2004's The Cure (which did at least show signs of improvement for the first time since the early 90s). Chimes give way to some sloppy mid-tempo in the style of a Pixies' b-side, reverse cymbals follow more reverse cymbals and Robert Smith starts yelping aimlessly as if he'd just had his jaffas squeezed by a handcuff-wielding Boy George.

His singing goes absolutely nowhere. Sometimes a line ends up drowned in tonnes of echo, but rest assured, Bob will yelp again. Because he just can't think of a melody that can be pinned down and define a song. And so he sings the word 'suicide' like, 'Sue-ee-syde', for the 127th time, the word 'sky' like 'skyyyyy' like he already did endlessly back in the days of Peter Beardsley and Terry Butcher, and more 'tell me you love me before it's too late', 'underneath the stars', 'it's raining and I'm cold', 'and the way it feels inside', 'it's late and you're gone' etc etc. Robert!!! Stop! You've already done that!

And this is what I was dreading when I got hold of 4:13 Dream. But, alas, this is exactly how most of the songs sound. Utterly unmemorable. The only two tracks that I felt like playing again were Freakshow and Siren Song which explore relatively new territories for the band without drifting aimlessly. But it's more like Gazza Gascoigne scoring a free-kick in the dying moments of his career. The man can hardly run but every now and again glimpses of the old magic resurface. Freakshow, in particular, wouldn’t look out of place alongside The Cure's best. Robert Smith's frantic singing sits astride a high-tempo, teasing rhythm and Porl Thompson's rocking guitar. For once, a track with real oomph. And Siren Song too, with its memorable, beautiful, slide guitar, a piano in the background and -lo and behold- Robert Smith registering that less is more and he doesn't have to sing high-pitched and assault the listener's nervous system with a sledge hammer.

However, this is it. Every other track is an annoying, unfortunate parody of The Cure. It leaves you wondering whether Robert Smith is truly unaware of it, or whether he's actually taking the piss in some perverse proto-ironic way. Look at closing track It's Over. The lyrics go 'I lost another life/ Oh I can't do this anymore/No I can't do this anymore', which is exactly what The Cure already did with most of their closing tracks since 1992's End. 'I-can't-do-this-anymore'. 'Anymore-this-I-can't-do'. 'This-do-I-can't-anymore'. Swap the words round and you have the lyrics for their next album's final track. 'Can't-do-this-anymore-me', perhaps? Or better, how about practising what you preach then Robert?

And it's a shame because, judging from the interviews, Robert Smith sounds like a fairly nice, humble guy with none of the affectation and messiah-delusions that are typical of some his contemporaries like Morrissey or Bono. And it's also a shame because I will forever be indebted to The Cure for introducing me to music. Back in Year 8, when I was stuck between my sister's abysmal Madonna and Michael Jackson LPs and my cousin's fascination with Guns'n'Roses and Metallica, for a short while I really thought music wasn’t my stuff. Until I stumbled upon Robert Smith and fell in love. And help finally came in morphing, for better or for worse, my own preferences and individuality.

That's The Cure I'd rather preserve in my memory. Which is why 4:13 Dream is the last Cure album I'll ever buy. Funny how it even sounds like a Robert Smith lyric, isn't it?

1 comment:

Steve said...

I've also noticed how recent Cure albums tend to finish on the same theme, with Robert Smith singing "This is the end, I can't do it anymore." More than that, the band have fallen into a predictable routine. Exactly every four years, they release a new album and Robert publicly states "This is the last record we will make and the last time we will tour." And we always fall for it, snapping up tickets in case it really is the last chance we get to see The Cure live.

"4:13 Dream" does have a couple of memorable songs, but also a lot of low points; "Sleep When I'm Dead" in particular makes me cringe. However, I don't think they will ever sink as low as "Wild Mood Swings", which has to be one of my most detested albums by any artist.

I agree that Robert has turned into a parody of himself. He now resembles that sketch that the Mary Whitehouse Experience used to do: