, October 27th, 2008 13:34
Go online and find a 'Cure Random Lyric Generator'. Hit go. Collate all of the words and phrases that it throws up. 'Poison', 'scream', 'can't sleep', 'can't wake up', 'voices in my head', 'this is fucking torture', 'a blind man pushing nettles in my ears'. Good. You have now written your own review of their new album, 4:13 Dream.
This is not to say that it is a bad album in terms of song writing, ambition, intensity or giving fans exactly what they want. It's just that the production stinks worse than a fourteen-year-old's wank sock after a rainy bank holiday weekend in Southport. Perhaps anyone who loves post punk's biggest success story (and I do) shouldn't be surprised at their bi-polar lurch from extreme to extreme. Are they a pop band? Are they alt rock stadium fillers? Are they post rock grand fathers? Are they manic depressive gothic ghouls? But this latest smudged make-over has been both unnecessary and ill-conceived. Lots of people, even hardcore fans, hated Ross Robinson's production job on their last, self-titled album in 2004 but the truth of the matter is that generally it was the song writing that was at fault - bilge like 'The End Of The World' just didn't cut it. When the authorship stood up to scrutiny like on the tar black Massive Attack themed 'Anniversary', then so did the production.
On this, their 13th album it is the over-ambitious knob-twiddling, rather than any other consideration, that has let the album down. And the culprits acting like children in a sweet shop, slathering absolutely everything in FX and over compression are Robert Smith himself and Keith Uddin. But really they could have dragged the guy who sleeps on the roundabout near my house down to the studio, given him loads of ketamine and strapped boxing gloves on him and he would have done a better job.
Things start off well-enough with 'Underneath The Stars'. There is that crystalline glissando (that they half-inched from Joy Division's 'Atmosphere', originally for 'Love Song') and sepulchral bass clangor from Simon Gallup and an almost instantaneously overwhelming rush of psychedelic guitar noise. But so much back masked echo has been added to Smith's voice that it immediately becomes distracting. It is as if to re-enforce the fact that Bob feels a bit like a ghost, they've used exactly the same effect on his vocals that a Hollywood studio would use to indicate that the really pale child on the other side of the mirror is actually a ghost and will not stop being terrifying the protagonists until they find his body in the bricked-up cellar and give it a proper burial. But this is a touch too literal. When you feel a bit ghostly, you don't actually take on the physical attributes of a spectre. Or maybe Robert Smith did. Maybe he sang this song with his head under his arm while walking through walls.
If the opening song is in the style of 'The Kiss' then the second is in the style of that other sort of Cure song - the paean to the drunken gothic girl at a party, lips stained crimson with red wine bouncing off the walls and how she makes Big Bob feel all happy inside. Basically it is in the style of 'Catch' or 'Perfect Girl'. (Their other sort of song, obviously, is about when the drink and drugs wear off and Bob wakes up on the floor next to the same girl and how terrible this makes him feel.) This time it's called 'The Only One' and I can't be the only one who thought they'd already done a song called this. (Ditto 'The Scream'.) There's another style of song on show here as well, the one about going mad at a party on drugs before he's met the gothic girl. This is called 'Freakshow' and would have benefitted from the crisp pop approach of 'Six Different Ways' or the straight up rock attack of 'Never Enough'.
But by the time you get to the fifth track, 'Siren Song' you start realising what a punishing experience listening to this album is. The Cure have been around for so long, they shouldn't be falling into such basic traps as overdoing the compression. You shouldn't feel like you have to take a nap half way through an album. To some people it will feel like they are being immersed in the song; that its very fibres are wrapping round the listener. To me it sounds like I'm in a nightclub and just about to be sick. Ironically, this is what The Cure actually sound like to some people - gusty festival winds blowing their sound left and right, distorted by the spangle of drugs and the fug of drink. In some cases the songs prosper in spite of the audio obstacles thrown in their path. 'The Real Snow White' is a beautiful track, a dark take on Andrew Marvell's 'To His Coy Mistress' and one of the few songs where it doesn't feel like Porl Thompson's prodigious guitar skills aren't being rinsed straight off the tapes by lashings of FX.
But if this is the case then it's hard to believe that a band with a record deal, let alone veterans who have been going for 30 years, could be responsible for something as shoddy sounding as 'The Hungry Ghost', its riff faded and distorted almost beyond recognition by ring modulation and phase until it becomes a tinitus pitched irritant. 'Switch' is another experiment into fooling the listener's brain into thinking that they've had drugs by the use of disorientating effects. But this doesn't take into account that many experiences on drugs are deeply unpleasant. 'The Perfect Boy', somehow, manages to provoke the same sensation in your stomach as that brought on by six pints of Guinness and six cream cakes ingested on a rough channel crossing.
And on it goes. ('Sleep When I'm Dead' is one of the laziest songs they've ever crimped out.) 'The Scream' and 'It's Over' are epic and enjoyable closers but by this time you feel like you've got a digital compression unit lodged in your skull squeezing all of the energy and sense out. The annoying thing is that you know these songs are going to sound good live (I know a few of them do already) and perhaps that's the point. No one buys albums any more, certainly not by The Cure, but plenty are going to go and see them on the next tour. But for someone unashamedly out of touch like myself who still fetishizes the album as the finished product (rather than a collection of individual tracks which are designed to fight their own corner when they come up on shuffle on an iPod) this just isn't good enough.