Reissue Of The Week: The Cure’s Wish

A new reissue of The Cure’s Wish offers a glimpse into how Robert Smith and co reacted to, adapted to, and in some ways allowed themselves to be shaped by the explosion of early-90s American alt rock

Dressed in various shades of black and blue, five members of The Cure <a href="

" target="out">are sitting on a long sofa. An unusually short haired Robert Smith waits for the interviewer to finish speaking, then vaguely looks off to his right. “I think it doesn’t have a particular mood,” he says, then pauses for a moment and lets out a shy smile. “It’s… wild mood swings, I guess”. If you were to see the clip without context, you might naturally be inclined to think he is referring to their 1996 album of the same name, but the interview in fact took place four years prior. Smith was referring to what was then their latest album, Wish.

Wish was The Cure’s ninth album and, commercially at least, would be their most successful, with the band employing a rich tapestry of rock sounds while ramping up the intensity. With a line-up which would include three different guitar players, it was reasonable to expect the shift, but their rock evolution had been pretty clear ever since 1984’s The Top, even though, mostly because of their commercial and critical success with Wish’s predecessor Disintegration, many were still expecting synthesisers. “It was too big”, said Smith of Disintegration in a press kit interview for Wish’s original release.

At the time, critics pointed out how the group seemed to want to shake the years off their backs, nervous about looking like the uncool dads of the younger rock bands. “Wish seeks to offset the Cure’s famous mopeyness with some joy,” commented Rolling Stone in their 1992 review. Pitchfork recently described the album as the beginning of The Cure assuming “the role of a legacy band, more important for what they had done than what they were currently doing”. In January of that year, Nevermind had skyrocketed to the top of the American charts, and loud feedback-rich rock was firmly establishing itself as a dominant force. In the press kit interview, Smith mentions being aware of those trends, but won’t name inspirations as he feels that would be somewhat like admitting to stealing. “Parts of Wish are heavy, parts of it are brain damaged, there’s really no point in calling it anything,” he offered in an interview to French station M6.

In the almost year-long Wish sessions, the band recorded a copious amount of songs (released either as B-sides or on the mail-order Lost Wish cassette), and a new 30th anniversary deluxe reissue offers an even clearer glimpse at how the band were being shaped by American rock. The early version of ‘Cut’ shows us a possible version of 1992 Cure we never had, slower and more contemplative.

Wish was a hit – reaching all the way to number one in the UK, and number two in the US – because it walked a thin line between reinventing the band for a post-grunge “alternative rock” scene, while staying grounded to their classic sound. Singles like the whimsical ‘High’ and the overtly syrupy ‘Friday I’m In Love’, found their natural place as radio staples. Smith talked about the songwriting process at length in interviews, seemingly trying his hardest to justify ‘Friday’’s existence as the band’s most successful pop song yet. “I don’t know how I got away with it, I recorded it one night and found that, somehow, I still liked it the morning after.” To this day the song’s strange presence looms over the band’s whole discography. Later, similarly whimsical attempts by the band definitely did not meet with that same success, like the Latin-flavored ‘The 13th’ or the desperately energetic ‘Mint Car’.

Even today, as the album receives a 30th anniversary remaster, the feedback-laden songs of Wish sound different from the lasting idea of what The Cure essentially ‘is’. However the album did not simply force a new dress on an “old” band, it was merely an attempt to make their sound a more comfortable fit for 1992. “I think our fans don’t mind aggressiveness,” comments Smith in the French interview, pointing out that a certain steeliness to the band’s sound was nothing new; for years their concerts were opened with The Top’s furious track ‘Shake Dog Shake’.

It is easy to make the case that given the amount of music The Cure were drawing from, the eventual Wish tracklist could have been revised for the better. Indeed, in the M6 interview, The Cure explained how the songs were decided democratically, instead of Smith deciding by himself, with each member voting on their favorite tracks. It would be difficult to explain, otherwise, why such extraordinarily delicate moments like ‘Scared As You’ or the confessional exploration of drug addiction ‘The Big Hand’ (“The big hand makes all of your favourite things / Like all your days run out / And all your hopes disappear”) did not earn a place on the record in place of middling album tracks like ‘Doing The Unstuck’ and ‘Wendy Time’.

As opposed to the nihilistic “It doesn’t matter if we all die” of ‘One Hundred Years’ that opened Pornography a decade earlier, Wish begins with something altogether more band-in-their-30s: “I really don’t know what I’m doing here / I really think I should have gone to bed tonight,” Smith broods on ‘Open’. ‘End’ closes the album on a similar note of vague desperation with Smith grappling with success and age, while future live staple ‘From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea’ talks of an impossible love. A feeling of longing and futile fantasy permeates the record, in moments like standout ballad ‘Apart’, and as viola glides sinuously through acoustic guitars on ‘To Wish Impossible Things’. It is indeed, as Smith said in that interview, an album of wild mood swings. Contrast, for instance, the sparse piano track ‘Trust’, and the almost manic ‘Doing the Unstuck’, a side of the band rarely seen before.

Producer David Allen, together with Smith, shared the aim to make Wish sound more contemporary, as part of the whole “making peace with the guitar” mission statement they declared in the French interview. The band did not embrace distorted guitars again until producer Ross Robinson decided The Cure needed a nu-metal gloss for their 2003 self-titled album. Were The Cure successful in passing as a rock band? Probably not; I have never really been convinced that guitar feedback and high tempos fit Smith’s songwriting. However compared to that failed experiment we can easily forgive the slightly forced feedback laden version of Wish’s ‘Cut’. Most of all, the 1992 album seems to demonstrate how the band found their perfect comfortable niche in the little spaces between aggression and calm. In this regard, it is one of the Cure albums that better succeeds in finding the balance between their contemplative gothic side and their care-free poppier ventures. Tighter than Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, but more vibrant (though less imaginative) than Disintegration.

Many call Wish The Cure’s final ‘great’ album, and it was indeed the last one recorded by the ‘classic’ Disintegration lineup. The album also often gets called “forgotten” or “underrated”, which is strange considering how commercially successful it was, but in hindsight its success was obscured by what came immediately afterwards. Subsequent albums show a band largely trying to make peace with their sound, and never making a firm decision. Their unfocused 1996 follow up, Wild Mood Swings, delivers a hodgepodge of different styles, with several outlandish singles failing to hit the mark. 2000’s Bloodflowers, described by Smith as the final piece of the dark trilogy which includes Pornography and Disintegration, is even more divisive for both fans and critics. Smith, despite defining it shortly after 2000 as their “best album yet”, seems to have since changed his mind; Bloodflowers rarely shows up in the band’ setlist, if at all.

Wish recorded a unique historical moment for The Cure, while still being hitmakers, they were starting to have to play catch-up with other bands. While its status as a rock album lies probably more in its intentions than the actual finished product, Wish remains one of the better records from the time. Especially when compared with similar efforts from the time, R.E.M.’s Monster, for example, Wish stands out among the best artifacts from the short lived “hard” rock renaissance of 80s bands trying to keep their places in the charts.

Though it could have been stronger, the band’s ninth album did trace an important bridge between their past and the present. With Smith letting go of the reins of the band, allowing the other members to have their say, the atmosphere feels different from Disintegration or The Head On The Door, with a successful balance of gloomy and cheerful tracks, exploring rawer emotions that they had previously shied away from. Closing the interview featured on the Wish press kit, the Cure are asked about their most secret wishes. The final message before the video fades to black, is from Robert Smith. “I… wish I knew what I really wanted,” he trails off.

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