New disc, “Wild Mood Swings,” should lift the Cure’s gloom-band image.
As the Cure’s Robert Smith complained recently, a lot of people simply don’t get his band. For many reviewers, the Cure is a “quintessential goth band,” all brooding guitars and angst-ridden vocals. Even after the irrepressible “Friday I’m In Love” cracked the Top 20, Smith moped that the Cure was seen as “this kind of gloom band.”
Well, “Wild Mood Swings” (Elektra 61744, arriving in stores today) ought to change that.
This isn’t quite the Cure’s “come on, get happy” album, but then again, neither does it find the group heading once more unto the breach of despair. As the title suggests, these songs are all over the map emotionally, leaving the band to lurch from giddy exultation to hushed despair as quickly as the CD player changes tracks.
Yet as varied as these moods are, there’s never any reason to believe that the album is spinning out of control. Though the Cure flirts with everything from the blaring mariachi trumpets of “The 13th” to the quicksilver Indian violin that flavors “Numb,” its sense of identity and direction is rock-solid — and that keeps “Wild Mood Swings” from ever seeming too wild.
Instead, what comes across in these songs is the band’s astonishing subtlety and breadth. “Round & Round & Round,” for instance, is a reflection on the sort of glib glad-handing expected of rock stars on the road. “I really don’t know why we do it like this/Imitation smiles and how it’s wonderful to be here,” sings Smith on the chorus, clearly evoking the breathless insincerity of backstage meet-and-greets.
It would be easy enough to imagine Eddie Vedder or Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan turning those sentiments into an anguished epic of rock star ennui, but Smith takes the opposite tack. With the Cure’s rhythm section maintaining a bracing, upbeat pulse, what his vocals convey is a dizzying whirl of flattery and obligation, a scene as enticing as it is ridiculous.
Maybe that’s why the music stays giddily upbeat until the last verse, where Smith finally turns reflective. But even that finds the singer with mixed emotions. “I’m really not sure what we’re so scared we’ll miss,” he sings. “Maybe it’s the sex or the drugs and the booze/Or maybe it’s the promise of relief.”
That kind of honesty — the willingness to admit that you can’t always keep above the fray — is all too rare in alternarock and marks a welcome display of grown-up cool from the Cure.
Nor is the band’s newfound maturity confined to the lyric sheet, as the music on “Wild Mood Swings” also marks a major step forward.
There has always been an adventurous aspect to the Cure’s sound, and the band’s back catalog finds room for everything from the mannered vaudeville of “The Love Cats” to the club-style remixes collected on “Mixed Up.” But the band’s previous forays outside its post-punk stomping ground always had an air of artificiality to them, as if the band were playing at musical dress-ups.
Not so the songs on “Wild Mood Swings.” Though the dark dance beat driving “Club America” may seem to hark back to the experiments of “Mixed Up,” the band’s drab disco is actually part of the song’s commentary on the drab hedonism of contemporary consumer culture. Likewise, “Gone!” isn’t just a Cure tune with horns and a swing-inflected beat, but a jazzy workout that makes as much of its squalling trumpet solo as it does of Smith’s delightfully loose-limbed vocal.
Where this expanded instrumental approach pays its greatest dividends, though, is on the album’s ballads.
With a voice that is by turns rubbery, raw and undernourished, Smith is hardly the smoothest singer in modern rock, but that occasional awkwardness can translate to an affecting vulnerability when his songs turn to matters of the heart.
That’s certainly the case with the sad farewell Smith offers in “Treasure,” but what really helps the song hit home is the string arrangement that cushions its lilting melody. Between Smith’s bruised voice and the strings’ bittersweet harmonies, it’s hard not to feel the loss expressed in those lyrics. And that makes it easy to understand how this band has come to mean so much to its fans.
05 May 1996
© J.D. Considine & The Baltimore Sun