Really, The Cure must be the ultimate indie success story. After crawling down a doomy post-punk gutter ending in the apocalyptic ‘Pornography’ (1982/Year Zero for goths), Robert Smith began spinning his dark visions into pop, with singles like ‘The Lovecats’ (1983) and later ‘Just Like Heaven’ (1987) turning his band into serious unit-shifters. Smith repeatedly appeased his unholy gods by releasing Slayer-are-lightweights albums such as ‘Disintegration’ (1989). Since then, he has regularly crept back to the light of the charts and ‘4:13 Dream’ is such an occasion. And one which, given the ’80s revival, is timed to perfection.
We open on a dark night, naturally, with ‘Underneath The Stars’ – its impressionistic wash of guitars and distorted vocals whisking you dreamily away to Cure-land. Once the mist clears, it’s a surprisingly lovely place to be: ‘The Only One’, a breezy sibling of ‘Just Like Heaven’ with beautifully off-kilter lines such as “I love what you do to my head/It’s a mess up there”. The more epic ‘The Reasons Why’ twists the love song further, with Smith blurting, “I don’t want to bring you down about my suicide”. It’s dark and weird, but perfectly apt.
For what is love if not an insane, gothic melodrama? Just a fuck, that’s what. After this classic Cure pop, the album goes to an unexpected place with ‘Freakshow’. A psychedelic funk-rocker, it could easily be from ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, and in its barely restrained mania it exhibits The Cure’s current line-up (Smith, guitarist Porl Thompson, bassist Simon Gallup, drummer Jason Cooper) as both stripped-back and bold. With them ‘The Real Snow White’’s kernel of sound and fury is somehow euphoric. The lyrics of the chorus seem anthemic (“I made a promise to myself/I wouldn’t stay with anyone else”) but Smith menacingly undercuts them with “you got what I want”, suggesting it’s not necessarily a nice sentiment. It comes across like The Cure taking back the sound The Killers borrowed from them and refilling Brandon Flowers’ empty grandeur with smoke and fire.
This album suggests a re-engagement with the popular music scene, if not an act of war. ‘The Hungry Ghost’ is a disturbed political mystery, but fitted up Trojan Horse-style as a drivetime radio hit. The psych-epic ‘Switch’ could be an Arcade Fire song if it didn’t end with the nihilistic sigh, “I’m sick of being lonely by myself/I’m sick of being with anyone else”. Misery guts? Yes, but it makes Smith’s love songs amazing. ‘The Perfect Boy’’s line, “The two of us is all there is/The rest is just a dream” encapsulates his vision: love is part of the darkness, as frightening as it is comforting. Forget the godfather of goth stuff, Smith is a teller of truths.
If you just want a ghost-train ride, though, skip straight to ‘The Scream’. An electro-metal descent into madness, it climaxes with the realisation that “This is not a dream/This is how it is”. ‘The Scream’ is a reminder of the primal horror of consciousness. Cheers for that, Bob, you may say, but in dealing with such terrors, haven’t The Cure always been, well, the cure?
October 24, 2008
© New Musical Express