Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Cure "Songs of a Lost World" US Tour with The Twilight Sad: May 10 - Jul 1 | "The Darkness of Recent Years has Inspired their 'Merciless' New Album" | NME

Undeniably influential in ways beyond even the tumult of Bauhaus, Joy Division's introspective trudge, the mathic rock of Wire, or the groundbreaking cultural aesthetics of the releases found on parent labels like 4AD or Factory. The Cure are quite possibly the most notable entity to emerge from the whole of the UK gothic rock countercultural microcosm of the late 1970s and early 1980s. No other band from this scene ascended to the heights of both UK and American charts, while fluidly bridging the the concurrent movements of post-punk, gothic rock and new wave to the extent achieved by (the initial trio of) Robert Smith, Michael Dempsey, Lol Tolhurst, (and later) Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson, Boris Williams and Roger O'Donnell. Working in a music that spanned these concurrent sounds and interrelated subgenres, The Cure rose to the top of a wave of underground British acts that formed the directing movement of this tide. There are few better documents of the cultural development of this multi-genre scene than Cherry Red Records' expertly assembled five disc set, "Silhouettes & Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978 - 1986". Framed within the contextual decade of the sound's evolution as Cherry Red have done, The Cure's characteristics share much with contemporaries at both ends of the genre's spectrum. Their sound listens as concurrently accessible for their new wave pop melodicism, and challengingly post-punk in its sparsity and sometimes dissonant, rhythmic angular underpinnings. Yet this is where the parsing of minutia begins. Within what was essentially a two year span of time, there was to be found a coexistence of the two subgenres after and even concurrent with punk, wherein even formative post-punk bands like Magazine being cited at the time for their gothic sensibilities, such as in Nick Kent's 1979 NME review of their "Secondhand Daylight". The argument in early pieces of cultural ephemera from the era supports that gothic rock emerged from the larger inclusive experimentations of post-punk.

The former was born from the latter as an particular developing offshoot that distinguished itself by weightier, gloaming atmospheres, a heightened theatrical set of fashion and aesthetics, and an embracing of romantic themes and lyrics to be found in the new romantic and pop music's new wave, which followed. Cross-pollination of sounds was the norm in this setting, as genres were being born in rapid succession fomented by the United Kingdom's late 1970s countercultural movement. In this period of class conflict, poverty and social unrest, punk's music of rejection and radical politics gave way to the more nuanced sounds of its first offspring embodied by John Lydon's Public Image Limited, Manchester's Joy Division, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. But even then, the distinguishing characteristics of the genre were blurred, as the half-step that many of these bands would take into new wave and pop could be heard in the output of the early 1980s. The complexity of parsing chronology, and the various band's stylistic signifiers, can be seen in Alex Ogg's review of Simon Reynolds' personal account of the era for The Quietus, "Beyond Rip It Up: Towards A New Definition Of Post Punk?". Yet a more ready representation of the era's cross-genre bleed is epitomized in the sound of Joy Division offspring New Order. Bearing semblance to the more propulsive tracks of their late band, 1981's "Movement" clearly mapped a route away from the musical disassembly of post punk, towards the more melodic and accessible territory of new wave. It is this territory that Belgian band Clan of Xymox would become cartographers of with their signing to 4AD in 1984. A meeting of gothic rock, synthesizer pop and new wave, their sound would come to describe the space between the developing danceable electronic pop of New Order's following album, "Power, Corruption & Lies".

A necessary component in unpacking The Cure's own music at the time, the tangential paths contemporaries took at the time offers insight and contextual framing to their albums "Pornography", the singles anthology, "Japanese Whispers", and "The Top" spanning the years 1982 to 1984. These three works describe the pivotal course The Cure's sound would take at the intersection of the three genres they found themselves working within. The disruption of the band following the Pornography tour, where Simon Gallup temporarily departed, and Lol Tolhurst was to assume the role of keyboardist, saw them take a divergent course away from a heavier, more sparse post-punk aesthetic of the massively influential "Seventeen Seconds", and "Faith" that proceeded it. Over this stretch of years, with The Cure's future uncertain, Robert Smith was to contribute and produce two concurrent albums with Steve Severin. Exploring their shared love of psychedelic rock, their singular venture as The Glove, nestled alongside Smith's playing of guitar on Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Hyæna". Recorded and released within a year of each other, the effect was to culminate in The Cure's fifth studio album as a venture of exploration almost singularly penned by Smith. Often seen as a transitional period for the band, what was to follow was one of The Cure's unconditional masterworks created by the classic, longest-lasting lineup of the outfit; Smith, Laurence Tolhurst on keyboards, Porl Thompson supplying guitar, Simon Gallup on bass, and Boris Williams on drums. This quintet hit the ground running with 1985's "The Head on the Door". In retrospect, these "Masters of the Form: The Cure in 1985", describe the blueprint for what would come to be called the "alternative rock" movement of the early-to-mid 1990s. Named the Album of the Year in Melody Maker's December 1985 chart issue, in another first for the band, "The Head on the Door" was written and composed solely by Robert Smith. Assembled with the intent of an eclectic array of songs and styles, Smith claims its character was inspired by diverse stylistics of the Siouxsie's "Kaleidoscope" album of 1980. 
The album would bridge the brooding post-punk of "Faith" and "Pornography", with their recent pop hits and the singles that proceeded it, making "The Head on the Door" an international charting success for The Cure, and propel them into even wider recognition outside of the UK. The three music videos from the album, "In Between Days", "Close To Me"  and "A Night Like This", were also among their first to ascend to popular video rotation. Often airing during the later night timeslots of the then fledgling MTV, and the North American afterhours variety show Night Flight, their reception at this time foreshadowed and was a significant fomenter in the creation of MTV's underground showcase 120 Minutes, which launched in 1988. MTV, press in the British weeklies, Melody Maker, and the tastemaking writing and focus to be found in NME, all elevated The Cure into previously unforeseen territory where they would chart in the American Top 40 with their following double album, "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me". This was concurrent with the wider accessibility of the 1986 release of the singles anthology, "Standing on a Beach", which was aggressively distributed and promoted in the US by its domestic licensor, Elektra Records. Arriving a year after the release of this abundant and lengthy anthology of The Cure's singles spanning 1978 to 1985, "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" was not only the band's longest album to date, but also it's most stylistically variegated.

As a double album monument to the throes of teenage love, much in the way of "The Head on the Door", its sprawling length listened as a proportionate mix of rapture, romance and revulsion. At the time Smith himself claiming that the album's third single, “Just Like Heaven” was “the best pop song the Cure has ever done,”. Yet over the course of its nearly 75 minute duration, nearly every track expresses this correspondence of being "a neatly arranged bouquet of roses, or a bag of thorns". The volume and quality on offer is invariably a product of Smith's self-decreed work regiment in which he dedicated 15 days of each month for the year 1986 to music writing. The result being a massive double album, with numerous tracks omitted due to format time limits, one such track, "Hey You!!!", was excised from the original CD release. In the case of the double vinyl LP, the album was presented with an extra six track 12" featuring the songs "Sugar Girl", "Snow in Summer", "Icing Sugar" (Weird Mix), "A Japanese Dream", "Breathe" and "A Chain of Flowers". The 2006 reissues and remaster series producing an even more voluminous and varied body of work related to the album, at the time of the reissue Pitchfork stating; "It's one of the most convincing, emotionally whole, and individual albums of the decade. An entire imagined land, complete with sounds, visions, and styles, huge on romance and drama. If you were only ever to buy one Cure album, and what seems like the whole head of Smith, in one glorious package, this is the one that matters.".

Despite the international success the band was now enjoying, internal friction was increasing due to Tolhurst's alcoholism at the time, and keyboardist Roger O'Donnell was soon hired, with Porl Thompson switching to second guitar on all subsequent studio releases. Their even greater commercial success, on the heels of a sold-out world tour, did little to temper these internal creative issues and Smith's own battling with aging and discomfort with the side effects of becoming a popular music star. Around which time Smith moved to a more remote location in Maida Vale with his then fiancée Mary Poole, and began writing new work which he felt would tackle the existential milestone of his own 30th birthday, and a summation of all things The Cure. He sought to abandon the mood present on "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me", and the pop singles they had released, and rather recreate something akin to a development of the atmosphere found in the band's fourth album, "Pornography". The resulting work, shorn from a total of 32 demo songs written and recorded on a 16-track recorder at Boris Williams home over the course of the summer, would run 12 tracks and mark a return to the more textured and spacious aesthetic the band explored in the early 1980s. As submitted to the American parent label Elektra, the sound was apparently such a shock that the label requested Smith shift the release date back several months. Smith recalled; "they thought I was being 'wilfully obscure', which was an actual quote from the letter. Ever since then I realised that record companies don't have a fucking clue what The Cure does and what The Cure means."

Released on the 2nd of May, 1989, "Disintegration" became the band's first major commercial peak, charting at number three in the UK and twelve in the US charts, with several singles like "Pictures of You", "Fascination Street", and "Lovesong" hitting number two in the Billboard Hot 100 that year. The album is characterized by its increased use and significant placement of the synthesizer and keyboards in its compositions, and slower tempos accompanied by a shoegaze-like guitar tone and drone progressions. These were complimented by a more muted vocal performance from Smith, often immersed in a tide of considerable guitar effects and surrounding spatial compositions, thanks largely to the very distinct production values supplied by David M. Allen. In the years since, the boldness of Allen and Smith's approach to the material has proven forward-thinking, as it predates the sound of many of their British contemporaries of the mid-1990s. Unlike the albums before it, the record bore a single mood, that of a kind of epic, depressive solitude and it revelled in doing so, at times with a majestic grandeur. For an album of such deep introspection, eccentric production qualities and muted dynamics, many now recognize "The Cure's 'Disintegration': An Oddly Comforting Masterpiece" as Jason Heller does for The Atlantic on the eve of the album's 30th anniversary tour. Though Smith later admitted “it was never our intention to become as big as this,” the Prayer tour which followed the album saw The Cure graduating to stadiums and playing marathon, career-spanning sets and in the process, the band found that they had transformed into one of the biggest alternative rock acts on the planet.

In recent years, these massive shows and career-spanning setlists have produced a string of memorable events, highlighted in "The Cure Capture 40th Anniversary Gigs with Concert Films", and waxing lyrical with Rolling Stone about the following set of tours, focused on the 1989 album, "The Cure’s Robert Smith Talks 30 Years of ‘Disintegration’: ‘The Whole Atmosphere was Somber’". In the interview, Smith cast light on the new material the band have constructed in its wake; "At the same time we were rehearsing for the 30th anniversary of Disintegration, we were running through songs for the new album that we’re recording this year. I think that helped the band. It’s certainly helped me light the way. It helped me to see how it was constructed. So it wasn’t done in a purposeful way, but that informed the recording of the new album.". That time has now come, with the new release on the horizon, The Cure began their European tour with the surprise return of guitarist and keyboardist Perry Bamonte, who rejoined the band for the first time in nearly two decades. Over the course of the tour, they premiered five songs from the upcoming album such as “I Can Never Say Goodbye,” “A Fragile Thing”, “And Nothing Is Forever”, “Endsong”, and “Alone”. Speaking with the press ahead of the NME Awards, Smith said the 10-song album is nearly finished, with the aim of releasing it as early as September. He characterized the music on "Songs of a Lost World" as "relentlessly doom and gloom", and elaborated with NME, stating that, "The Darkness of Recent Years has Inspired their 'Merciless' New Album". Proceeding the album's release with a 2023 North American tour of the same name, domestic audiences will finally be able to witness what Europe and Great Britain did last year, "The Cure Live Review: Top Goths Tease their Bleak but Beautiful New Album".