The Cure -‘Disintegration’ (Fiction, 1989)
Very few bands make it to an eighth album. (Actually, I suppose you could argue, given the amount of bands that must form and split up, very few make it to actually releasing anything). But ten years after they released their debut Three Imaginary Boys, The Cure released their eighth album Disintegration in May 1989.
What was even more astonishing was not only how good the album was -and is, it’s dated extremely well – but the contents therein. The Cure had gone from being yet another band out of the Post-Punk/New Wave who had taken the possibilities of what had gone before and run with them. From their second album, 1980’s Seventeen Seconds, they had become associated with what would become known as the raincoat bands/positive punk/goth…call it what you will. Two further albums over the next successive years, Faith and Pornography, saw them get darker and fiercer. A surprise then that under Robert Smith’s leadership they would discover pop and get bigger and bigger, managing to retain and pop sensibility, maintaining a loyal fanbase and attracting ever more folk to the cause. The next three albums, The Top, The Head On The Door and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me saw them reach ever successive heights, as they gained not just NME and Melody Maker covers but appearances in Smash Hits and on Top Of The Pops. So the expectation for their eighth album was pretty high.
Disintegration is a wonderful album, twelve tracks long (the LP misses off ‘Homesick’ and ‘Last Dance’; it’s one of very few albums I’d rather have on CD than vinyl) that for much of it is extremely sad and dark. As they headlined festivals and drew bigger and bigger crowds, they might have been expected to have gone completely pop. Instead, they released what would become viewed as a sister album to Pornography in its’ intensity (this would later form part of a trilogy with the release in 2000 of the Bloodflowers album, perhaps the most underrated album of this band’s career).
The opening song ‘Plainsong’ would continue to open gigs for over a decade afterwards. It really is plainsong, managing to be simple and yet majestic at the same time. Your hair stands on end without needing to be backcombed, as slowly the band come in, one by one. The closer ‘Untitled’ with similar motifs to ‘Plainsong’ played on the harmonium is a perfect matching bookend. Smith had married his long-term girlfriend Mary the previous year, and a tape of the second single Love Song was his wedding present to her. It’s an honest love song, about how he feels, but also acknowledging that there may be difficult times. They’re still married now…
Other hits from the album were ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Pictures Of You’ (the US also got a single of ‘Fascination Street’). In Lullaby, Robert Smith envisaged himself being eaten by a spider man, and a fantastically creepy video ensued. It became the band’s biggest hit in the UK, reaching no.5; ‘Love Song’ would also reach no.2 in the US. Thus, two years before Nirvana’s Nevermind is perceived as opening the door for ‘alternative’ music, The Cure had already done it two years earlier.
It’s not an upbeat album, but by no means is it as harrowing as Pornography. All shades of life as seen here; Smith coming to terms with being thirty, just as Bloodflowers would deal with hitting middle-age ten years later. It contains hit singles, that were deservedly hits, which reached out to the casual observers. Other tracks like the title track, the full album version of’ ‘Pictures Of You’ and ‘Prayers For Rain’ showed that emotionally intense and epic songs could still be their forte.
20 years later, you’re left to conclude that the title might almost be ironic. Though long-serving keyboardist (and formerly drummer) Lol Tolhurst left during the recording of the album, this is not the sound of a band disintegrating. Rather, it’s the sound of a band firing on all cylinders, lyrically, musically, emotionally.
This post originally appeared, written by me, over at The Vinyl Villain on May 26.