Review Summary: Porn for goths…
‘Pornography’ sounds like the natural conclusion to the gothic trilogy The Cure had moulded since 1980’s ‘Seventeen Seconds’ - pushing all the gloom, doom and melodrama to its terrifyingly dark end in a grandiose and spectacular fashion.
Right off the bat, Smith and his gang of goths go for the jugular, opening their forth studio LP with the nihilistic statement: “It doesn’t matter if we all die”, backed by off-kilter percussion and a frenetic whirlwind of jarring synth and crumbling guitars. ‘One Hundred Years’ serves more as an epic dive into the murky deep-end, than a subtle, toe-in-the-shallow-end mood setter and that’s just fine, because when you name an album ‘Pornography’ and intend it close a trilogy of dark albums, subtlety shouldn’t be the order of the day - and no-one is more aware of that than The Cure.
‘One Hundred Years’ also serves a perfect example of a much richer sounding band, with the audio-waves flooded with grim walls of noise throughout - almost the opposite of the stark, minimalist melodies heard a year previous. Alongside the stringent bass, trickling lead, driving percussion, and ethereal synth, Smith still managed to find room for a cello to feature, providing the backbone of the expectedly sombre ‘Cold’ - it’s scraping, unsettling warble blending beautifully with hollow drums and a haunting wash of synth.
The highpoints don’t stop there, with lead single ‘The Hanging Garden’ making for another Cure classic. Pounding drums and rattling bass drive the despair-ridden number home, as Smith’s evocative lyrics instil the listener with the vivid and frankly gruesome image the song title suggests. Lyrically, it’s a pure dose of gothic melodrama, with Smith’s shrieking vocals squalling lines like “Cover my face as the animals cry” evolving into the altogether more morbid “Cover my face as the animals die”. Other highlights include ‘The Figurehead’, with its gorgeous riff creeping in sporadically, and the warped, eerie synthesisers present on ‘A Strange Day’.
Writing of Smith’s lyrics, it’s interesting to see how they’ve progressed from the quiet angst of earlier albums, to the extreme outbursts of despair littering each and every doom-laden song here. The theme of “Death” hinted at on ‘Faith’ resurfaces again, but the lines surrounding it are what proves to be most compelling, as they’re genuinely disturbing at times - especially when the frustration and angst turns violent, like on the title track: “One more day like today and I'll kill you / A desire for flesh / And real blood / I'll watch you drown in the shower / Pushing my life through your open eyes”. One of Smith’s sharpest endings arrives as ‘Pornography’ draws to a close, with the tongue-in-cheek “I must fight this sickness / Find a cure” ending on a stark, but hopeful note, redeeming all the outbursts of anger, guilt, and angst with the subtlest glimpse at the light beyond the murky depths of despair suffocating at present.
Because the album is such an atmospheric piece, it should be enjoyed in one, continuous sitting - uninterrupted and focused. The album works best when the listener draws the curtains shut, waits until the dead of night, plugs in a pair of headphones, and allows himself to be transported into ‘Pornography’s dark whirlpool of sound, determined to drag him down into the bowels of hell. And it’s not as hard as it may seem to be drawn so deep into Smith’s deprived world, as ‘Pornography’ is simply one of the most convincing and grandiose albums The Cure ever produced. It may be incredibly melodramatic, but that doesn’t stop it from also being one of the most spectacular and dark albums the post-punk genre ever gave birth to.