Review Summary: The embodiment of aging. In a good way.
Getting older is a strange thing. At first it means little or nothing to a person, then it becomes all important ¬*as that person aches to reach certain milestone ages , later it signifies a more dreaded fact of life - the ending of it - and eventually it becomes what it truly is; a measuring tool to calculate the amount of time one has spent on this tiny planet and how long they have left. Robert Smith - vocalist, guitarist and key songwriter for The Cure - was at a stage in his life, when turning thirty, in which aging represented a "Constant feeling of falling apart, which I'm sure everyone feels" as he put so himself whilst recording "Disintegration". This is why the band's influential, and arguably best, album is such a sprawling, ¬*emotional and layered affair; a sonic interpretation of mortality, love, lust, dreams and the slow deterioration of a person's body and mind. However, although the album's title does suggest a mournful tone - and this would be a correct assumption for parts of the whole - there is an undeniable beauty to be found within it's 12 songs. Perhaps this is because the album feels less like a slow decaying, and more like a soul spreading out as it fades and laying it's darkest and purest aspects bare. Or perhaps it's just The Cure's ability to dress strong ideas with layers upon layers of atmosphere.
As¬*the album begins, we are wrapped up tightly within the opening track's - "Plainsong" - expectant synths and heartbreaking guitar work as Smith sings in a ghostly voice
""I think it's dark and it looks like rain" you said¬*
"And the wind is blowing like it's the end of the world" you said¬*
"And it's so cold it's like the cold if you were dead" And then you smiled for a second."
A conversation between two lovers, both facing their first brush with their own mortality? Both reaching that point when youth was yesterday and middle-age is just around the corner; a wry smile appearing at the almost cliched "... like the cold if you were dead", laughing at the hyperbole connection between leaving your twenties behind and it being the signifier of creative and emotional death. The song is laden with sweeping and epic musical movements which bring about the beginning of this journey, letting us know we are in for more than the average listen, as is proved via¬*"Pictures Of You".¬*Simplistic guitar, bass, drums and the ever present synths are swathed with so much melancholy and longing that the song induces nostalgia in the listener just as Smith emotes it himself;
"I've been looking so long at these pictures of you that I almost believe that they're real... You were bigger and brighter and wider than snow and screamed at the make-believe screamed at the sky and you finally found all your courage to let it all go."
This is where Smith's masterful writing of lyrics comes into play; the song could be his memories of a past lover, or his former self. Looking back at the mistakes he made with another person, or looking back at an idealized version of himself? Only a ¬*truly brilliant piece of writing can achieve such seemingly different ideas at once. ¬*A perfect song; hypnotic, engrossing, touching and pure. However, despite the emotional weight present within "Disintegration", ¬*the album does find time to offer some respite with songs such as "Lovesong" and "Lullaby". The former is a joyous, though still somewhat melancholic, pop song with a memorable riff and a Smiths-esque vibe. The latter a dark yet jaunty tale of a bogeyman figure - which seems a metaphor for death though could be interpreted as a night spent on¬*hallucinogenic¬*drugs - boasting both a bucket-load of atmosphere and hooks: thus the halfway point is reached.
This break in the album, provided by "Lullaby", gives way to "Fascination Street" which begins the darker side of the album. Undeniably a standout track, "Fascination Street" is built around a much groovier, heavier idea than it's predecessors. A storming bass line, pounding-reverb-drums, evil guitar tones and a more slurred, urgent and cynical delivery from Smith
"Oh! It's opening time down on fascination street, so let's cut the conversation and get out for a bit. Because I feel it all fading and paling and I'm begging to drag you down with me, to kick the last nail in."
The idea of wanting to recapture one's youth, or perhaps prolong it, whilst knowing it is fading away is portrayed excellently as the ebb and flow of the music amounts more and more tension until we reach a natural end as Smith sings the title of the track a few more times; connecting the title "Fascination Street" with the fact that as a person gets older, less can hold their attention, inspire wonder and fascinate them and so the fictional street represents Robert's wanting to retain those mental states taken for granted by the young. It is regrettable then, ¬*that this depth of subject matter and musical quality creates one of the weaker tracks on the album "The Same Deep Water As You". The ninth track is all the things which make "Disintegration" what it is, yet it lacks the same strength as most of the album and it's lengthy runtime makes it more of a dirge than it should be. By no means is the song bad, or even uninspired, it just fails to live up to the high standard of the songs around it.¬*
Following the title track, which sounds like it's name suggests - though maybe in a different way than is expected via one of the most memorable bass lines of the album, glass shattering and another fantastic performance from Smith - comes the closing pair of "Homesick" and "Untitled". The former is a ballad of sorts, containing a mixture of tonality within it's eye-closing-bluesy-piano and distorted, though melodic, guitar work. Smith's lazy vocal delivery adds to the somewhat jam-style structuring of the song and makes for an album highlight. Then comes the end. "Untitled" is a song which, although not the strongest on the album, caps it off perfectly through it's sweet use of organ - or Accordion- subtle instrumentation and lyrics which impart upon us a poignant aspect of growing older;
"Never quite said what I wanted to say to you, never quite managed the words to explain to you. Never quite knew how to make them believable and now the time has gone. Another time undone."
Aside from the emotive aspects of the album - be that the lyrical content or Smith's uncanny ability to capture the feelings behind a guitar line with his voice - it's production, replay value and wealth of good ideas thrusts "Disintegration" high above ¬*all of The Cure's competition in their preferred area of goth/indie/pop, as well as many others outside of these genres. And finally, despite it's minor flaws, this album shall forever hold a special place within the history of modern music, and in fact all music. Just turn out the lights, turn up the volume, let the sounds fill the room to bursting point and immerse yourself in the album which all emotional music aspires to be.¬*