Review Summary: A kaleidoscope that perfectly describes the intricate beauty of melancholy and gloom.
Old Times Series: (Part 2)
Like I mentioned in the debut review of the Modern Times Series, aging is an inevitable and suffocating process. Robert Smith of The Cure
perhaps also felt such dread as well back in 1988, as he feared that he couldn’t make a masterpiece before the age of 30 like his idols such as David Bowie
and Joy Division
and loathed his newfound success and anticipation for the follow-up of the pop-leaned Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
. Such intense burden would lead him to take hallucinogenic drugs (again) and write darker materials that recalls the dreary sonic abyss and introspective lyricism of Pornography
with strong pop tendencies of the aforementioned Kiss Me
album, and thus wrote a batch of bleak, pessimistic yet colourful materials that would become Disintegration
. As a result, the 72-minute-long album not only would become the magnum opus Smith wanted to create but would be the band’s most definitive and enduring statement.
To kick things off, Smith himself has perfectly described the mental erosion he suffered without being overly melodramatic like in Pornography
, and instead replace the excessed dramatic and dirgeful prose with stronger pop sensibilities, resulting in an album that is profoundly dark yet relatable. From the feelings of near-death dreariness (“Lullaby”), fear (“Closedown”), romantic yearning(“Lovesong”), despair(“Untitled”), disappointment (“Last Dance”) to alienation (the appropriately titled “Homesick”), desolation (“Prayers For Rain”), suffocation in lust and desires (“The Same Deep Water as You”) and lost (“Fascination Street”), Smith have crafted songs that is drenched in darkness that many listeners could relate to. However, it was the snowy yet sunbathed “Pictures of You” and the sprawling lament that is the title track that fully established the vast feeling of melancholy:the former is a lushly epic sonic tapestry weaved with beautifully crafted guitar and bass lines, lush synths, buried yet distinctive percussions and Smith’s introspective vocals, with the singer chirped poignant lyrics about a distanced love one, as he lamented that he only had the pictures with them together instead of spending quality time together(“I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you/That I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel”
), the partner have changed distinctly (“You were bigger and brighter and wider than snow/And screamed at the make-believe/Screamed at the sky”
) and that he should be the one to blame(“If only I'd thought of the right words/I could have held on to your heart”
), resulting a bright yet harrowing tune that is awe-striking; the latter, on the other hand, is a sinister sonic bombast drenched with the grim lyrics regarding to Smith’s outlook on his life, as it filled with lyrics relating to sex (“The soft and the black and the velvety/Up tight against the side of me”
), drugs(”As bit by bit it starts the need/To just let go my party piece”
), infidelity(“The aching kiss before I feed/The stench of a love for a younger meat”
), relationship fractures(“I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery/Stains on the carpet and stains on the scenery”
) and self-destruction(”Through the eye of the needle/It's easier for me to get closer to Heaven/Than ever feel whole again”
), all the while being splashed with pounding drums, sprinkled with oriental-infused guitar, dense, driving bass and washed with dark, misty synths, a beautifully dreary picture of every single dark thoughts that everyone could have. It is one very difficult task to make your own dark experiences into music since the result could be one very inaccessible and filled with all the unnecessary dramas, alienating record that no listeners would understand. Smith, however, avoided all the nihilism and glum, and instead of documenting his own mental disintegration in its raw skeletal form, creating a full-bodied and beautiful record.
Even in terms of sonic territory, Disintegration
is also contrasted with glimmering pop elements and gothic darkness that very few bands prior, if any, successfully achieved, making the melancholy that dominates the entire album sound unusually breathtaking and alluring. The opening track “Plainsong” is one such example, as it began with an eerie wind chimes, only to be greeted with a storm of an orchestral synths and thunderous drums, and have an occasional gossamer guitar lines, making it not only a successful bridge from the glimmering pop high in Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
, but one of the most breathtaking album opener ever. Most of the remainder of the album, however, is a perfect reminiscence of the band’s sonic experimentations, whether is it the new wave-oriented pale grey of Seventeen Seconds
(“Closedown” and “Last Dance”), the dour darkness in Faith
(“Homesick” and “Same Deep Water as You”), abyssal nihilism in Pornography
(“Prayers for Rain” and “Untitled”) and the candy pop-coated lights and shadows in The Head on the Door
(“Last Dance” and “Lullaby”). However, it was “Lovesong” and “Fascination Streets” exemplifies the otherworld gloom sound of the album. The former is a titular song dedicated to Smith’s wife and perhaps the album’s most accessible song, as it layered with melancholic organs, shining guitars, unforgettable basslines and whirlwind string pads, as it blended the colourful and romantic pop in the Kiss Me
and the sonic darkness of Faith
together, perfectly mirroring the Smith’s lyrics regarding to the comfort to be with his then-soon-to-be bride(“Whenever I'm alone with you/You make me feel like I am home again”
) and his loyalty to her (“However far away/I will always love you”
), resulting in a song that fits the title perfectly; the latter is a sonic equivalent to a gloomy, nocturnal psychedelic fever dream, as it began with a bird-like whistling and feedback, then the song progressed to a two-minute sonic tapestry that is weaved with heavy basslines, pounding drums and otherworldly guitars and synths, with Smith babbled to another person about his obsession of putting the last nail in the coffin(“Because I feel it all fading and paling, and I'm begging to drag you down with me to kick the last nail in”), dread of responsibilities(“But if you open your mouth, then I can't be responsible/For quite what goes in or to care what comes out”) and succumb to a material and sexual-oriented relationship(“So just pull on your face, just pull on your feet/And let's hit opening time down on Fascination Street”), it is an ominous yet unforgettable gem that is impossible not to dance to. In other words, the album is a dark yet vivid picture where the band successfully balances the ugly darkness and the candy pop hooks into one irresistible and fascinating record.
In short, Disintegration
is every sound The Cure created in the 1980s packed together and being distilled into its finest, becoming an album that is bleak, dark yet beautiful, accessible and profound. A musical equivalent of a pitch black endless abyss filled with crystals glowing an otherworldly colour, it is one mystically dark album that wonderfully paints the portraits of dread, gloom, and isolation, without losing its intrigue, becoming one 1980s bookend that is rarely astounding. Sure, after this album, the band’s output is rather uneven to say the least, from the rather fine Wish
and the messy Wild Mood Swings
to the underdeveloped yet beautifully dark Bloodflowers
and the disappointing 4:13 Dream
, not to mention a lawsuit with former drummer/keyboardist Lol Tolhurst a few years after the release of this album and several lineup changes that hurt the band considerably, perhaps the darkness and negativity exerted in this album was somehow too much for the band to handle. However, Disintegration
exemplifies every single reason why the Sussex band has such a gigantic, loyal fan base that most bands would commit a felony to gain one, especially when Smith and co. have created an album that is both lyrically dark, relatable and beautiful and sonically unique and accessible, and eventually seals this 1989 album as not only the band’s most commercially and critically successful album and one of the most universal albums in music, but one of the greatest albums of all time. Perhaps Kyle Broflovski from South Park is not exaggerating at all when he called it “the best album ever” in front of Smith himself.
Pictures of You