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The Cure: The Cure

Geffen, 2004

Rating: 3.0



Posted: July 28, 2004

By Kevin Forest Moreau

There's a sort of rock 'n' roll justice to the notion that Robert Smith, the porcelain-complexioned leader of the Cure, has suddenly taken to hanging out with the kind of guys who probably tried to beat the stuffing out of him mercilessly when he was a lad. First he contributed a guest vocal to the last Blink-182 record, and now he's hooked up with nu-metal producer Ross Robinson (Korn, Limp Bizkit, Slipknot). With an ever-increasing number of bands bearing his unmistakable musical influence -- bands whose members weren't even born when Smith first dabbed on makeup -- the front man, perhaps in recoil, appears to have abandoned the characteristics that drew so many followers to him in the first place.

That's not strictly accurate, of course: The Cure, which the band dashed off this spring with Robinson and Smith at the helm, can't help but retain some of the singer's stylistic hallmarks. But they're buried, unsurprisingly, in a sludgy mix that emphasizes the low end -- and, more importantly, in songs and arrangements that go out of their way to de-emphasize melody and dynamics. In fact, the songs sound less like, well, songs, and more like beds of noise engineered to reverberate in cavernous stadiums -- but devoid of the hooks that Robinson's more famous collaborators turn into fist-pumping arena-rock anthems. Much of The Cure slogs along at the same churning, monotonous pace, and Smith, rambling in a croak-shout variation of his normal singing voice, does the material few favors.

The opening "Lost" begins with Smith intoning "I can't find myself" over and over (although once or twice it sounds, tellingly, like "I can't fire myself"), before easing into a steadily climbing arrangement that turns in on itself like an Ouroboros, with that oft-repeated line serving as the chorus. Frustratingly, the song dissipates in a muddy guitar snarl in lieu of a payoff. Likewise, "Labyrinth" offers early promise, with Smith's processed voice draped to positive effect over a trance-like guitar lick, but it stays stuck in that mode, with Smith repeating "It's not the same you" toward a similarly unsatisfying finish.

If there's a lot of lyrical repetition on The Cure, it's because Smith appears to have nothing worthwhile to say. If one views the album as a turning away from the "emo" legions who've churned out sophomoric journal entries while claiming the Cure as inspiration, this lack of lyrical heft takes on an ironic dimension, as Smith spends much of his time here sounding like an undercooked alt-rocker, trying to goose banal sentiments ("I couldn't ever love you more;" "The happiest day I ever knew/ In a sea of gold down next to you") into sounding more profound than they are.

There are moments, to be sure, when The Cure succeeds, however briefly, in sloughing its miasmic skin. "Us or Them" and "alt.end" offer melodic rewards, with the former striving for (but never quite affecting) a defiant, nu-metal bristle. "Before Three" and "The End of the World" aim for the kind of ringing goth-pop for which the Cure was once famous, but the latter is bogged down by a self-conscious stop-start motif and a not-quite-there melody that keeps threatening to slide into Pavement's "Gold Soundz." And the chiming guitar that kicks off "Taking Off" recalls (a bit too strongly) the band's monster single "Just Like Heaven."

Ultimately, however, The Cure asserts itself as a kind of continuous drone -- not unpleasant, but mired in one gear, hindered by a lack of memorable melody or tension. (That's especially true of the closing "The Promise," which wears out its welcome before half of its over-twelve-minute running time has elapsed.)

For an eponymous album, The Cure proves less than characteristic of the band's signature pop traits. It's likely that Smith intends the title, taken together with the album's stylistic shift, to suggest a rebirth -- especially after the murky disappointment of 2000's Bloodflowers, which seemed for awhile as if it might be the band's final statement. But The Cure proves too diffuse to stand as a statement of purpose. At best, one hopes it signals a period of transition for an artist still willing to experiment (and risk failure) this long into a remarkably durable career.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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