As The Cure moved forward in their career, their songs grew progressively darker. If you thought it couldn’t get darker than Faith, then you haven’t heard this album. This record contains the most disturbing songs and imagery of any Cure release. Though the album is now considered a masterpiece, it’s one of those records you don’t instantly fall in love with. It takes time to really appreciate how amazing this release is. Though each song is bleak and depressing, they’re all great. There isn’t a dull moment to be found here.
The album opens with the heart racing “One Hundred Years,” which has one of the best riffs from the band. It echoes and reverberates throughout the song, almost as if it was sounding an alarm for the danger to come. The hard hitting drums just adds to this monstrous track. It sets the tone for the album with the opening line “It doesn’t matter if we all die,” letting the listeners know what they have gotten themselves into. The track also has some ominous moments, like when Smith sings “In high building there is so much to do/going home time story on the radio.” I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure he’s referencing a mid-afternoon suicide attempt. Everything from the ringing riff to the unnerving lyrics makes this one of The Cure’s most in your face songs.
The next track “A Short Term Effect” crushes any hopes that things will brighten up. It’s another song that begins with really strong, harsh drums that pull you in. Also, the first verse alone paints the bleakest picture of death: “Movement, no movement/Just a falling bird/Cold as it hits the bleeding ground/He lived and died/Catch sight/Cover me with earth/Draped in black/Static white sound.” It’s lines like this that makes this my favorite Cure album lyrically. When compared to other songs here “Hanging Garden” is the most upbeat. It opens with these racing, tribal like drums that help to create this odd exotic sound. Though the song does mention death, it seems to more focus on the highs and lows of the animal kingdom. Nonetheless, it’s still a great track.
Another great song is “The Figurehead.” It has this marching band like drumbeat that introduces the song, followed by the guttural bass, and finally the foreboding guitars all of which steadily go higher and higher as the song progresses as if to signify some terror that’s finally reached you. Here, the line that really strikes me as creepy is “I laughed in the mirror for the first time in a year.” I guess it seems so creepy because laughing is something that happens on a daily basis; we see anyone who never laughs as deeply disturbed. That line lets the listener into Smith’s mindset during this time. This is just one of the many eerie moments on the record.
Of course all of the songs are great. There’s never a dull moment during the album, even though most of the songs are slow paced. My personal favorite is “Cold,” which is probably the bleakest song on the album if that’s possible. A brooding cello opens the song and the title seems to describe the whole tone of the track. Even though every song features vivid, haunting the lyrics, the ones here take the cake. One of my favorite lines is “Ice in my eyes and eyes like ice don’t move/Screaming at the moon/Another past time.” Something about that line sticks with you after the song is over.
The album is just about perfect, but the only complaint I have is with the final track “Pornography.” It’s a great song, but it begins with backwards voices that go on for a little too long. They are creepy for sure, but this makes the song take too long to start up. Otherwise, this is a powerful closing track. There’s a slow build up to the music that leaves the listener in suspense wondering what’s going to come next. Out of all of the songs here this is the most violent. At the end, Robert screams “One more day like today/and I’ll kill you/I’m gonna watch you drown in the shower/Push my life through your eyes.” It’s even more disturbing at the end when he says “I must fight this sickness, must find a cure.” It’s at this point you begin to wondering if this final message is a reminder for Smith himself. The song ends abruptly cutting out when it’s over. It’s an unexpected and startling way to end the record.
This is another album where it pays to look at the lyrics if you aren’t familiar with them because there is a lot of vivid imagery and detail here. As mentioned before, a lot of the images are disturbing or gruesome. Take this line from “Siamese Twins:” “Dancing in my pocket/Worms eat my skin…” That image in your head is just plain creepy. As I mentioned before, a lot of the songs feature gruesome and brutal details, like “Siamese Twins:” “The walls and the ceiling move in time/Push a blade into my hands/Slowly up the stairs/And into the room/Is it always like this?” And the way Smith repeats that last line at the end is eerie, as if he has no hope left. Whether it’s because of the themes of death and isolation are prevalent in these songs or because of the way they were written, a lot of these lines will pop in your head whether you want them to or not. Everything is mentioned in such detail that you can picture everything Robert is singing and it’s beyond haunting.
There is something about the singing that is different here, but not in a bad way. Robert sounds more tortured, desperate, and frightened on this album. These elements were not present in his singing on the previous releases and it may mark him learning how to use his voice to convey emotion, even if it’s just slightly; it’s not something that’s really noticeable. But when you listen to it, you definitely hear the difference in his singing. It could be due to what he was going through at the time. Here, he always sounds like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown and when you look into the album’s history, you learn that this was pretty much the case.
Overall, this album gets 10/10. It’s a classic and for new Cure fans who may be used to their later material it may take some getting used to, but it’s definitely worth having. The songs are great, the lyrics are phenomenal, and the music is spot on. You can really hear how much work and pain was put into the album. It’s as if Smith wanted the listener to suffer his depression with him. The Cure have had several dark albums before and after this release, but this is definitely the darkest record in their catalog so far.