"The Cure" Heals Hungry Fans

Despite the passing of three decades, one thing hasn't changed -- nothing says "I'm tortured!" quite like having a Cure poster, wearing a Cure shirt, or popping in a Cure CD to soothe away the outside world.

There are other things that haven't changed, too: frontman Robert Smith's follicular vigor, the 3-dimentional nature of The Cure's music, and -- for once -- the band's lineup. These constants add up to a blissful sum for long-loyal fans -- The Cure's ability, after over 20 recordings, to still turn out a heartfelt and beautiful album.

The self-titled "The Cure," released June 29th, comes fresh on the heels of the band's headlining performance at the 5th annual Indio, CA Coachella Festival this May. Under a spotlighted desert sky, Simon Gallup, Perry Bamonte, Roger O'Donnel, Jason Cooper, and Capt. Smith entertained over 50,000 people with a satisfyingly decade-spanning show.

It was evident from the few new songs they debuted at Coachella that "The Cure" is faster-paced than their last original release, 2000's "Bloodflowers." The subtle, almost funereal acoustic guitar-based melodies and gentle drums of "Bloodflowers" are replaced here by driving beats and more edgy electric effects. Instead of experimenting with an entirely new sound, like some aging bands feel they have to do, The Cure on this album makes a refreshing return to the rock-based, synthesizer-driven doom of 1987's "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me," and 1992's "Wish."

With "Lost," the album begins on an appropriately somber note, as Robert Smith croons a barren "I can't find myself" over muddled, discordant notes and gritty distortion. His vocal assault at the end of the song, however, is applause-worthy proof that for all his 45 years, Smith has lost neither his lung capacity nor his youthful vigor. "Labyrinth" opens with swirling, hypnotic guitars and resonant drums that beat an exotic trance...and provide the backdrop to Smith's still-despairing lyrics.

The album changes mood with "Before Three": a sunny, major chord-based, (dare I say) hopeful song. The arrangements are richly layered and atmospheric, and the lyrics, if not happy, are at least reminiscent of happy times. "The End of the World" is the CD's most mainstream accessible track, and for this reason, also its first single. The song is a dabble in melancholy pop with wistful words and a sparkling, catchy beat. This is the Cure-ist love song at its most vibrant, showcasing the band's immense talent for whimsical soundscapes, and ready to grace even the glassiest eyes with that love-struck gleam.

"Anniversary," a journey through stunning darkness, is the most melodic of the CD's "sad" songs. Distorted guitar loops swirl over soothing synth moods to create a lush, spacey ballad. "Us Or Them" finds The Cure rocking on the wild side. This may be the most difficult track to get into; Smith's signature tormented howl introduces a primal, harsh landscape for a walk down memory's bitter lane.

This album is notably angrier than previous recordings, perhaps following in the trend of other aging genre-godfathers such as Metallica, whose appropriately titled 2003 release "St. Anger" featured more rage, more metal, and gave the listener quite a licking. Even "The Cure"'s album art is darker, depicting disturbing, childish crayon drawings of mildly demonic figures.

"alt.end" begins at  foot-tapping speed, slowly building lyrics and guitars until it reaches the greedy crescendo of its "I want this to be the end" chorus.  Thankfully, playful synthesizer effects toy with the song's intensity, lending it the catty whimsicality typical of all Cure music.

Whimsical romance batts its eyes again on "(I Don't Know What's Going) On."  The song takes flight on a somewhat desperate, new-love confusion of major/minor chords and the lilting, soaring vocal ride of its chorus, courtesy of Capt. Smith. "I don't know what's going on, I am so / up close to / in deep with / disturbed by you," he trills, but the lyrics don't deal with the technicalities of the tender new emotion; the narrator resolves the situation instead with the decision not to talk at all. The song ends with a burst of vocal joy as Smith literally bubbles over with being in love...with you!

"Taking Off" is another venture into upbeat territory, opening like a drive toward the sunrise on a summer day.  Background pianos lend tenderness to a pop romp in which Smith unabashedly feels "Alive with you!"  The track blossoms with vocals that, at the end, simply float off into the clouds. "Never" is structured like a jog through rock-pop fields, soaked by the rain of unreturned love. Smith's vocals have never been precisely on key; they continue here to warble endearingly from emotion to emotion, sometimes breaking, sometimes possessing a raspy edge not heard often on previous albums.

From the outset of "The Promise," the ending song boasts the most "The Kiss"-like garbled guitars and a haunting, echoed beat.  The story tells of broken promises that seem to propel the swelling noise into a downward spiral, from which the only SOS is Smith's cracking wail. The brooding, 10-minute roller coaster through Smith's spurned love is a CD closer that befits the disk's theme -- darker, heavier, and proof that The Cure can still out-goth even their blackest-clad followers.

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