Revisiting Disintegration by The Cure

Not everybody arrives at metal music in the same way. Some grow into it. Some later grow out of it. Some discover it through friends, or anger, or tragedy. For me, heavy music just always seems to have been there. By my early teenage years I was puritanical in my rejection of other genres.

Although my main musical diet these days is somewhere beyond what the mainstream thinks of as ‘metal’, it’s not heavy I look for nowadays. It’s darkness. Call it catharsis, or sickness, or pessimism – call it what you want. It’s where I find truth in art.

One band more than any other proved to me that darkness can be found wherever some tortured soul is willing to bare it. That’s why I love The Cure. I’m not alone amongst metalheads in that regard, and I assume others share a similar rationale.

The Cure tore open my eyes, and kicked down musical barriers I didn’t realise I’d built. I found goth. I found post-punk. I found virtue in artistry over abrasion, in flair over friction. And it all started with Disintegration.

The Cure
Disintegration
Fiction Records
1989
[Spotify]

There are songs elsewhere in The Cure canon that enjoy more popularity than those on Disintegration. Indeed, the band’s commercial success prior to 1989 was a non-chemical factor in Robert Smith’s shift of focus to a more expansive realm on The Cure’s eighth record.

Perhaps unfortunately for Smith, the album sold like nobody’s business; even at their most worthy, The Cure can’t help but write a killer hook. That’s in evidence even at the beginning of Disintegration. ‘Plainsong’ is one of the all-time great album scene-setters. It reveals everything and nothing.

It’s followed by a pair of songs that define what I love about this iconic band. ‘Pictures Of You’, despite a run-time well north of seven minutes and the perfect blackness that clamps it to my affections, is a world-beating pop song. ‘Closedown’ is more on the goth side of The Cure’s sound, exploratory and indulgent, but is still anchored by one of those fabulous hooks.

‘Lovesong’, the shortest song on Disintegration and its third single, is somehow better than both of them. The writing is perfect, from the infectious musical canvas to the lyrical brushstrokes of a master. There aren’t many songs out there that can hold a candle to it as a goth love anthem.

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Unlike the better known 1992 single ‘Friday I’m In Love’, ‘Lullaby’ charted in the top five in the UK in the spring of 1989. It’s as good as anything The Cure have done, and, by extension, better than almost everything by everyone else. It’s one of the best songs ever committed to wax.

Smith’s lyrical genius isn’t necessarily the defining characteristic of this incredible, atmospheric record, but it’s certainly present. Disintegration is gothic poetry. It’s an album of hopeless adoration, obsessive and unrequited. It’s a void set in a landscape of bleakly crafted beauty.

Musically, it’s got all that’s good about goth, all the jangles and experimental instrumentation, all the bass guitar funk ‘n’ oomph that’s always kept goth apart from wanton obscurity.

Disintegration takes a consistent aura and pulls it off in a hundred directions, always rooting itself in a theme that’s never spoken but never absent. One minute it’s pop music, the next it’s spiralling off into a pretentious artistic stupor, but the quality doesn’t dip for a second. It’s a balancing act pulled off to perfection and the result is as glorious today as the first time I heard it.

You can buy Jurassic Parkour, the second EP by WAVE, on Bandcamp.

Chris Nee