Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mitch Mitchell RIP

Eric Clapton, John Lennon and, most famously, Jimi Hendrix Experience (among an impressive array of others) drummer Mitch Mitchell was found dead in his hotel room yesterday. He was 61.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Cure - "4:13 Dream" (Geffen Records 2008)

It’s been four years since The Cure released the remarkably lackluster eponymously titled The Cure, continuing with Robert Smith’s stated intent beginning with 1989’s brilliant Disintegration to release a new Cure record every four years. Well, in spite of truckload of accolades, awards, and recognitions it’s been a rough couple of decades musically for the band. Wish, the 1992 follow-up to Disintegration, was spotty at best. It certainly had its fair share of moments but an equal weight in phoned in, weak material. 1996’s Wild Mood Swings continued this directionless direction and was an aptly titled record that didn’t know what it wanted to be. Bloodflowers, released in 2000, returned to the more familiar, melancholic ground The Cure operates most comfortably on. Smith hired nu-metal producer Ross Robinson and gave us 2004’s The Cure, referred to by Smith as “Cure heavy”. Whether an attempt to update their sound or simply an uninspired exercise in order to maintain the four year interval, or both, the record was a fucking disaster. I can think of two listenable songs on the whole thing, and that’s being generous. With longtime keyboardist and collaborator Roger O’Donnell’s departure in May 2005 and Smith’s stated intention not to replace him my hopes dimmed for the future of a band I once considered one of the best in the world.

They say high expectations can lead to disappointment, and that the inverse is true. I had pretty low expectations for 4:13 Dream, but after listening to the thing ten or more times I’ve gotta say that this is strongest Cure record since Disintegration. Not that it bears much sonic or mood resemblance to that record, but in its tight focus. Finally, after all this time, a record with a solid vision behind it. That vision is guitar drenched pop, and it turns out they’re pretty good at it.

With the stripped down lineup of Smith, Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson, and Jason Cooper, whatever keyboard is in there (Smith is credited with “keys”) is strictly backdrop. Anyone familiar with the band’s body of work knows that by 1985’s Head on the Door Smith had forsaken minimalism for lush production, and this record is no exception. Working with producer Keith Uddin (Bjork, Nick Cave, Oasis, and about a thousand others) the two produce a sonic landscape of layered guitars and subtle rhythms that just sounds fucking great.

Opening with “Underneath the Stars”, a song bearing the most familiar Cure hallmarks of the record, 4:13 Dream abruptly veers into the overtly sexual “The Only One” – both terrific pop songs but stylistically very different. The record proceeds to move around through mid to up tempo hooky numbers, almost all catchy as hell and displaying a satisfying range of the lyrical subject matter that Smith is so good at. From the bouncy, tongue in cheek “Freak Show” to the more melancholic longing of The Hungry Ghost”, it’s all in there.

While this all may give the impression of disjointedness, it’s the confidence of this record that ties everything together and really makes it work. It seems Smith has found his way to remain contemporary without resorting to ill-considered plays like “Cure heavy”. The Cure reportedly recorded 33 songs for this record, initially intended as a double record, but decided instead to pick and choose, and they really hit the mark as far as how well these songs fit together as a whole (there are band propagated rumors of a second release of “darker material” before Robert Smith’s birthday (April 21st) – something I think would be only fair considering this album’s release was delayed by seven months).

Complaints? Of course. All five of you who actually read this blog know my opinion of Jason Cooper’s drumming. There’s no way it was going to be easy to replace Boris Williams but it’s difficult to credit that Cooper was the best they could do. While a serviceable timekeeper, his uninspired electronic drum fills and general lack of creativity serve only to diminish the superb bass skills of Simon Gallup. The one song on which there is some semblance of the bass/drums interplay that was such a hallmark of The Cure prior to Cooper is “Sleep When I’m Dead”, a song apparently composed by Smith and Gallup during The Head on the Door sessions.

Also, while the intentions of a song like “Freak Show” are good, it’s a little bit much. Its jerky arrangement and almost spoken lyric make it stand out, and not in a good way. That being said, I have no doubt that it’s the big hit in all the dance clubs as I type this.

So, is 4:13 Dream a brilliant record? No. Does it give an indication that Smith has another masterpiece along the lines of Pornography or Disintegration in him? Not necessarily. But what it does show is that Robert Smith still has it in him to produce great pop records that adapt with the times without compromising that distinctly Cure essence. For me, anyway, that’s enough.

3.5 out of 4 dreams

Monday, November 3, 2008

John Daly RIP

Chairman of Film and Music Entertainment Inc. John Daly died Fridy at the age of 71. He produced flicks like Platoon and The Last Emporer. There's a lot more interesting shit about his early career if you want to look it up, but I'm too sick of writing about the recently deceased to research it and cast it into my own poetic prose.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Studs Terkel RIP

What can I say that you don't already know about the man if you gave a shit about him. I'm really going to have to stop noting these passings. Rest in peace, Studs. 93 is a pretty good run.