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


Anonymous said...

First off, Misery, I am delighted to see your review. I am an avid reader of any GREAT FUCKING WRITING, no matter what the subject or content may be. Thanks for a great read.

The Cure. What to say? Over the years, I have trained myself not to have ANY expectations of long time, still going, cross-generational bands. Like: The Rolling Stones, Areosmith, Robert Plant, even... My respect for them being true to themselves as musicians, no matter where they may be as PEOPLE at whatever particular time they're at in THIER lives, is heavy and true. There's the music and then there's the ARTIST. Frankly, anyone who's been through the likes of what the above mentioned bands have been through and STILL have the desire to PRACTICE and keep up with their dreams, get a big A+ from me.
Material? Well, hell... You can't win 'em all, now can you?
I actually liked Wild Mood Swings, but do agree, it cannot compare to hey-day Cure, but then, Misery, what can? Hey-day, is as hey-day does, and was, and will be remembered as, rather than, 'expected of'.
Let's thank the Gods and Goddessess that WE WERE THERE and we still care for whatever reasons. I think The Cure could appreciate that.
I'll have to give "4:13 Dream" a listen, now, thanks to your insightful review.
I may want to disagree with you on some points! HA!


MiseryCreek said...

I agree in principle, but have to say there are artists who far outlast their relevance. I had pretty serious concerns The Cure, and Robert Smith specifically, was one. As a band that you and I both loved and listened to incessantly when they were at the top of their game it was kind of breaking my heart.

Seeing them live back in June went some way to reassure me, but there are plenty of live bands that put on spectacular live shows while releasing crappy records (see AC/DC). Hearing The Cure return to form and exhibit the strengths that have kept them relevant for so long on record was a HUGE relief to me. It shows me Smith's head is still in the game and it's not just an exercise for him, which would be tragic.

Can't wait to argue all over 4:13 Dream with ya.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Misery! You are too close to The Cure, I think...

Robert Smith- It matters not what he will ever do; he will always BE Robert Smith!

Yes, some artists far outlast their relevance, but, they soldier on, and for that, I appreciate them whether I get their albums or not. One can be nothing other than what one is.

Like: David Bowie in the 80's.

Not at all the Ziggy Stardust we all knew and loved, but it was the 80's, for cryin' in a bucket! Who was what they really were in the 80's??

My Point?

He survived. I still love him, even though he hasn't done much lately (to my knowledge, anyway) I'll always love him. Yum! He grew me a soft spot in my heart, just like Robert Plant, Robert Smith, Stephen Tyler, Chris Cornell, Chris Robinson, Jimmy Hendrix, Neil Young, Hank Williams Sr., etc...

Again, yum!

Yeah, I know I like those tacky dudes, but hey, it's rock and motherfucking roll, what else would one expect?

I Give CREDIT just cause their still (trying to) Keep on keeping on, no matter if they succeed or not.

:) Ak GRae

MiseryCreek said...

Well again, little sister, I agree in principle. The Rolling Stones haven't released a listenable album, in my humble opinion, since "Exile on Main St." and when I saw them on the "A Bigger Bang" tour a couple of years ago I had a blast watching them have a blast doing what they do. That doesn't mean I don't wish they would have kept making brilliant records after "Exile". I'll never lose respect for them, for their achievements, but I'll also never again listen to anything released after "Exile" or, assuming they release another record, more than once if it's as uninspired as their work has been for the last quarter century.

My point is that is reassuring to me that Robert Smith isn't just going through the motions - he's still writing from the heart. If "4:13 Dream" would have stunk on ice, Robert Smith would still be the guy that wrote "The Figurehead" and "Push" and "Shake Dog Shake" and "Like Cockatoos" and etc. and for that I'd always respect him and that work. It doesn't mean I'd force myself to listen to a record I didn't like, whether by The Cure or anyone else, and wouldn't prevent me from mourning the passing of an artist's brilliance.

Now, let us dispense with the chit chat - get out there and buy that record so we can respectfully agree or disagree about that, contentious friend who I love.

Anonymous said...

OK, Misery! I will show up and put up at EXACTLY 4:13 the moment you return from "SUNNY FLORIDA"! Deal???

Ak GRae