Across the breadth of thirteen albums The Cure have created a sensory world, full of dense rhythms, melodic lines supplied by six strings basses, agitated vocals, lush orchestration and baroque touches such as woodwind and timpani. They have always had a masterly control over song dynamics. Each song is drenched in chiaroscuro. This aesthetic makes them instantly recognisable and is in firm evidence on new album 4:13 Dream. The usual thematic concepts are also perceptible. Robert Smith’s lyrics are imbued with existential tropes as he examines the binaries that make us human – life/death, reality/fiction, and fidelity/infidelity.
This is important because if you are to treat The Cure as a genre in themselves there are certain conventions that they cannot break and are not allowed to by their faithful following. 4:13 Dream, and indeed any Cure album from Disintegration onwards, suffers in comparison to past works. This is due to the reverence in which they are held and our own nostalgic memories of them. Memory is composed of both personal and collective memories that are not seperable, so our own personal response to The Cure's music is coloured by their ritualised coverage in the music press.
The Cure’s follow up to 2004’s eponymous release has had a lengthy and apparently torturous gestation, as Robert Smith edited the track listing from an initial thirty three track double album to a more palatable thirteen track single disc. The original press releases for the album slated it as moody and brooding, akin to Disintegration. Opener “Underneath The Stars” certainly has the same ambience, opening with crystalline glissandos before a post-rock wall of noise descends, threatening to consume all, including Robert Smith’s reverb laden, barely there, withdrawn vocals. The feeling of translucency, of lack, is very appealing and credit must be given to producer Keith Uddin for creating this aural environ. “The Only One” is vibrant and upbeat, with Smith’s familiar yelping vocal line eschewing the joys of what his beloved does to him (becoming more and more salacious as it develops from verse to verse) while “The Reasons Why” uses a chorus laden six string bass riff and Porl Thompson’s choppy guitar motif to underpin the song. “The Perfect Boy” is a standard Cure pop ballad, but is saved from becoming twee by Smith’s cries of “I don’t want to be innocent”. “This. Here and Now. With You” takes a minimal, post-punk approach to a similar song structure but uses synthetic texture and chiming guitars to create an impassioned entreaty. Of the two closing songs “The Scream” creates an eerie soundscape, with scattershot drums and synths building up the tension as Smith declaims “I can’t wait to break apart this dream” while “It’s Over” features an almost prog-punk twin guitar attack.
But for every good song on the album there appears to a damp squib to hold its hand. The brevity of “Freakshow” and “Sirensong” hardly endears them to the listener, coming across as half good melodies that couldn’t be fashioned into a full song. “Switch” would have worked well if the wah-laden guitar had been edited, because the piano melody that counters the guitar works well. A missed opportunity. “The Real Snow White” is frankly risible while “The Hungry Ghost” is certainly pretty, but so doused in compression and studio devices that it struggles to raise its head above the mire.
Like a fly trapped in amber The Cure struggle against the weight of expectations and the power of their own back catalogue. 4:13 Dream finds them in stasis, caught between looking back and looking forward while showcasing only their reductive impulses. While not amongst their best offerings however the album does augment their lengthy back catalogue without embarrassment.
This article was originally produced for http://www.clickmusic.com/. To read the music review of 4:13 Dream by The Cure on the site, please click on the article title.