Press play, and within seconds Robert Smith is wailing “I can’t find myself” while a sole guitar strums in the background.
“Oh, grow up,” you might think. This is no way for a millionaire rock star in his mid-forties to behave. But Smith sounds so passionate that you actually believe his moment of crisis as the jagged music rises to match his pained, increasingly distraught vocals.
A typically despairing howl-at-the-dark song from The Cure, ‘Lost’ is followed by something even darker and more intense. All searing guitars, aggressive drumming and that unmistakable Smith voice, ‘Labyrinth’ is the most arresting the band have sounded in years.
Even when the mood lightens considerably on ‘Before Three’ and the storming single ‘The End of the World’, the band actually sound like they’re playing to prevent the apocalypse. They’re tight, focused and energetic, partly thanks to the live recording approach instituted by producer Ross Robinson – he of Slipknot and Limp Bizkit button-pushing fame.
But before you worry that Robinson has turned the band into a nu-metal parody, ‘The Cure’ is packed with exactly the kind of songs you’d expect. When Smith said something to the effect of “if you don’t like this album, you don’t like The Cure”, it wasn’t just marketese.
The group’s new album actually seems like a compilation of their best moments, remodeled with a bit of grit and vitality. It’s what ‘Wish’ would have sounded like had it been recorded in 2004. So, there’s a healthy dose of quirky, bright songs a la ‘Friday, I’m in Love’ and ‘Just Like Heaven’. ‘Taking Off’, ‘The End of the World’ and ‘Alt.End’ all join the paean of irresistibly fluffy pop songs from a group traditional billed as gloom mongers.
Which means that the darker epics so beloved by die-hard fans aren’t far off. Apart from the two opening tracks, there?s the unbridled anger of ‘Us or Them’, echoing venomous classics like ‘The Kiss’.
‘Never’ tries to match the aggression but, for once, the band sound out of breath – struggling to match the power of the other songs here. More effective, but a bit too ambitious (ie. long), is ‘The Promise’, a sprawling ten-minutes of despair that builds on the ‘Disintegration’ foundation.
Rounding off this complete picture of The Cure’s legacy are two songs that highlight Smith’s skill at crafting exquisite ballads – melancholy, fragile and evocative. The swirling ‘Anniversary’ and ‘Going Nowhere’, with its delicate keyboard part, are amongst the band’s best.
As is this album – an evocative collection that demands to be heard.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.