Robert Smith was freaked out by turning 40. “So the fire is almost out and there’s nothing left to burn,” he lamented on the confessional ’39’, “I’ve run right out of thoughts and I’ve run right out of words.”
Ten years later, he’s still here. Unchanged are the bed-head approach to hairstyling, slashed-with-lipstick style of makeup application, and the music itself: upbeat pop songs, smouldering epics, and feedback-drenched psychedelic freakouts. What’s new though is the intensity; revitalised by guitarist Porl Thompson’s return, Smith and his band have forgotten their ’80s glory days are long gone.
So majestic but mournful love poem ‘Underneath The Stars’ is magnificent enough to rival anything on the classic ‘Disintegration’ album. ‘The Only One’ matches ‘Just Like Heaven’ for froth. ‘This. Here And Now. With You’ is effortlessly giddy, unlike similar recent attempts. The carefree ‘Sleep When I’m Dead’ takes the retrospective approach so far, it’s actually a leftover from 1985’s ‘The Head On The Door’ sessions.
On ‘The Perfect Boy’ Smith has little trouble matching a beautiful melody with melancholy lyrics once more. ‘The Hungry Ghost’ shows Thompson’s alternately percussive and atmospheric playing has always been the perfect foil for Smith’s still youthful yelps. The funky ‘Freakshow’, all wah wah guitars, works by staying simple, unadorned by mariachi band, keyboards, brass or strings.
With its obsessive lyrics and murky instrumentation, ‘The Real Snow White’ doesn’t try too hard to shake off those inevitable Joy Division comparisons. ‘Switch’ resurrects the familiar theme of self-loathing (“I’m tired of being alone with myself”) but is too ragged to wallow in pity. ‘The Scream’ is typical howling at the dark. And the frenzied closer ‘It’s Over’ (“I can’t do this anymore,” he shrieks like a wounded animal) has the 49-year-old raging against the world like a man in his 20s.
A decade on from ’39’, the fire certainly isn’t out.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.