The Cure – Disintegration

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

This album came out when I was a junior in high school, but I did not acquire a copy of it, for reasons that are lost to me, until I was a sophomore in college. It is technically of the ‘80s, but I associate it powerfully with the ‘90s. I think it wasn’t until freshman year that I really fell in love with it. How I got it was that I traded my roommate Jason a copy of the Ocean Blue’s Cerulean for it. Best trade I ever made (I did eventually repurchase Cerulean, many years later).

What I Think of This Album

I think everyone agrees that this is the Cure’s masterpiece, and how could one not? Lush keyboards dominate and slow tempos oppress, with many songs clocking in over six minutes, all the better to take in the majesty unfolding around you. Each song is an entire galaxy, bursting with stars and held together by gravity, and all are part of a discernible universe. This is the Cure on a scale never before attempted nor perhaps even dreamed – the album is an epic, not only in stature but in construction and scope. It may have been born of Robert Smith’s depression and LSD use, but my god, it was worth it.

Opener “Plainsong” (named after a genre of religious chants going back to the early days of Christianity) is effectively the album in miniature, bursting into existence via a Big Bang of keyboards after an agonizing delay of several seconds of quiet wind chimes – where once there was nothing, now there is this. The plodding rhythm knocks you over and holds you down, while the keyboards cascade around your prone form, and Smith’s ghostly vocals swirl above, underneath, and through you. “I think it’s dark.” Yeah, no shit. It is black as the heavens and just as imposing. Immediately following, with a graceful pivot, is the rueful, deeply romantic (dare I say, Gothic) “Pictures of You,” which benefits from Simon Gallup’s lulling and sorrowful bass part and the insistent guitar line from Porl Thompson, before Smith’s poignant lyrics enter. While not as verdant as “Plainsong,” the relatively more breathable second track is clearly of a piece with the opener. Unlike The Head On the Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, here the Cure are exploring different facets of the same dark emerald, avoiding anything that does not correspond to what has already come before in the preceding songs. Those albums were about breadth – this one is about depth.

“Closedown” is a gigantic piece that is arguably the best song on the album, with gorgeous keyboards (note the angelic harmonies), almost manic drumming from Boris Williams, and a thick bass that offsets a delicate guitar part; Smith offers up maybe twenty words’ worth of lyrics, with the devastating closing line “If only I could fill my heart with love.” That appears to be what happens, in fact, on hit “Lovesong,” which is as straightforward as the title indicates. This is a love song, without irony or shading, and if the lyrics might be a bit too on the nose, the band delivers a triumphant performance, led by Gallup’s bass and Smith and new member Roger O’Donnell’s keyboards (including faux-strings and a sort of accordion/harmonium sound). The sinister, almost-gritty rhythm of “Last Dance” is the perfect backdrop to Smith’s exploration of the death of a relationship. Things take a nightmarish turn on the horror movie influenced “Lullaby,” which may be an allegory for drug abuse or child abuse or insert-your-abuse-here, or it might just be a creepy story of a spiderman who sticks his tongue in your eyes and makes you feel like you’re “being eaten by a thousand million shivering furry holes;” what is beyond doubt is that Smith’s whispered vocals, the chilly shards of guitar, Gallup’s unrelenting bass, and the grandiose fake strings expertly frame this disturbing tale. I will admit that this is the one song that sort of feels out of place on this album. Driving, punishing “Fascination Street” finds the band once again nailing the bleak groove – this album is arguably Simon Gallup’s peak (though he has done amazing work on many Cure albums) – and the atmospherics, arrangement and production all come together in a stunning mix. Approaching the classic Cure sound, “Prayers for Rain” is a somber dirge, with heavy, medieval tapestries of keyboards, gilded with guitar filigree, trapping the listener in a thick maze and taunting them with Smith’s half-crazed vocals (“I suffocate / I breathe in dirt . . . . You fracture me / Your hands on me”).

Strap in for almost ten minutes of “The Same Deep Water As You,” which is the equivalent of being slowly and methodically beaten to death with foot-thick manuscripts wielded by a circle of morose monks. This is arguably the weakest song of the collection. That it is followed by a contender for strongest song may be no accident. The title track is an eight-minute juggernaut that obliterates everything in its path, fueled by William’s powerful drumming, a chugging sequencer line, and Smith’s increasingly desperate, impassioned vocals. He sounds like he’s in agony and I am right there with him. You can feel the band losing themselves in “Homesick,” an elegiac number that creates a dour momentum; Smith’s vocals seem gratuitous, as the music does all the work the song requires. “Untitled” sounds almost bright by contrast, and while Williams again hits hard and hits often, the pervading sense is one of gentleness, aided by Smith’s soft spoken vocals.

This may not be the Cure album people like best, and it may lead some listeners to indulge in lazy generalities about what the Cure are and what their music sounds like, but this is the most enduring, substantial, titanic record the band ever made. Kudos to Smith and David Allen for the production. Notes:  “Last Dance” and “Homesick” are described as bonus tracks on my CD because they were not included on the original vinyl pressings, but they are on the vinyl reissues. Lol Tolhurst was credited with “other instruments” but apparently was so deep into alcohol abuse that he did not actually contribute to the recording, and was in fact fired afterwards, with O’Donnell taking his place. Disintegration has sold over 2,000,000 copies in the U.S.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Plainsong” may be the best opening track I’ve ever heard.

Release Date

May, 1989

The Cover Art

Hmmmmm. I think the floral theme communicates the lush sound of the album, and, also, the somewhat claustrophobic feel of the art is appropriate. Smith’s face hovering amidst all that, well, I don’t think that’s necessary.

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