Thursday, August 19, 2010

Disintegration



The Cure’s behemoth ‘Disintegration’ is arguably the band’s paramount defining moment, and the one record that can easily and definitively define the Goth-rock genre. When it was initially released way back in 1989, the album was received with equal amounts of critical acclaim, commercial success and worshipful awe and praise. You know that you’ve made it to the major league of rock players when your album gets an overwhelmingly positive mention on the irreverent ‘South Park’ (which it did on the insanely hilarious ‘Mecha-Streisand’ episode from 1998).

What makes ‘Disintegration’ such an intense and powerful listening experience is the fact that it was conceived as a sonic cathedral (for want of a better term) that is meticulously constructed and inlaid with all sorts of appropriate instrumental textures and fastidious production details. Romantic cold turkey is the order of the day on ‘Disintegration’, its heart and soul housing that ominous spirit of that particular combination of romantic disillusionment and unrequited love that comes to roost in all our lives every once in a while.

This two-disc reissue of the album ups the ante by adding on a second collection of relevant B-sides, live takes and demo versions, making for what is arguably a complete and exhaustive ‘Disintegration’ experience. While the disc of extra tracks does provide a sense of totality to the proceedings, it most certainly does not distract from the real attraction at hand: the parent album, with its overpowering, attendant, existing heartbreak factor and grief-stricken, anguish-laden confessionals.

‘Plainsong’ is a logical start to the record, an almost ethereal, ominous tone poem that has legendary frontman Robert Smith intoning the verses in a hushed, brooding vocal, while swirls of synth strings and tribal percussion whirl around him. ‘Pictures of You’ is a bleak, icy study in slow-motion heartbreak and unrequited love that is ironically filled with elegant guitar figures and a yearning performance from Smith. ‘Closedown’ is a frightening drone of rumbling percussion parts and portentous synth tones, while ‘Homesick’ is a resigned, dejected elegy that is suitably decorated with some piano chording that takes direct inspiration from Chopin’s moodier nocturnes.

The poppish ‘Lovesong’ could well be the album’s prettiest moment, a straightforward, simple declaration of unaffected love, but underlaid with a leaden organ undertow that underscores the futility of such a statement in the face of inevitable rejection. The quivering, slowly creeping ‘Lullaby’ takes some time out from the romantic despondency to tell the quirky, spooky tale of a spider-like creature that haunts the dark, dank corners of bleak North Country mansions. Elsewhere, ‘Fascination Street’ is a brutal, percussive celebration of nihilism that has lots of psychedelically informed guitar pyrotechnics, constituting the record’s most strident instance.

The award for most miserable moment on the collection must surely belong to the appropriately titled ‘Prayers for Rain’, a slow, desolate crawl through a dingy twilight garden that pulsates with heavily flanged, dark-toned synth chords and backwards, start-stop percussion work. However, most diehards would bow more willingly to the title track, which runs for a ferocious, merciless eight minutes, tearfully and angrily howling its tragic account of romantic neurosis, emotional grief and detachment, viciously deconstructing the myth of happy endings. The final sound of a glass being smashed to smithereens against the wall says it all.

The extra disc of value-added content is perfunctory and functional for the most part, although there are some numbers here that merit more than a passing mention. ‘Out of Mind’ is a surprisingly bright poppish ditty that is more reminiscent of the band’s work on the preceding ‘Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me’ album, while the stately, synth-dominated ‘Fear of Ghosts’ puts keyboardist Roger O’Donnell’s predilection for neo-classical nuances on show.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see why ‘Disintegration’ is still held up as The Cure’s indisputable magnum opus, even after all these years. Its dense, layered production, astonishingly accomplished songwriting and sheer instrumental excellence all combine to create an atmospheric, epic soundscape that resonates strongly, long after the final notes are played. Even if the proceedings are overwhelmingly loaded with huge amounts of despair and desperation, the album never becomes once weighed down by inertia or sluggishness. On the contrary, ‘Disintegration’ is a beautifully constructed sonic cathedral (here’s that phrase again) that pulses with dark melancholy and an odd sense of cold comfort, a notion that is effortlessly confirmed by this reissue. Simply put, a must-have.

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