(Sunday Best Records) Brother, sister, have you heard the good news about The Cure? You haven't? Well hell, let me enlighten you. They are only one of the most creative, weirdest, and most wonderful bands of all time. What's the good news? They have a new double album, Bestival Live 2011 -- a recording of their headlining set at producer Rob Da Bank's annual music fest held on the Isle of Wight.
Once upon a time, there were three imaginary boys who met at school in England and formed a band. Their music was tight, muted, and spooky, with fanciful, dreamlike lyrics penned by frontman Robert Smith. They started as a post-punk outfit in the vein of Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees, with songs about alienation, numbness, and despair. No one can do gloom like the English, and no English band did gloom like The Cure. Their first five albums charted the course of Smith's emotional dissolution, as he let himself fall further and further from the things he cared about. It was a kind of sick performance art, with Smith defining his music by his personality and his personality by his music. This hall of mirrors culminated in 1982's Pornography, which took Smith's existentialism to its bleakest point and reportedly found him seriously contemplating suicide. This wasn't an act; Ian Curtis had hanged himself two years earlier, and the same crowd of miserablists that had made him a cult figure were waiting hungrily for Smith to follow suit. For a boy whose definition of self depended on these same people who wanted him dead, there didn't seem to be very many options.
Then something extraordinary happened. Smith gave the finger to the nihilists and started writing dance music. The boys transformed themselves from dark avatars of dread into something wonderfully, wonderfully, wonderfully, wonderfully pretty. From Japanese Whispers on, The Cure produced some of the finest and most beautiful pop music the world has ever seen. Many, including South Park's Kyle Broflovski, would argue that 1989's Disintegration is the greatest album ever recorded. Having sounded the depths of desperation, the tiny flame of hope that Smith introduced into his music seemed, to those who listened, like a roaring flame of passion and joy. Soon The Cure was one of the biggest bands in the world.
In all seriousness, The Cure is one of those bands with the power to change your life, especially if you're a musician. Their wild experiments with all manner of styles and subjects is inspiring beyond belief. Their entire career is represented on Bestival Live 2011.
“A Forest” (a supernaturally haunting atmospheric groove), “Play For Today” (some kind of inverted fascist waltz), and “Primary” (indescribable) harken back to the early days; they are amazingly mature songs for having been written when Smith was twenty: “So they close together, dressed in red and yellow / innocent forever, sleeping children in their blue soft rooms still dream.”
Pornography's “One Hundred Years,” grinding with repetitive dissonance, epitomizes the most terrifyingly hopeless point in The Cure's emotional history: “A hundred years of blood, crimson / The ribbon tightens round my throat / I open my mouth, and my head bursts open / a sound like a tiger thrashing in the water / thrashing in the water / as over and over we die one after the other.” Few would even dare to try writing lyrics that good.
The band's mid-period is present in force, with the delirious jazzy freakout “The Lovecats” from Japanese Whispers, the sugary-conjectural dream-ballad “The Caterpillar” from The Top, and hits too numerous to count from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Disintegration, and Wish. The set is topped off with a few later-period tracks from 2004's The Cure and 2008's 4:13 Dream. Suffice it to say that the standout songs are “Plainsong,” “Push,” “Inbetween Days,” “Just Like Heaven,” “Lovesong,” and “Friday I'm in Love,” but only because these songs are so good that they will always be the best songs in any given context.
To some extent, it doesn't matter what these particular recordings sound like, because the songs themselves are such monumental works of genius that they have become like mythical creatures in our minds: this is the music of The Cure, and it is like nothing else there is. However, these particular recordings are, in fact, great. There's a particular live setting which is ideally suited to The Cure's tone, and it's the large outdoor festival. There's something elemental about these songs, so it makes sense that the experience is heightened when you can hear the slight rush of wind, the murmur of the crowd, and the reverberations of huge walls of sound moving about an open space. The ideas and moods expressed here are gigantic, and they deserve a gigantic venue.
“Let me take your hand, I'm shaking like milk / turning, turning blue all over the windows and the floors...” If you're already an acolyte of the ruined church of The Cure, you won't need much convincing...but maybe it's time you hear these songs again. You know in your heart that they will never let you down; on the contrary, they will always make you feel happier, sadder, more content, and more frantic than you did before -- the operative statement being that they will make you feel. “Dancing, burning, itching, squealing, fevered, feeling hot, hot, hot...” If you're new to all this, it's time to start dividing your life into "Before I heard The Cure" and "After I heard The Cure" like the rest of us do. “A smile to hide the fear away / and smear this man across the wall / like strawberries and cream / It's the only way, it's the only way to be...”
Standout Tracks: “Plainsong,” “Push,” “Inbetween Days,” “Just Like Heaven,” “Lovesong,” “The Caterpillar,” “The Lovecats,” “One Hundred Years,” “Primary,” “A Forest,” “Friday I'm In Love,” “Hot Hot Hot!!!”
For Fans Of: Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, David Bowie, Crystal Castles, Zola Jesus