Having been name-checked by numerous high-profile bands as of late (Interpol and Hot Hot Heat among them), it only makes sense that Robert Smith should break out the hair spray and effects pedals and call up the lads who made up the most recent edition of The Cure for another go-round. But this self-titled, Ross Robinson-produced collection is far more than a cynical cash-in—indeed, it may be the least overtly commercial recording the band has made since The Top, which was essentially a solo project by an extremely wigged-out Smith. And while that may be great news for Cure fans who still bristle at the lighter side of the band as exemplified by sugar-sweet singles like “The Lovecats” and “Close To Me,” the resulting 11 songs don’t necessarily add up to a satisfying whole.
The statement of intent is made clear with the album’s opening track. Beginning with the sound of Smith seemingly stumbling around the studio, “Lost” swirls into a discordant psycho-delic storm of noise, driven home by drummer Jason Cooper’s relentless pounding and Smith’s signature yelp, caterwauling “I can’t find myself” until the din subsides to reveal the punchline: “I got lost in someone else.” The lyrical content of these new tunes tends to focus on matters of the heart, whether it’s the relatively poppy “Before Three” and “The End Of The World” or the atmospheric “Anniversary.” The phrase “so in love” pops up repeatedly throughout the disc, with the surrounding cacophony in some tracks suggesting that it’s not the best state of mind to be in. (Smith digresses from the love stuff momentarily—and effectively—with the seething and seemingly socio-political rant of “Us Or Them,” spewing out such vitriol as “Get your fucking world out of my head” while another classic bassline from longtime cohort Simon Gallup growls menacingly.)
Nü-metal maestro Robinson, the man behind the board for albums from such disgruntled characters as Korn and Limp Bizkit, wisely keeps any modern rock shards of sheen away from the proceedings, allowing Smith and company to wallow away in darkness when they so desire. And aside from the occasional shimmery keyboard burst from Cure vet Roger O’Donnell (guitarist Perry Bamonte, with the band since 1992’s Wish, completes The Cure’s ‘04 line-up) and the odd flash of melody in the poppier bits, there’s plenty of murk to wade through here. But in the end, the decision to amplify the band’s darker hues seems to come at the expense of melody—a gift that Smith used to possess by the truckload.
The Cure delivers one dimension of the band extremely well—nowhere better than in the album’s closing echo-laden dirge “The Promise”—but The Cure has never been a one-dimensional band. Even at their darkest hours (“Disintegration,” “Pornography”) there were hints of something else, a melodic and/or rhythmic sophistication that served to elevate the band above the other gloom and doom merchants of the day. While these new songs form a cohesive whole and do no damage to The Cure’s legacy, they don’t bring anything new to the party either. Without the odd bursts of light that Smith is more than capable of, The Cure remains cloaked in shadow.