Thursday, November 27, 2008

4:13 Dream - The Cure

4:13 Dream

The Cure
Geffen Records.

SCQ Rating: 82%

Given the bands I’ve adored growing up (from early Smashing Pumpkins to Mogwai), it’s insane to look back and recognize how many times I heard one of them site the Cure as their greatest inspiration, or Robert Smith as their idol, and then never followed through. Unless someone intervened, there’s a probable chance I would’ve drifted endlessly along the fringes of the Cure discography, touching only infrequently upon the ‘Friday I’m in Love’ or ‘Just Like Heaven’ singles. Mercifully I was found by two saviours; one who lent me the gorgeous Bloodflowers, another who got me hooked on their self-titled 2004 effort. After those two, I backtracked through their minimalist era (Seventeen Seconds, Faith), their commercial turn (Head On the Door, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me), as well as their universal masterpiece Disintegration. How strange, then, to admit that 4:13 Dream is the first Cure album I’ve had the good fortune of actually looking forward to. Still, after several line-up changes and deadlines pushed back, had The Cure finally reached creative exhaustion, where new explorations are abandoned in favour of yesteryear nostalgia?

The Crawley boys waste no time in effectively making me feel stupid about any fearful doubts with ‘Underneath the Stars’, a track better suited to Bloodflowers or Disintegration with its dramatic crests of guitar and Smith’s heavily reverbed vocals. After that opening track’s epic nature comes first single ‘The Only One’, and at once, Smith’s talk last year (or was it the year previous?) about this new material taking on the bipolar guise of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me is evident; between these two tracks alone we’re treated to the best of the Cure’s late 90s period, the emotionally damaged marathons and quick pop hooks. Although most of these tracks can be reference-points to earlier career-markers, 4:13 Dream’s independence is assured by confident songwriting - making this a stronger album than any of their 90s output – thanks to the simple tweaking of the re-energized formula tapped on their 2004’s The Cure. As that record was incendiary in its electric heaviness, 4:13 Dream’s similar approach deviates only in its pop ambitions. Smith has managed to recreate the euphoric feeling of his best love-songs on ‘The Perfect Boy’ and ‘The Only One’ while branching into less Cure-owned territory with ‘The Hungry Ghost’ – a send-up riff to late 90s alternative rock that becomes immeasurably Cure-ish by its lush chorus. And while a few songs here even rival the piercing onslaught of The Cure, the production softens their impact; guitars are less pronounced, pushed back into the mix. 4:13 Dream is certainly the better record of the two, but those hard-rock dynamics that made The Cure into such a late-period statement are suspended here.

For their stellar reputation as creators of mood-albums like Faith or Pornography, which fluctuate on a central temper, variety rules the Cure in 2008, permitting acoustic reflection (‘Siren Song’) and distorted screams (‘It’s Over’) with equal rights. And while Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me is a classic album for pushing the band’s sonic boundaries as well as possibilities for the LP format in a digital age, it’s still comparable to 4:13 Dream as proof that variety creates internal conflict, where one side of a band’s sound can outweigh or outclass another side. While the conflicting sides of Kiss Me… made it a classic largely because of its imperfections, the material here is less impervious, finding their pop side far greater than the heavy-rock end. Although these opposing ends are well-integrated into a cohesive album, I can’t deny that the opening three songs (all pop songs) share accomplishments beyond, say, the last three songs (all hard-rock numbers) which tend to choose volume over songcraft.

With elements audible from a half dozen previous Cure albums, from the anthemic qualities of Head On the Door to the twisted hooks of Wish, 4:13 Dream is an accurate summary of The Cure’s maximal period (roughly 85 – present); occasionally spotty, commonly exciting and always curious. There’s an intangible emotion to The Cure, somewhere indefinable between lovelorn and suicidal, that Smith routinely defies then embraces, yet after thirty years and thirteen albums, it’s an emotion that not only outlives globe-trotting trends and once-loved music genres, but a sound as timeless and significant to culture as Elvis Presley or The Beatles. 4:13 Dream may not aspire to such lofty (and arguable) statements, but it’s the latest achievement in a sound that only The Cure can own and operate. Lucky for us, it’s a sound that’s as potent as ever.

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