For those that only have a cursory knowledge of The Cure, “Disintegration” is likely where they get the impression of the band as dark and dreary, which, not coincidentally, was my own first impression of them.
I distinctly remember an afternoon a few years earlier, a friend of mine from my street excitedly telling me how he was going to see a concert that evening with his older sister. A band that I had never heard of, yes, The Cure, and he rhymed off a litany of songs that, surely, I had heard. And I felt so bad that I hadn’t, that I eventually fibbed when he came to a song or two of which I absolutely must have heard. I finally listened to some of those songs a few years later when I borrowed a couple of CDs off my friend John (or was it Tim): “Staring at the sea”, the early singles collection, and this one, “Disintegration”.
After all the success of their singles in the 1980s and the increased sales of their previous album, “Kiss me kiss me kiss me”, frontman Robert Smith became disenchanted with the idea of his group becoming a successful pop rock band. This and the realization that he was shortly to be turning 30 years old pushed our friend Robert into depression and heavily into psychedelics. He then set out to make a record that reflected his mindset at the time and returned to the dark, goth rock sound The Cure had explored on some of their early records.
Of course, when their labels heard the album, expecting more of the new wave inspired pop they were used to selling, they pushed to delay the album’s release date. Their worries turned out to be needless because “Disintegration” would go on to be the band’s biggest selling record ever. Not only that but it is considered by many to be Smith’s best work, the album finding itself on many lists (yeah, not just this one).
As dark and atmospheric and grandiose as most of “Disintegration” is, the album is not without its singles, and many of these charted quite high. And its from these that I offer my three picks for you, mostly because these are some of my early favourites from the album, indeed, some my earliest favourites ever from the band.
”Fascination street”: That haunting and foreboding bass line, ringing and echoing guitars, sounding very much like the squealing of bats or other creatures of the night, it’s all very dark. The intro carries on well over two minutes, setting a mood to wallow in, before Smith even starts in singing about a night out in New Orleans. “So let’s cut the conversation and get out for a bit, because I feel it all fading and paling, and I’m begging to drag you down with me, to kick the last nail in.” An odd choice for a single but that’s what it was. Elektra, The Cure’s American label, refused the band’s first choice for the album’s first single, which was “Lullaby”, as was it everywhere else in the world besides North America, and went with “Fascination Street” instead. It hit number one on Billboard’s newly established Modern Rock charts and set up “Disintegration” for its unexpected and wild ride on the charts.
”Pictures of you”: Even at seven and a half minutes, this track is not the longest on the album but is quite long for a single. This was the final one to be released off “Disintegration” and it is apparently either about the aftermath of a fire and finding photos or based on an essay by some mystery author whose name is similar to that of Smith’s wife, both tales have been woven by the frontman. The song is a meandering piece that shimmers and wavers in that lovely space that occurs behind your eyelids as you sit in your dimly lit teenaged room, crying over your lost first love. “Remembering you running soft through the night. You were bigger and brighter and whiter than snow and screamed at the make-believe, screamed at the sky and you finally found all your courage to let it all go.” Such beauty in pain.
”Lovesong”: Written by Robert Smith as a gift for his fiancée at the time and now wife, Mary Poole, it is likely the most emotional piece on the album and has been used as a wedding song by more than a few of my friends. When Robert Smith sings, “Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am whole again”, you feel as he feels, even with such simple words. It is about as upbeat as “Disintegration” gets and the closest thing to an obvious single but yet doesn’t feel out of place given its big sound. It also has one of my favourite bass lines ever, which wasn’t even ruined for me by younger brother who played it over and over and over after someone had taught it to him.
Check back next Monday for album #2. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:
10. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Automatic”
9. Galaxie 500 “On fire”
8. The Beautiful South “Welcome to The Beautiful South”
7. The Grapes of Wrath “Now and again”
6. New Model Army “Thunder and consolation”
5. The Wonder Stuff “Hup”
4. Pixies “Doolittle”
You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.