It’s not uncommon for a mainstream audience to be most familiar with a cult artist’s least representative musical statement. (Sadly, more people know Jane’s Addiction from the dreadfully cheesy “Been Caught Stealing” than “Ocean Size”, “Mountain Song”, “Stop” or “Three Days” combined.)
Fortunately for The Cure, this is not the case. As it turns out, the masses showed up for what is widely considered to be the band’s artistic peak.
Released the year Cure guru Robert Smith turned 30, Disintegration [Elektra-1989] was the result of quite a predicament: Smith was feeling the pressure of attempting a definitive musical statement as he approached a personal milestone, while in the midst of redefining the band’s sound by purposely casting aside the ‘one-dimensional gloom merchants’ tag they had been saddled with in the past. That their record company feared the finished album would be commercial suicide, surely didn’t help things one bit.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see how those fears were unfounded. But at the time, the band had come off a run of poppy, hit singles—"Let's Go to Bed", "The Lovecats", "In Between Days", "Close to Me", "Why Can't I Be You", "Hot Hot Hot" and of course, "Just Like Heaven"—and this new record was infused with a melancholy and darkness more in line with their notorious 1982 album Pornography. (Smith is said to have reacted to his looming birthday and The Cure’s new-found fame by isolating himself from the band and indulging in LSD at the time, which is seen by many as a catalyst for the sound and mood of the songs written for Disintegration.) Yet, The Cure’s two previous albums The Head on the Door [Elektra-1985] and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me [Elektra-1987], with their respective, newly expanded musical palettes pushing the band into previously uncharted waters, can be easily recognized as a blueprint.
By adopting the consistency and sensibility of the former album, jettisoning the indulgences of the latter—while retaining its majesty—and toning down the overt ‘happy’ pop elements of both, Smith was able to reach his lofty goal of crafting his band’s magnum opus, as it were. Disintegration not only became their crown jewel, artistically and commercially, but is also third in a four-album run—which includes Wish [Elektra-1992]—deemed as The Cure’s pinnacle and featuring a now-regarded classic lineup with Smith, Porl Thompson (guitars), Simon Gallup (bass), and Boris Williams (drums) at its core. Most notably, Disintegration is the middle part of a trilogy of albums—Pornography and Bloodflowers [Elektra-2000] being the other two—which Smith feels best represent The Cure's output.
At its best, The Cure's music can be perceived as the aural equivalent of slashing your wrists or simply the soundtrack to heart-breaking longing and despair. Take your pick, but we mean both as a compliment of the highest order. Admittedly, an album like Pornography can be seen as a more effective vehicle for that bleak sense of anguish, but Disintegration has the advantage of also providing an alluring, seductive feeling of catharsis that is at the core of its appeal. Which is why, as long as there are alienated, heart-broken teenagers—regardless of physical chronology—Disintegration will live on. (We don’t exactly agree with South Park’s Kyle Broflovski, but we clearly understand why he was once moved to proclaim, "Disintegration is the best album ever!")
Highlights: “Pictures of You”, “Closedown”, “Fascination Street”, “The Same Deep Water as You”, “Untitled”.