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Sketched Notes on The Cure's Latest Album, Dream 4:13

…well, I cannot deny that I do not feel comfortable talking about The Cure’s latest album.

I (a fan of this band for ages) actually did not buy it, and did not want to buy it. It was a present from somebody who was trying to be very fair to me, and–it’s so unfair to say–it has been lying on my desk for more than a month! The problem is I really did not know how to cope with this Dream 4:13! Finally I was able to listen to it. I mean: I listened to it almost completely without constantly skipping to the ends of songs, trying hard not to get angry, doing my best not to frantically run to Pornography, or Faith, or Disintegration, or Wish, or even The Cure. The only reason I was finally able to change this very emotional behavior was that I had to write down something “serious” about it. From I’ve said you already know: to me, the real question with Dream 4:13 is “What’s wrong with this CD?”

Possibly the problem with this album is that it is the 13th by some musicians who have already made a huge contribution to music, and listening to this album was like listening to a young clone band pretending to be The Cure. I do not mean to be rude, but IF this had been a demo by a band of youngsters, we might have thought that it wasn’t bad at all. In that case, I would have said that a new, rough band, which already demonstrates its own style, certainly has potential, this potential being, of course, something peculiar to work on and develop.

Anyway, the only words coming to my mind when I try to listen to this album are The Cure’s own: “How did we get this far apart?” (‘’Apart’’, Wish, 1992). This is because The Cure are THE CURE, and that means that it is not enough that there are a few well-made songs on this album. When I started listening to it, the first (good?!) sensation was that it was just another well-composed album with the kind of soft atmospheres that hark back to Disintegration, Wish, Bloodflowers, The Cure…Not that bad at all, right? The structural organization recalls Disintegration and the like; you probably know what I am talking about: the long, soft intros that slowly take you into the musical concept of the album. Many times during the Cure’s career those soft atmospheres alternated with the gloom of dark-wave masterworks, as in Pornography or Faith. These light yet beautifully romantic sounds slowly sketched floating tones and feelings, imperceptibly working on the listener’s expectations, constantly dropping the right tones for which they had prepared a welcome. That was the first sensation,

BUT

After one minute (only one minute!) it already seemed like a bad copy of their other intros. Then the rhythm of the whole album–the succession of songs, lyrics, and every single particular–started to sound like something I’d already heard. The real question with this album is perhaps “What’s missing in here?” Listen. If you give it a chance and listen to it (you can do so for free on The Cure’s MySpace page), you will possibly agree that this “new band” has huge potential. The intro, “Underneath the Stars”, is quite good. “The Reason Why” and “The Hungry Ghost” are quite pleasant listening while “The Perfect Boy” is less serious, but light and enjoyable. I won’t talk about “Freakshow” which is freaky in the best and the worst senses, because others already have talked about it better. I have read on many blogs that fans think the two cores of this album are the intro and “It’s Over”, the last track. “It’s Over” sounds quite well-composed and organized. It has almost the best screaming guitars on the CD, as well as a resounding rhythmic line, but becomes difficult to follow, maybe because the vocal line is too acute, and gradually adds too many dissonances that do not interact with the instrumental lines.  My own favourite song is “The Scream”. It’s a quite minimal crescendo, a bed of gloomy basses on which lie a toneless, almost spoken voice and the simplest stoned guitar riff.

Anyway, though the album is put together well, these songs mostly do not rock. They do not sound like they came out of the musicians’ inner souls, and do not look intense and brave enough to really touch listeners. The Cure’s sound has been losing its originality for a while now. They are going through a long transitional phase, of course. Though their songs are still well-composed, they are slowly losing that peculiar and patient construction of melody line that many times made the difference. What has gone missing somewhere is their ability to bewitch with unique phrases and deep bass, the echo of Robert’s desperate screams underlined with guitar. All these features used to make up an integrated whole, but even taken in isolation they were worth a whole song. Now it is not the same and it doesn’t look like it will get better either. Thompson has come back, but his contribution is a bit elementary and very low profile; Simon seems very resounding at times, but he is not as influential as he was (just think about Disintegration, please); and the dark existential odyssey of a screaming guitar or the acute cry of a lone wounded animal in the forest have become just some disconnected sounds.

One problem common to The Cure’s last few albums may be related to what is commonly done nowadays after the composition and recording phases, and is an issue with many CDs from the last few years. To an extent, they do all sound the same. It is not because they do not have any originality. The way electronic maximization of sound is done now maybe creates an excessive standardization of sounds, making many bands sound quite similar. This works out pretty well with the thousands of anonymous singers for mass-consumption, but it usually has the opposite effect on bands that still claim to have something to say. Too much leveling of the sounds can really make every singer and player sound like the others, and Dream 4:13’s sounds are too plain and standardized–a loss for the band, of course. But even beyond this common problem Dream 4:13 remains an anonymous album. Possibly it bears testimony to what many people have said about Robert Smith & Co: they’ve lost the magic touch, lost their spell. So it happens that those songs that are not-so-bad (such as “Underneath the Stars”) can be remembered because they sound very similar to something you’ve heard before from the same band. But when every good part of the new songs sounds quite similar to a few old masterpieces nothing really strikes you as a genuine idea or a new feeling, nothing sounds worth being done or listened to.

If we try to draw a line dividing THE music from some music, by the level of its sincerity–giving music and art in general the quite romantic definition as something that needs to be made, that is forced by the deepest scream of the soul, a definition shared by The Cure and most of the old dark-wave schools–we become unable to discover the motivation behind this CD.
In the end, I am personally sure The Cure can still contribute to music history. But they’d better stop looking behind and start looking at their present and future life and feelings. Nobody denies this “brand new band” has great potential. They just need to work on it, a bit more.

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