If you were like me, growing up an outcast in the ’80s, there were three bands that were the soundtrack of your lost, lonely and lustful life—Depeche Mode, New Order and The Cure. While, mi hermano was devoted to Robert Smith and The Cure, my lyrical corazon belonged to Mode and New Order. I admit I wasn’t a diehard Cure fan like him. It was nothing personal against Smith or The Cure, it’s just that albums like Disintegration were too depressing for my already lonely existence. That’s not to say that I wasn’t a fan, just wasn’t as loyal as my older sibling. Songs like “Just Like Heaven,” “Close to Me” and “Love Song” were staples on my mix-tapes dedicated to my many unrequited crushes that never came true.
It may sound sacrilegious to fellow Robert Smith devotees but my favorite Cure album wasn’t made in the ’80s or ’90s. To me, 2000’s Bloodflowers was the best album in their career. This was supposed to be the swan song for Smith; he was finally going to retire his famous moniker and go solo, something he had been threatened to do for ages. Bloodflowers would have been the ultimate finale, as the last chapter in Robert Smith’s “heart of darkness trilogy” that began with Pornography, followed years later with my brother’s personal best, Disintegration.
Yet there was a hint in “Maybe Someday” and even in “Out of this World” that maybe Smith wasn’t ready to hang it up at the end of the song.
“One last time before it’s over
One last time before the end
One last time before it’s
time to go again…”
Four years later, The Cure returned with a disappointing album produced by Korn producer Ross Robinson. The thing about The Cure is that it felt forced and unfinished. It sounded like a Robinson’s idea of what a Cure album should sound like. It sounded liked Smith gave up some of the control and The Cure suffered because of this. Worse still, some of the best songs were left off the American pressing of the album. Who knows why Smith refused to allow stellar songs like “Going Nowhere” and “Truth of Goodness and Beauty” on the album? It was a definite step back for Robert Smith and made me think he made a mistake for not hanging up and leaving us with the everlasting legacy of Bloodflowers.
Following the misstep of self-titled 2004 album, Robert Smith went back to restore the glory of The Cure. Robert Smith reportedly was going to drop a double album in the fall of 2007, as he had recorded more 33 songs for his new album. Gone was Ross Robinson, who I blame for the relative disappointment of The Cure. Thankfully the double LP idea was scrapped and 13 tracks made the album. Smith decided to release an EP every month, starting in May and ending in September, before the release of 4:13 Dream.
Initially, I had my doubts. Some of the songs and remixes I heard were more of the same vibe from 2004’s Robinson-produced failure. But I did have a sense of hope because of the track “Please,” which Robert Smith recorded with Orbital co-founder Paul Hartnoll. “Please” was pure Robert Smith; he hadn’t sound this energized and alive in years. It’s the kind of song that The Cure should be creating.
Is 4:13 Dream a nod to “10:15 Saturday Night?” It’s as if The Cure had gone fallen under an endless sleep but was miraculously revived at 4:13 AM. The album was the result of all Robert Smith experienced during that dreamlike state. Just when you thought it was over, Robert Smith returns stronger and more vibrant than ever in the opening “Underneath the Stars.”
“Underneath the Stars” is the best opening Cure song, save for “Out of this World.” Unlike “Lost” from 2004’s The Cure where Smith sang, “I can’t find myself/ I got lost in someone else.” Looking back, one could argue these lyrics were not about love but referring to his regret for placing his faith in Robinson’s abilities. It may be a stretch but compare “Lost” to “Underneath the Stars” and you immediately hear the difference.
Echoing “Pictures of You,” Smith comes out sounding the most confident he has in years. With his echoing dreamy vocals, he invites us to enter his dream world, a welcome return to a more electrifying Robert Smith something that we’ve been missing from The Cure. “The Only One” is a modern adaptation of “High” and surpasses the summit reached by the original found on Wish. You can actually hear Smith sounding excited as he reaches those upper notes, like he did during his early Goth incarnations of The Cure.
The Peter Hook-esque bass line could be an ode to New Order on “The Reasons Why.” (This wouldn’t be the first time Smith honored one of his fellow English alt compatriots. In 1998, Smith recorded a tribute to Depeche Mode with a rousing cover of “World In My Eyes” on For the Masses.) By this part of the album, one begins to notice a recurring theme, with Smith singing about stars and dreams as metaphors for falling in love. “The Reasons Why” sounds like a fan writing a letter to Robert Smith, wanting to feel some kind of connection outside of the song. Smith takes the idea of dream and turns into a more classical Shakespearean meaning of eternal sleep of death.
“Freakshow” is a funk burst of energy recalling 1996’s Wild Mood Swings. The freaky guitar riffs enhance the dream state illusions of a damsel who’s shattering his heart by slithering away a chance for true love. “Sirensong,” one of my favorites, is one of the shortest, sweetest and most personal songs Robert Smith has ever composed on this or any album. I adore the dreamlike vibe that has Smith personifying his muse into the guise of a dream girl.
“Tell me you love me
Before it’s too late
Give me your life
Or I must fly away
And you will never hear this song again”
Just like inspiration, she appears and vanishes before you can grasp at her infinite beauty. Yes, “Sirensong” is this beautiful. The next song reverts back to the classic dark side of Cure that has Smith revising the myth of Snow White. “The Real Snow White” is a lusty number dedicated to someone that Smith desires beyond belief. “The Hungry Ghost” has some of the best guitar work of Robert Smith’s career. His vocal sounds electric and impassioned, but the lyrics “No it doesn’t come for free/ but it’s the price/ we pay for happiness,” are lacking the substance behind the stylish power of the song.
Doors fans may recognize the familiar theme of “Switch.” With lyrics like, “Friends are as strangers/ And strangers as friends/ And I feel like I’m wired in a why/ Yeah my friends are as strangers,” “Switch” sounds like a stirring modern lyrical interpretation of Jim Morrison’s “People Are Strange.”
“Sleep with the Dead” is vintage Cure with 21st Century zeal. Robert Smith has unearthed this one from the The Head of the Door songwriting sessions. Continuing his eloquent imagery, he calls out “I’ll sleep when I’m Dead/ you angels…before I lay me down to dream.”
The thing that impresses me even with a few on the tracks that don’t stir me, there’s transcendent transitions between songs of 4:13 Dream. It is in constant flow, moving from one emotional peak of “Underneath the Stars” through the breaths of despair in “It’s Over.” Speaking of “It’s Over,” the song closes 4:13 with a fury that’s been missing from most of the sanitized Cure albums of the not so distant past. Think the guitar fire of “Burn” mixed with the vocalized passion of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. As Robert Smith sings “I can’t do this anymore” I am hoping that 4:13 Dream is only the next chapter, and he doesn’t walk away from The Cure. Robert Smith has resurrected the legacy of The Cure with an album that dedicated fans and ripe ones would both adore. It’s not perfect, but overall 4:13 Dream soars beyond my miscalculated expectations. I was ready to bury The Cure after Bloodflowers. Once again, Smith and The Cure have proved me wrong.
The Cure – Wish
Depeche Mode – Playing the Angel
Bauhaus – Go Away White