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What Ails the Cure?

the Cure
Musical Roller Coaster: The Cure goes up and down more times than a mood elevator on its wildly swinging new album.

'Wild Mood Swings' describes the group perfectly. Or not.

By Nicky Baxter

EVER SINCE the Cure's beginnings in the late '70s, frontman Robert Smith has had to contest the great-god-of-goth title--a mirthless navel-gazer with a perpetually down-turned painted mouth. Okay, so maybe Smith has come up with more than his share of deeply downer rock epiphanies, but, admit it, "Boys Don't Cry" was perfect anti-up pop. And the persona Smith presented, that of a pretty, China cup­fragile wastrel, could move even the hairiest of men to feel a weird tangle of emotions involving pity, lust and longing.

Conveniently overlooked by many rock writers is that for just about every "Boys," there were exhilarating antitheses that flirted with delirium. Has a sunnier tune than "Just Like Heaven" ever been written? Smith and the Cure have had their ups and downs--musically as well as figuratively. That taken into account, Wild Mood Swings (Elektra), the band's mint-fresh collection of Brit-pop, must be viewed as an inevitability.

After a four-year hiatus from the recording studio, the Cure has resurfaced with a batch of songs that must surely be numbered among any self-respecting manic-depressive's Top, or, if you prefer, Bottom, Ten.

Things commence with a whimper on "Want," which features Smith's lead guitar simulating a helicopter gone haywire superimposed over a steady-on "Walrus"-like rhythm guitar (Smith, again). After what seems like an eternity, Smith's distinctive moan emerges. With the possible exception of Morrissey--who surely must've spent days and nights in his bedroom blubbering over Cure jams--nobody in Brit-pop sobs rock better than Smith. And was the name the pompadoured Morrissey gave to his first group really just an (un)happy coincidence?

What makes "Want" intriguing is its jarring disjunction. Even as the music threatens to burst into tears, even as the singer's sad-sack wailing suggests serious down-pression, the lyrical mood is steeply elevated. When Smith sings, "I want to walk on water/Take a trip to the moon," one wonders if he hasn't done it already.

Smith's also got a mean streak. "Club America," for instance, is not likely to win many points with the Cure's young Republican fans, if, indeed, there are any. Practically oozing venom, the song pulls no punches. Inhabiting the carny's "Psst! hey-you" persona, the singer eschews his usual keening yelp for a lower, grittier vocal approach.

The loud and gaudy Americans against whom this missive is aimed are the sort for whom celebrity-spotting isn't a merely recreational pastime but a way of life. They exist only to be in the company of the simply fabulous, whoever he or she may be.

We've seen these groupies fawning over celebs in hip nightclubs, unctuous as an oil spill; "So, what's it like being such a super human being," they can be sometimes be overheard prattling. When Smith croaks, "We accept all major lies./We love any kind of fraud," it's obvious that he's been displeased to make the acquaintance of this lot.

Yahoo! lists an entire page of Cure web sites.

THE TABLES are, in a sense, turned on "The 13th." Here a "honey-colored" jazz singer is the predator; the saucer-eyed geek seated stage-front, her willing prey. Scared witless, he can't resist the siren. She'll be gone tomorrow, but right now, he's intoxicated: "It feels good!" Musically, the tune is vintage Herb Alpert before he turned into A&M. Languid brass blurbs and resolutely shticky percussion underscore the unreality of it all.

The abrupt juxtaposition of Wild Mood Swings' sky-high tunes--"Strange Attraction," "Round and Round" and "Return"--with some really down-low numbers--"Jupiter Crash," "Numb" and "Trap"--may be disorienting, but the mix is also oddly seductive.

As implied earlier, Wild Mood Swings deploys a fruitful crop of musical styles reflecting the album's mercurial emotional states. From the effervescent Brit-pop of "Strange Attraction" to the gnarly discordance of "Club America" and the stark beauty of "Bare," Smith and company illustrate their adeptness as a genuine variety act. But more than merely mirroring Smith's north/south emotional extremism, the Cure assays a myriad of musical approaches encompassing the East and West. Consider the Middle Eastern drone of "Numb" or the smart supper-club jazziness of "Gone" for starters.

The Cure has outlasted just about every other English postpunk outfit emerging in the wake of the Sex Pistols' riotous inventions. And now, the Pistols are returning for another go at it. But never mind that cynical load of bollocks--here's the Cure, as unpredictable as an outpatient and way more fun. Or not.

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From the July 3-10, 1996 issue of Metro

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