As a Cure fan in high school who couldn’t stand Disintegration, I’m surprised by how few impressions Joe Gross and I share. Sure, its singles were ubiquitous “modern rock” and MTV presences in 1989 and most of 1990, but even at the time Disintegration sounded stolid and ugly, like one of those rocks that jut into the ocean, wave-eroded, covered in kelp and barnacles, unmovable. With the exception of “Untitled,” the second half is an unmediated slog of guitar riffs and drum beats repeated without variation for three or four minutes; the effect is far from trance-like. I didn’t know anyone at the time who loved it either; frankly, I heard more comments about the band’s sudden mass popularity. Maybe friends couldn’t admit to loving Disintegration because Forever Your Girl purchasers owned it too. One of Gross’ sharper observations – Disintegration‘s “oceanic size matches its audience’s conception of its own sadness” – sounds true in retrospect. Morrissey’s run of delightful solo singles in 1989 and 1990 certainly did a better job of matching our conception of our own sadness. The singles are aces, though, “Lovesong” aside. The remix of “Lullaby” was the first Cure song I loved – what an entrancing sound.
No, what made me a Cure fan was borrowing copies of their back catalogue, using Mixed Up as a gateway. It’s forgotten now, but Mixed Up almost matched Disintegration in exposure. “Pictures of You” tumbled off the Hot 100 just months before Mixed Up and its Manchester-baiting single “Never Enough” squeezed the air out of the college charts so that Depeche Mode and The Replacements could barely breathe. Discovering the seven-inch versions of “Inbetween Days,” “Close To Me,” “Why Can’t I Be You?” and especially “Let’s Go To Bed” on Standing on the Beach educated me on Robert Smith’s frivolous side, and while I could understand the bifurcation of his talents I heard angst enough on those frisky singles to dissuade me from dipping my toe into Faith and Pornography. If you must attend a wake, make sure there’s singing and dancing to render the stupid game bearable, you know? The B-sides and esoterica on Japanese Whispers (readily available then) were also instructive. I even had time for The Top‘s addled wordplay and eclectic-or-die arrangements. This is a long way of saying that I prefer the commercially mediated miscellany of Wish to the monochromatic Disintegration.
But on occasion I pay my respects to the country of my youth. I wasted no time buying a pristine copy of the remastered Faith when visiting Chapel Hill last weekend, and it’s not terrible (thanks to Ned’s yeoman work). Which is to say: the likes of “All Cats Are Grey” and “Drowning Man” sustain their moods and earn their dourness; they remind of Bergman movies like Winter Light and The Silence – potential Cure song titles! – in their equating of introspection with the sorrow that surpasseth human understanding.