Disintegration :: The Cure
A Little History:
Disintegration is the eighth studio album by The Cure, released on May 2, 1989 by Fiction Records. The record marked a return to the introspective and gloomy gothic rock style the band had established in the early 1980’s. As he neared the age of thirty, vocalist and guitarist Robert Smith had felt an increased pressure to follow up on the group’s pop successes with a more enduring work. This, coupled with a distaste for the group’s new-found popularity, caused Smith to lapse back into the use of hallucinogenic drugs, the effects of which had a strong influence on the production of the album.
The Cure recorded Disintegration at Hookend Recording Studios in Checkendon,Oxfordshire, with co-producer David M. Allen from late 1988 to early 1989. During production, founding member Lol Tolhurst was fired from the band.
In spite of Fiction’s fears that the album would be “commercial suicide”, Disintegration became the band’s commercial peak. It charted at # 3 in the United Kingdom and at # 12 in the United States, and produced several hit singles including Lovesong, which peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100.
Disintegration remains The Cure’s highest selling record to date, with more than three million copies sold worldwide.
Disintegration was greeted with a warm critical reception before later being acclaimed, eventually being placed at # 326 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time“.
Robert Smith’s depression prior to the recording of Disintegration gave way to the realization on his 29th birthday that he would turn 30 in one year. he has stated that this realization was frightening to him, as he felt all the masterpieces in rock and roll had been completed well before the band members reached such an age. Smith consequently began to write music without the rest of the band. The material he had written instantly took a dismal, depressing form, which he credited to “the fact that I was gonna be thirty“.
The Cure convened at Boris Williams’ home in the summer of 1988 where Smith played his bandmates the demos he had recorded. If they had not liked the material, he was prepared to record them as a solo album: “I would have been quite happy to have made these songs on my own. If the group hadn’t thought it was right, that would have been fine.”
His bandmates liked the demos and began playing along. The group recorded 32 songs at Williams’ house with a 16-track recorder by the end of the Summer.
When the band entered Hook End Manor Studios in Reading, their attitude had turned sour towards Tolhurst’s escalating alcohol abuse, although Smith insisted that his displeasure was caused by a meltdown in the face of recording The Cure’s career-defining album and reaching 30. Displeased with the swollen egos he believed his bandmates possessed, Smith entered what he considered to be “one of my non-talking modes” deciding “I would be monk-like and not talk to anyone. It was a bit pretentious really, looking back, but I actually wanted an environment that was slightly unpleasant“.
Smith sought to abandon the mood present on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and the pop singles they had released, and rather recreate the atmosphere of the band’s fourth album Pornography (1982).
Suicide was another subject Smith thought about on several occasions during this time. Shortly before the band started recording Disintegration, two teenagers committed suicide in a nearby town. It was revealed that the pair played The Cure’s early albums during the act. Smith kept a newspaper clipping of the incident pinned to the wall in the studio: “I know it’s tragic, but at the same time it’s grimly funny because it obviously had nothing to do with us. We are just singled out.”
Tolhurst, meanwhile, was becoming a nuisance. The band found him impossible to work with, and he spent most of the recording process drunk and watching MTV. The members of the band, except for Smith, would taunt and physically abuse Tolhurst simply to get a reaction. Smith recalls that Tolhurst turned into someone he did not recognize: “I didn’t know who he was any more and he didn’t know who he was either. I used to despair and scream at the others because it was fucking insane the way we were treating him.”
At that point, Smith was allowing Tolhurst to remain in The Cure simply because he felt an obligation as an old friend. The other band members, finally, threatened to quit if Tolhurst was not fired before the end of the recording session. When Tolhurst arrived to the mixing of the album excessively drunk, a shouting match ensued and he left the building furious; this effectively terminated his tenure with The Cure.
Smith and the rest of the group confirm he contributed nothing to the record.
Thereafter, O’Donnell became an integral member of The Cure, instead of simply a touring musician. Despite Tolhurst’s ejection from the group, Smith told NME in April 1989, “He’ll probably be back by Christmas. He’s getting married, maybe that’s his comeback.”
Tolhurst did not return.
Disintegration was Robert Smith’s thematic return to a dark and gloomy aesthetic that The Cure had explored in the early 1980’s. Smith deliberately sought to record an album that was depressing, as it was a reflection of the despondency he felt at the time. The sound of the album was a shock to the band’s American label Elektra Records; the label requested Smith shift the release date back several months, telling him they believed the record was commercial suicide.
Smith recalled “they thought I was being ‘wilfully obscure’, which was an actual quote from the letter [Smith received from Elektra]. Ever since then I realized that record companies don’t have a fucking clue what The Cure does and what The Cure means.”
Despite rumors that Smith was one of the only contributors to the record, he confirmed that more than half of the dozen tracks on Disintegration had substantial musical input from the rest of the band.
Disintegration is characterized by a significant usage of synthesizers and keyboards, slow, droning guitar progressions and Smith’s introspective vocals.
Plainsong, the album’s opener, Smith described as a perfect opener for the record, describing it as “very lush, very orchestral“.
The album’s third track, Closedown, contains layers of keyboard texture complemented with a slow, gloomy guitar line. The track was written by Smith as a means to list his physical and artistic shortcomings.
Much of the album made use of a considerable amount of guitar effects. Prayers for Rain sees Thompson and Smith “treating their work to heavy duty flanging, delay, backwards-run tapes and more to set the slow, moody crawl of the track.”
Others, like the title track, are notable for “Smith’s commanding lead guitar lines that are scaled to epic heights while at the same time buried in the mix, almost as if they’re trying to burst from behind the upfront rhythm assault. Roger O’Donnell’s keyboards add both extra shade and melody, while Smith’s singing is intentionally delivered in a combination of cutting clarity and low resignation, at times further distorted with extra vocal treatments.”
Last Dance features a hidden lyrics from another Cure track. The lyric, not included in the “official lyrics“, comes from the 1982 song Cold, which originally appeared on the album Pornography.
While Disintegration mainly consists of somber tracks, Lovesong, Pictures of You and Lullaby were equally popular for their accessibility. Smith wanted to create a balance on the album by including songs that would act as an equilibrium with those the thought to be “unpleasant“.
Smith wrote Lovesong as a wedding present for his wife, Mary Poole. The lyrics had a noticeably different mood than the rest of the record, but Smith felt it was an integral component of Disintegration: “It’s an open show of emotion. It’s not trying to be clever. It’s taken me ten years to reach the point where I feel comfortable singing a very straightforward love song.”
The lyrics were a notable shift in his ability to reveal affection. In the past, Smith felt it necessary to disguise or mask such a statement. He noted that without Lovesong, Disintegration would have been radically different: “That one song, I think, makes many people think twice. If that song wasn’t on the record, it would be very easy to dismiss the album as having a certain mood. But throwing that one in sort of upsets people a bit because they think, ‘That doesn’t fit’.”
Lovesong also contains a hidden lyric from another song. Robert Smith half-sings/speaks “Fly me to the moon” after the second chorus, before the middle guitar solo. The Cure often performed their song Why Can’t I Be You? and Smith sang lyrics from other songs during extended breaks, including the classic Fly Me To The Moon.
Pictures of You, while upbeat, contained poignant lyrics (“Screamed at the make-believe/Screamed at the sky/You finally found all your courage to let it all go“) with a “two-chord cascade of synthesizer slabs, interweaving guitar and bass lines, passionate singing and romantic lyrics.”
Lullaby is composed of what Apter calls “sharp stabs” of rhythmic guitar chords with Smith whispering the words.
Lullabies are meant to soothe children to sleep, but some of them have surprisingly catastrophic endings. The most famous lullaby, Rockabye Baby, ends: “When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall and down will come baby, cradle and all”
The premise for the song came to Smith after remembering lullabies his father would sing him when he could not sleep: “My father would always make them up. There was always a horrible ending. They would be something like ‘sleep now, pretty baby or you won’t wake up at all.'”
What Makes This “Quintessential” In Three Sentences:
There are certain years in my life that have been so significant, and life-changing, that the albums of those years that I owned and loved became something so vital and important to my life, becoming part of my own soundtrack. This album, in all its melancholic glory, sings to the parts of us that hurt, feel alone, and suffer heartaches that may still haunt us years later. Those kinds of songs are important, and they soothe, as well as stir up feelings for us, playing to the collective conscious of loss and loneliness.
My Top 5 Favorite Songs:
“Pushing my face in the memory of you again,
but I never know if it’s real,
never know how I wanted to feel.”
Arguably one of the best last songs on an album ever, and most certainly one of my all-time favorites. This song has become my favorite on the album over the years, as well. It reminds me of a memory, of a boy, of a kiss by a pool, of a moment, of a fantasy, and of what might have been, but never was.
2. Pictures of You
“Remembering you standing quiet in the rain,
as I ran to your heart to be near.
And, we kissed as the sky fell in,
holding you close;
how I always held close in your fear.”
There is a box of photographs that I have tucked away in an over-sized shoe box from a pair of suede boots I had back when I was in my very early twenties. The box is up in the highest of high shelves, shoved towards the back, in the cold in the Winter months and miserably hot in the Summertime garage. It still hurts to look at pictures of us, of you, of me, together, and you still very much alive, lost yes, always lost, but still living in this world.
3. Prayers for Rain
“You fracture me,
your hands on me,
a touch so plain,
so stale it kills.
You strangle me,
and prayers for rain.”
I stood outside in the cold, the rain drenching my clothes, soaking through them straight to my pale skin. Everyone else was still inside dancing and laughing and enjoying the evening. You had left me on the curb, left me there a different girl than I had been merely an hour before, and I stood there shivering, silently deciding to myself in the cold rain that I would never tell anyone what you had done, to me.
“Sometimes you make me feel like I’m living at the edge of the world,
like I’m living at the edge of the world;
“it’s just the way I smile” you said.”
There was once a boy who used to come and go from my existence, impossible to define completely, impossible to pin down for very long. But, when he would land in my proximity he brought with him an energy and a glow, and this electricity, that was rare and nearly indescribable. He had the most unforgettable smile, and an earth shattering way of kissing that felt as if it would steal away my breath, and life, every time our lips collided.
5. Last Dance
“But Christmas falls late now,
flatter and colder,
and never as bright as when we used to fall,
and even if we drink,
I don’t think we would kiss in the way that we did,
when the woman was only a girl.”
I never thought we would speak again, cross each other’s path again, or know each other to any extent, again. For so long you had been a memory that somewhere along the line turned into a fantasy, wrapped up in the ever elusive one that got away regret. For a moment it stopped me, gave me pause, made me think on all those what if’s that I had carried around for so very long, but then I rubbed my eyes, I looked around at my life, and I realized that I was a girl then, and you were just a boy that I never truly got to know, and it could never, ever be anything like what I remembered, and later imagined, us to be.