Iconic band The Cure have released a spate of new singles as a trail to their 13th album, to be released mid-October. We here at Clockwise Cat have been besotted with The Cure for 23 years and saw the band live FIVE TIMES during their summer North American 4Tour. Because Clockwise Cat feels so strongly that the Cure is such a vital part of pop AND high culture (exceedingly literate lyrics, post-punk and art-rock musical structures), we are doing our best to help ensure their legacy. The Cure started out in the late 1970s, became a cult band in the early 80s, and by the latter part of the decade had grown into staggering popularity. These days The Cure has nearly come full circle, continuing to attract large arena audiences and yet flying under the mainstream radar. Diehard Cure fans are themselves legendary, and Clockwise Cat is proud to count herself among them.
Check out our Cure-blog: Curiouser and Curiouser.
And now, reviews of the new singles:
The Only One/New York Trip
When I first heard “The Only One” on a live video clip, to say that I was underwhelmed would be well, an understatement. I was downright disillusioned! The Cure’s 2004 self-titled album features one of my most cherished Cure pop songs, “The End of the World,” which delivered a fresh interpretation of the classic Cure sound. But “The Only One” sounded to me like a redunandant reworking of the done-to-death bright-and-happy Cure sound, and I wanted nothing to do with it. And indeed, when the studio version was released, I became even more distraught, because I thought this was the direction the Cure was headed: the band meekly yielding to what fans wanted (another Wish), rather than bravely delving into newer musical perspectives.
But it took the next single, “Freakshow,” actually, to convince me that “The Only One” was, after all, a great song. Not because “Freakshow “ is a bad song - indeed, I love it, as I will discuss later - but because it is a slight departure from what some hold to be the signature Cure sound. And this taught me that okay, it’s fine if the band does a bit of Cure-by-numbers as long as they persist in experimenting with other genres as well. After all, The Cure’s trademark is daring diversity.
So yeah, “The Only One” finally grew on me, to the point to where I actually love it - almost more than “The End of the World,” but not quite. True, it’s derivative of songs like “High,” and I do love “High,” but it also bears its own quirky charms. For one, its lyrics exude less of the woozy romantic sentiment like “High” or “Just Like Heaven”; they start off softly yearning, but soon turn brazenly bawdy.
In a way, the lyrics’ erotic edge diminishes the boyish melody, but they are also what give the song a unique stamp: its refusal to cater to childlike notions of romance. Instead, the lyrics assert a bold sexuality; rather than ooze delicious innuendo, they are explicitly lascivious in nature. For some Cure fans, this could be disconcerting - what’s a 50-year old man doing meowing about carnal pleasures, usually held to be the sacred province of youth? But for others - the less provincial ones? - it’s refreshing, because that is EXACTLY what a 50 year old SHOULD be doing: brashly celebrating life and libido.
Lyrically, too, the song continues the legacy of Seussian-Smith parallels - word-pairing reversals (“slip/slide” - “slide/slip”), whimsical word play (“hazier,” “mazier”), pervasive internal rhyme and so on.
“The Only One,” like so many Cure singles, is wonderfully infectious and showcases Smith’s proclivity for crooning in a higher register to embellish the song’s frisky mood.
Indeed, one could charge Smith with overplaying the falsetto flourishes, and perhaps he could rein it in a bit. But then I figure, as long as he doesn’t do it on every song, and as long as the flourishes “fit” with what the song is trying to achieve, then I see no harm.
“The Only One “ is thoroughly engaging Cure-pop, if a bit derivative. Thankfully there are graphic lyrical twists to keep us indecently entertained.
The b-side, “New York Trip” is an understated piece whose chief allure lies in its meandering structure. Musically it somewhat echoes "Wild Mood Swings," anchored as it is with a mildly groovy beat. The piano, too, is featured nicely, giving the song more melodic import. Lyrically the song sometimes recalls tunes from "The Top," with hallucinatory lines like,
I SWEAR THEY’RE WHALES
SWIMMING DOWN THE LINE
SPITTING MONKEY TAILS…
Other times the lyrics fall back onto overly familiar Cure cliches and don’t offer up anything terribly distinctive. But all in all it’s a solid song, although to my ears the weakest of the released b-sides.
Freakshow/All Kinds of Stuff
Now we come to the piece de resistance of the three singles released so far. Live “Freakshow” was nothing to scribble home about - it was a fine slice of post-punk funk but nothing earthshaking (of course Robert’s accompanying dances always melt the heart). But the studio version of “Freakshow” emerges as one bad-ass beast. The mixers have worked their magic to the bone and woven quite the captivating Cure single. The post-punk and funk remain, but now there is a more pscyhedelic flavor to the song, owing to Porl’s cyclonic, squalling wah-wah guitars, and Robert’s esoteric, almost Lynchian lyrics. The song seems to be a dream-narrative about a dance-liasion with an otherworldly girl. Of course, I could be wrong, and that’s part of the song’s mystique: the imagery-drenched subconscious sense of the words and the way they climb like vines along the slithering, writhing music. These may be Robert’s most Dada-esque intonations yet:
Oh IT’S INSANE
SHE SHAKES LIKE A FREAK
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM
FOR A WEEK
LOOKS LIKE THE ONLY WAY TO GET ON THE BEAT
IS TAKE HER UP ON HOW TO SWING
BUT I AM MISSING MY FEET
And yet there is a loony logic to this scenario.
“Freakshow” is the musical descendent of a trippy “Head on the Door” era b-side like “Man Inside My Mouth.” But in no way does “Freakshow “ sound like a facsimile of that song; it merely derives inspiration from it and spins its own wacky world.
For me, b-side “All Kinds of Stuff” is the strongest of the six released songs so far. Lyrically it’s not wildly compelling - it almost sounds like the improvised ramble of a rather tipsy Smith, musing bemusedly about whether he’s “lost his touch,” creatively speaking. Like “39” from Bloodflowers, the song itself is sort of an ironic assertion of the failing artistic muse - or perhaps it is Smith’s angry answer to fans who have been bleating for years that the Cure are dead (and it most be noted that those same annoying fans continue to adhere themselves to the band).
Musically, though, this song KICKS HOLY ASS! The best way I can describe it is “psychedelic jazz-punk.” The song screams to be amplified as obnoxiously as possible, so that the entire foundation of the house quakes. The listeners must abandon themselves to the amorphous noise, which like a tornado sweeps us up into furious swirls of sound. “All Kinds of Stuff” is a deliciously thrashy affair bolstered by clanging percussion.
Sleep When I'm Dead/Down Under
Of all the new released singles by The Cure, Sleep When I'm Dead is the most lackluster, in my mind. I really really like the somewhat derivative-but-still-charming The Only One, and I love the post-punk funk of Freakshow.
But this isn't to imply that Sleep is a bad song at all. It's just that, to my ears, it's the least inspired single lyrically and structurally. The high-pitched vocals are delivered with potent urgency, which gives fire to the song, and the rhythmic throb lends the tune an almost dark wave/disco feel. And of course, Porl's wah guitar is again fiercely prominent.
Some people have lamented that the studio version of Sleep When I'm Dead is rather inert, and does not match the raw energy of the live song. But I prefer the studio version because it is more dreamily textured. I like the paradox of sounds - the ethereal vocals melting within a cauldron of guitars and percussion. Interestingly, but certainly not crucially, the original song is an actual relic from the "Head on the Door" sessions. And indeed, it does sound a bit like Head's "Baby Screams" meshed with Kiss Me's "Torture." But let's not dwell on comparisons - a rather sloppy tactic of the unimaginative.
Lyrically, the song is a mixture of comical surrealism (childlike references to animals abound) and snooze-inducing banality ("take one for the team"). There are, however, a few interesting lines, such as "THAT'S A GREEN EYED PANIC CLIMB TO THE EDGE OF NOWHERE," the weird sense of which could have been exploited more throughout the song, to give eager lyric-dissectors more tools to work with. However, I can appreciate that the lyrics likely have more import that I am able to discern at this point.
Despite my reservations, Sleep When I'm Dead is a savory, mercurial song that begs to be turned up to illegal levels to absorb its full impact.
B-side Down Under is the second best song of the entire batch, in my assessment (Freakshow b-side All Kinds of Stuff being the best). It is dreamily remiscent of Wish b-sides like This Twilight Garden. Texturally, the song almost sounds like it's imitating the lyrical content, which involves the sea somehow - either symbolically or otherwise. The song is practically "drowned in sound" - swimming amidst a guitar mimicking sea-creature sounds, and floating bass-lines. It's really the most complex of all the songs, musically and lyrically. The lyrics are likely sexual in nature, although compulsive analysis has yet to confirm this. Lines like, "Disguise the stroke/entice them out/call out their number" are highly evocative, and perhaps the song truly is about an incident of "aqua-erotica." But the lyrics are opaque enough in other areas as to defy tidy deconstruction. Or perhaps I lack discernment. Anything is possible, really.
The Perfect Boy/Without You
Allow me to start off on an aggressively exuberant note: The Perfect Boy is fucking fabulous. Don't let anyone tell you differently. If they do, kick them in the nuts or ovaries. Better yet, poke their eardrums out with an excruciatingly sharp object. Anyone who dislikes The Perfect Boy does not deserve to listen to music anymore. The Perfect Boy is The Perfect Song, period.
I did not always feel this way, of course. Indeed, The Perfect Boy is responsible for putting me through some rather wildly anguishing mood swings. The first time I heard the live version of the song (through You Tube), I thought, "What the hell is this generic crap?" But then I gradually grew to love its simple structure and teenage angst-soaked lyrics. The soaring vocals and garagey guitar riff nicely complement each other.
And then the studio version hit the stores, and I became absolutely distraught when I heard it. The song features some reverb vocal effects on the chorus that had been lacking in the live versions. For me, the "Ooooooooooooooooooh girl" worked so elegantly well without any technical embellishments. So, the vocal effects seemed like overkill, and they ruined the song for me.
But the very next day, something happened, and it struck me that the vocal effects add texture and tension to the song. The live version is more endearlingly naive and straightforward, but the studio version has more dynamic depth. I love them both for these reasons. In a way I slightly prefer the the live version, but I think that is because it is so firmly etched into my memory. That is the peril of hearing songs live first.
Lyrically, the song narrates a story about two stock characters - a girl who wishes for a utopian romance with a boy who is merely interested in a casual carnal tryst. It shows a glaring contrast between two styles of amorous attachment, as it were.
The lyrical structure is by now a very familiar Robert Smith poetic device. Some people have complained that he overuses this device, but I would counter that his lyrics always showcase so many different styles that they defy pigeonholing. I personally love the structure he employs here and in songs like Bloodflowers, with the parallelism and symmetrical affirmation/negation:
" 'YOU AND ME ARE THE WORLD"
"NOTHING ELSE IS REAL
THE TWO OF US IS ALL THERE IS
THE REST IS JUST A DREAM…
ALWAYS MEANT TO BE
I CAN FEEL IT
LIKE A DESTINY THING
WRITTEN IN THE STARS
Yeah IT'S OUT OF MY HANDS
FALLING INTO YOUR ARMS' "
" ' Oh GIRL!
HE IS THE ONE FOR SURE
HE IS THE PERFECT BOY' "
" 'Yeah ME AND YOU ARE A WORLD"
"BUT NOT THE ONLY ONE I NEED
THE TWO OF US IS NEVER ALL THERE IS
THAT DOESN'T HAPPEN FOR REAL
IF IT WAS MEANT TO BE US
IT WAS MEANT TO BE NOW
DON'T SEE THE SENSE IN WASTING TIME
IF YOU'RE SO SURE ABOUT THIS
LAUREL KISMET HARDY THING
YOU KNOW TONIGHT YOU'RE MINE' "
In that last quoted verse, of course, the boy flippantly derides what he deems to be the girl's naive notions of eternal love. At first glance, the cryptic fragment, "Laurel Kismet Hardy thing," eludes interpretation, but after some careful scrutiny, ends up being the most intriguing bit of the whole song. Apparently it's alluding to the comical duo, Laurel and Hardy - and according to some, a combination of that and Horatio Nelson's last words, which have been wrongly quoted throughout the years.* It's an unusual and sardonic way of saying, "Okay, fine, you believe in that destiny bullshit?"
As the song is winding down, the girl becomes painfully aware of the fact that her chosen suitor is far from ideal:
HE'S NOT THE ONE FOR SURE
HE'S NOT SO WONDERFUL
HE'S NOT THE ONE FOR SURE
HE'S NOT THE PERFECT BOY AT ALL"
At the very end, it becomes clear that despite the obstacles, her relentless search for the perfect boy will persist.
Pure brilliance. There is nothing overly wrought here - just scintillatingly simple verse that weaves a compelling tale.
Emotionally, the song wraps melancholy, humor, exuberance, wonder, and tension into one gorgeous package - all mainly owing to Robert Smith's vocals, which, though they are mixed too loudly at times, remain captivating and evocative.
The Perfect Boy is one of the best Cure pop songs. I am partial to Freakshow for its edgy quirkiness, but The Perfect Boy is shimmering and wrenching, and has abundant potential to be a massive hit - if only the world would listen.
*Thanks to discerning posters at Chain of Flowers for this bit of information.
I can't comment right now on the b-side, Without You, because I need many more listens to fully absorb it. I don't quite grasp it musically at all; lyrically it seems to be about a failed romance or a message from Robert Smith to disgruntled fans.