This review, really, should be able to write itself. If you’re a fan of the Cure you don’t need to be sold on the merits of 1989’s Disintegration. If you’re not a fan, you couldn’t care less. The band is just that polarizing, with one side offering up everything that’s good about Robert Smith and company, and the other side listing the cons — and somehow both sides have identical memos. The stakes are higher because now I have to explain why the fans should go back and buy this edition, complete with another disc of live versions and yet a third with instrumental demos of the songs. Overkill?
That also depends on what side of the divide you stand upon. With the album split into the three discs, the listener gets to hear the full process the songs went through, from the earliest gestation to the recordings proper, to how they were carried out live before an audience. As someone who is deeply into the songwriting process, I was impressed with how the material was shown from every angle, as the package represents a complete look inside the workings of a band about to become bigger than they had ever been. Up to that point, from Three Imaginary Boys to Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, the band had been college and modern rock favorites, the pointmen for the nascent alternative scene. Their stock-in-trade was a blend of sad, moody tunes and bouncy, poppy tunes. Disintegration arrived with the hit track “Lovesong” and the niche they once inhabited would never be quite the same. The impact of “Lovesong” can’t be denied as, decades later, 311 scored a hit with their cover. In the sense of groups becoming ten-year overnight sensations, the album mirrors Document from R.E.M. and the rise of “The One I Love”, both bands that had been at it for several years were suddenly launched into a wider spotlight.
The big difference between Disintegration and Document is that the latter’s single was very much of a piece with the rest of the album, cryptic but ready to please. The Cure made their album to please themselves and, in that regard, only the tracks “Pictures Of You” and “Disintegration” really come close. The rest of the album explores an epic, sometimes chilly atmosphere exemplified by the opening “Plainsong” with its icy synths and glacial pace. The marriage of guitars and bass-driven, dread-baring keys is also in “Prayers For Rain”. The tempo of “Fascination Street” may hint at rock thrills, but the lyrics are more of a growing disdain than an invitation to party: “I like you in that like I like you to scream, but if you open your mouth/ Then I can’t be responsible for quite what goes in or to care what comes out”. The entirety of the album manages to unify the most striking elements of their Faith period without losing the steadily growing guitar-rock bent of The Head on the Door or Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.
But the fans already own it and the non-fans aren’t interested, so why should someone upgrade beyond the points already made? The answer is that, unlike many recent remasters of albums from the late 1980s, these songs sound more immersive and more dynamic than they ever have before. Even if the synths lean on new wave patches that instantly rat out a time-period from which they came, the layering of the sounds gives them a weight other bands of the time couldn’t duplicate and this remaster respects the gravity Smith must surely have been going for. This is one of the few, in recent times, where digital bass boosting counts as a positive, not a loud, distorting detriment. And let’s face it, in the discography as it currently stands, Disintegration is one of the band’s best achievements, blowing away the preconceptions people had of the band by embracing them with an all-inclusive vengeance. The highs are higher, the lows are lower and there have been few occasions where they’ve been quite as lovely or powerful.
So, to the fans, go for it and you won’t be sorry. To the haters, it may be time to try the Cure again, with an open mind, and there isn’t a better starting point than this edition of Disintegration.