Monday, December 15, 2008

Songs Of The Year: The Cure - Underneath The Stars

This year's Cure album, 4:13 Dream, only their fourth since 1992's Wish, is better than any of the other three released since that time, which doesn't necessarily excuse it from the disappointment category. A marked improvement over 2006's self-titled, Ross Robinson-produced funless grind, it's a fairly upbeat and diverse affair - the band in Kiss Me or Head on the Door mode, but it's too often Cure-by-numbers - here's the poppy first single, here's the wacky freakout, here's the shouty one, etc., many of which have directly recognizable progenitors, and, given it was supposed to represent the poppier side of the band, there's a marked lack of memorable tunes. 

"Underneath The Stars" doesn't exactly escape the formula trap (here's the Disintegrationy one), but rises above it with an epic, swirling track, a classic Cure long instrumental intro heavy on chiming guitar giving way to Robert Smith's vocals, buried and back masked in the mix.  Fat Bob's voice has improved over the years, more expressive and multi-faceted, a broadening of the palette even as the lyrical subject matter has continued to coalesce around familiar themes and vocabulary.  

If there's a criticism it's that the band as a whole continues to suffer from Smith's sudden aversion to synthesizer that saw the exit of longtime keyboardist Roger O'Donnell from the band a few years ago. It's somewhat less of an issue live, where sheer, muscular force and the welcome return of Porl Thompson on guitar compensate, but there's an atmosphere missing from widescreen efforts like this (on the subject of "Atmosphere", it's interesting that the one apparent synthesized tool still allowed in the box is the windchime effect...). A welcome return to form and the clear highlight of the album - will the rumored "dark side" half of the 4:13 Dream sessions, allegedly due next year, see more of this?

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