When a forty-five-year-old man goes to work wearing globs of makeup and a slept-on-an-egg-beater hairdo, he’s pegged a psycho. When Robert Smith does it, it’s called a comeback. People have made a big to-do about the Cure’s thirteenth album, but everything about it, from the disturbed kiddie pictures on the cover to the eponymous moniker and Ross Robinson production (which has been the staple sound of Limp Bizkit, Korn and Slipknot for the past decade) screams identity crisis. But in an album that is at once incredibly predictable and average, one of the few surprises is that The Cure is not a failure. Derivative, stagnant and posturing, yes. But it’s not nearly as bad as it should be.
With a stretch of the imagination, Korn and Slipknot are not too far-removed from those angst-ridden songs that helped us survive the rainy days of the ’80s, and Robinson actually fares okay at times. Of course, “I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you” has since transformed into something more along the lines of, “I want to chainsaw your head off and make love to your neck.” But a teenager brooding in his bedroom will always be just that, and thus the loud, glossy production doesn’t really destroy the album.
It does, however, tank occasionally, such as on the Korn-rific, cacophonous “Us or Them” and the ten-minute Soundgarden-ripping train wreck “The Promise.” But when the day is over, Robinson coaxes some great sounds out of Smith, as he wails, “I can’t find myself,” on the opening track, “Lost,” and shines on the rest of the album with a voice that sounds like it hasn’t aged a day.
But age is the inherent problem. I would think that after a few decades, Smith might think of something new to say about life, but he doesn’t on this album. Rather, he plays love songs for the typical teenage loner, and whereas the passionate heartbreak of Disintegration still resonates fifteen years later, the love songs on The Cure sound forced and pander to new audiences.
That’s not to say the music is bad, though. “Before Three,” “The End of the World” and “Alt.End” are all extremely catchy, with memorable guitar lines and intense vocal performances. “Taking Off” reigns as the album’s high point and could even have appeared on Disintegration — or at least been one of the better tracks on Wish — with its jangling guitars and synth resounding in celebration. It even contains the few lyrics that reflect Smith’s new adult life: “Tomorrow I can start again/ Back to earth and carry on/ The same as I did yesterday, yeah/ Pick it up once more.”
Unfortunately, there’s also some bad to offset the high points. “Labyrinth,” while likable, is a direct rip-off of “Burn,” and other tracks lack the focus or good hooks to differentiate themselves. The Cure is hit and miss, but that’s par for the course as far as comebacks are concerned. Now, if Smith could just wash his face off and remember he’s forty-five, he might well be on his way to his teen anthems of yesteryear. Meantime, I’m just going to sit in my room and listen to Disintegration with the lights off. That never gets old.