#25 The Cure – Plainsong (1989)
Disintegration, The Cure’s 1989 album, is in many ways a defining statement. Refined and deeply reflective, these are songs that flit and flicker at the wrappings of relationship, at the packaging of identity. There’s a stylistic continuation at play, thematic integrity seared into every track, and as a result the whole that’s created is dominated by a nuanced melancholia; it’s an album that rejects the overt sentiments of attention-demanding three-minute pop music, instead deploying glances that are considered and atmospheric. And whilst it’s often compared to the band’s output from earlier in the decade (Pornography in particular) – the lyrical maturity adds subtle allusions of gravitas and dignity absent in much of their earlier work. Honest in parts, savage in others, this still somehow contrived to be their biggest ever seller, and the inadvertent push towards a stadium rock status neither expected nor embraced.
“I think it’s dark, and it looks like rain”, you said.
I’ve always loved this album. Its slightly out-of-focus appeal, those strands of fragility – few records sound as much like its front cover suggest as Disintegration. And its opening track couldn’t be more apt. A record for nights of tempest and the strange sense of attachment it’s possible to glean from howling precipitation. The subtle, scene-setting opening seconds. Then the phalanx of sweeping synth chords, strident yet minor-key, that immediately embrace the listener, teasing against the mechanics of momentum. Then the guitar, floating elegantly above the mix as if propelled by rising thermals. And finally (sigh): the vocal kicks in…
“And the wind is blowing like it’s the end of the world”, you said.
‘Plainsong’: it’s very specifically pitched. Conscious of the equilibrium with its surroundings, and thus delicately poised across a range of relationships; that between artist and listener, between song and the rest of the album, and – common to more than one Robert Smith composition – across the interplay between the track’s two protagonists, the first person narrative with second person inflexion a gateway through which this cocooned intimacy encroaches.
“And it’s so cold, it’s like the cold if you were dead”.
This could so easily have been a post on ‘Like Cockatoos’ (grinding exotica from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, constructed around slanted lyrics and a central musical motif that begins in density and only grows denser). This could so easily have been words on Pornography’s eponymous track, a brutal slab of searing momentum and distortion, a very real climax. That The Cure’s entry into the Festive Fifty is ‘Plainsong’ is all to do with mood, a whooshing impression of haunting, surging from stereo speakers like that first all-encompassing hug. And where-as it sounds specifically of its time, hair back-combed and glad rags black and patchouli-scented, the élan of such delicate execution gives the piece a timeless quality. That, for a few fleeting minutes, the movement of the clock’s hand has ceased to matter
And then you smiled for a second…
The Cure / Plainsong