year that brought us De La Soul and “Fight the Power,” but
also Milli Vanilli—marked a bit of a turning point for the
music industry. Prince’s “Batdance” topped the charts; so
did Paula Abdul, repeatedly. But change was bubbling under
the artifice as the “alternative” bands of the day (though
that term hadn’t come into wider use at the time) began to
break into the mainstream. R.E.M. blazed the trail, and the
Cure moped right on through: After cracking the Top 40 with
“Just Like Heaven” from 1987’s uncharacteristically shiny/happy
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, the gloomy British outfit
led by guyliner pioneer Robert Smith found themselves poised
to explode with the follow-up. And that they did, producing
the biggest commercial success of their career (more than
3 million sold) and a hit single so perfect even 311 couldn’t
fuck it up too bad. Your mom asked you what “goth” meant.
Sounds like a pretty normal band-building track, until you
consider that the album in question was Disintegration,
a record that’s as unrepentant about its tone (“We’re sad
about being famous”) as it is ironic for what it wrought (“We’re
famous for being sad”). Or perhaps not so ironic—Smith had
a unique moment here, in which he was able to consciously
create his legacy. To kick back against his band’s growing
popularity, he set out to make the opposite of Kiss Me,
and in the process created the quintessential “The Cure” album:
a 72-minute opus of long, sighing buildups; oceans of sound
painted with breathy synthesizers and broad-stroke melancholy.
(Fun fact: Despite its marketing as a single album, Disintegration
runs just under three minutes shorter than its double-length
This one album’s enormous success is basically the reason
that Rhino is reissuing the band’s catalog: Had Disintegration
flopped, the band wouldn’t have lasted much into the ’90s.
As if to honor the album’s distinctive place in the cultural
canon, this is the first of the Rhino editions to carry three
discs rather than two. The first disc gives the original 12
songs a remaster, which doesn’t seem to do much more than
boost the volume. (That’s all it really needed.) The pounding
toms and layers of simple melodic motifs are iconic at this
point; what’s surprising is how much the influence is recognizable
in current popular music. I’m hearing a little of Kanye’s
808s and Heartbreak in there, a pleasant surprise.
A few things I’d forgotten in the many years since my last
listen. It’s not all that gloomy: These songs are set pieces,
musical compositions in which the lyrics are secondary. When
the sonic atmosphere is bleak, there’s still that reliable
boyishness in Smith’s voice. Even the death-march toms on
“Closedown” underlie a relatively optimistic lyric (“If only
I could fill my heart with love”).
Also, the second half? Incredible.
The reissue is housed in a standard multi-tray folding case
inside a slip-sleeve, with a photo-filled booklet that offers
track info, lyrics, and an essay, stopping well short of too
much information. The second disc features 20 previously unreleased
demos, the majority of which are instrumental. Smith’s original
cassette demos and band rehearsal recordings bring the album’s
expansive scope down to scale, but the sound quality is going
to lose anyone but hardcore fans. The studio rough mixes on
the disc’s second half help to show the evolution of the album’s
sound, with the last two tracks—the unreleased “Delirious
Night” and the Joni Mitchell cover “Pirate Ships”—proving
to be the crown jewels of the package. A third disc features
the eight-song Entreat live album, recorded at Wembley
Stadium in July 1989, expanded to 12 songs (and now, Entreat
Plus) to mimic the exact Disintegration track order.
It, too, is pretty killer—a document of the band’s enormous
popularity, and their massive ability as a live act. Too bad
there’s not a DVD.
isn’t the definitive work that Robert Smith intended—I’d even
argue that it’s not fully effective as an epic-scale whine.
(Isn’t “Fascination Street” about doing drugs?) But if you,
like Kyle Broflovski of South Park, think it’s the
“best album ever,” know that Rhino’s reissue is worth a rebuy.
into the now, the band of the moment (or is the moment already
gone?) seems to be Sleigh Bells, the Brooklyn duo of singer
Alexis Krauss and former Poison the Well guitarist Derek Miller.
(They reportedly were a full band until a few members left
to form last month’s band of the moment, Surfer Blood.)
These guys are indicative of the blog age, having gone from
posting demos on MySpace to signing to the label run by professional
firestarter M.I.A. in about seven minutes. Now, after a season
of frothy Web hype, they’ve delivered their not-so-long-awaited
debut album, Treats. It’s the first album for which
I’d suggest wearing earplugs while listening, regardless of
volume. The duo’s songs juxtapose Miami bass beats and Jack
White-style guitar riffs with Krauss’ appealing rah-rah-rahs;
the recordings take these elements and compress the sound
until waveforms are gasping for air. Everything on Treats
is in the red—it’s like being hit in the eardrums with a frying
pan for 30 minutes. Every kick drum sounds like a “fuck you”;
the guitars are snotty; Krauss sounds like a total crazy person.
So, um, is it any good? Absolutely. Sleigh Bells manage to
fashion an experience out of the full-length format, dropping
intervals of relative solace between the sonic assaults: “Crown
on the Ground” wraps a few girl-group melodies around its
gleefully stupid “hook”; “Straight A’s” follows with 90 seconds
of unintelligible mess. And “Rill Rill,” with its R&B
drum sample and acoustic guitar strum, proves they’re not
just a one-trick pony. But, so what if they were? It’s a pretty