All this week we're looking back over albums by undeniable goth icons and talk about their failures.
As we proved in Monday's entry in the series, the mid-'90s wasn't an easy time for the pioneers of the goth genre. On the one hand they were reasonably secure as established and proven acts, but on the other, in many cases they were outliving the creative connections that made them who they were in the first place.
It's hard to say that about The Cure because of how unique the band truly is. Though many consider the group to be Robert Smith plus a few other guys in black, the reality is that The Cure is a constantly changing and evolving series of lineups that interact with each other in different ways. Because of that, ranking Cure albums against each other can be very difficult.
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That said, I'll tell you a story. A couple of years back a friend of mine was robbed, and the thief took among other things all of the guitar tablature books that my friend had. This included a complete collection of Cure books, all of which are out of print now.
My friend called me at my sheet-music store day job to ask me what it would cost to replace the collection. I told him I couldn't get those books anymore, but that I had a copy of Wild Mood Swings he could just have because it had sat on the shelf unsold for a decade.
He sighed and said, "That's the only album they didn't steal."
What makes the 1996 entry so... apathetic? Part of it must come from the fact that it doesn't really sound like Wish, which had come out four years previous and spawned one of their biggest hits in "Friday I'm In Love." That was when Robert Smith, Simon Gallup, and Porl Thompson were firing on all cylinders, completely in a groove with each other.
But by the time the band went into the studio to work on their next album, things were not going very well. Thompson had left, a decade of solid partnership with Smith was over. Gallup was stricken with a severe lung condition that limited his participation. What was left over was an awkward array of ideas that never really cement into an opus like a Cure record should.
Cure albums are never song collections, they all flow, but Wild Mood Swings lives up to its name and never really manages to find its identity.
It does start strong, there's no denying that. "Want" and "Club America" show off a modern intense darkness that we'd see again in their soundtrack work later in the '90s and done perfectly when Bloodflowers came out in 2000. They're wicked compositions that might have really shaken things up as singles, but instead they went with some of the album's weakest points.
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Instead of following the direction that the band was clearly moving towards rather than from we get a series of weird overly-pop attempts like "Mint Car," which stylistically is more or less a lackluster followup to "Friday I'm in Love." It's a catchy melody, no doubt, but Smith tries so hard to be... I don't know, cute that it feels cheap. It's like David Lee Roth was trying to control Smith's mind, especially when he makes that smarmy little kiss noise.
Even when The Cure is lighthearted, they have an edge and an intensity. Call it a maniacal glee. Yet more than half the album sounds like the band was being forced to try to shotgun styles in order to churn out another Top 40 hit; in fact, they haven't done so since "Friday." "The 13th" sounds like a Dennis Wilson wrote it while on an opium binge, and "Strange Attraction" is completely forgettable.
Don't get me wrong. There are wonderful songs on Wild Mood Swings. "Bare" is one of my favorite tracks of all time from any band, and even for an act known for ending their albums in long, slow seven-minute breakdowns it stands out as a sincere and perfect composition.
For a while there, Robert Smith really wondered if The Cure was done, and Wild Mood Swings shows better than anything that an era was ending for him as a songwriter.
Luckily, he and Gallup found what was strong from the record and crafted what I consider to be their best work in Bloodflowers after a nice long rest. Wild Mood Swings was a letdown to people who loved Wish and a waste of time for people like me, who were hankering for the future.
Tune in tomorrow for more of the Five Most Disappointing Goth Albums.
Jef With One F is a recovering rock star taking it one day at a time. You can read about his adventures in The Bible Spelled Backwards or connect with him on Facebook.