Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Disintegration feels like the centerpiece of Cure's career. After a decade of brilliant work, this album synergized it all, excepting maybe the most playful lighthearted moments. All their previous exploration of uncluttered structures and sumptuous textures coalesces, along with a more perfect balance between lyric and melody. The boys were old enough to show some maturity, but still young enough to dream. 'Fascination street', 'Love song' and 'Pictures of you' are incredible singles, and 'The same deep water as you' and 'Plainsong' are Cure at their meditative, cinematic best.

Robert Smith had repeatedly demonstrated his ability to tell a great story ('A forest', 'Just like heaven'), but when it came time for 'Lullaby', he seemed to find fresh reserves. It is a dark tale, even darker than the arrangement suggests, and it stands apart because of the unnerving tension it sets up among three distinct modalities: a sci-fi terror story, a molestation nightmare, and a homoerotic fantasy.

Without being too obvious about it, the arrangement is styled as a furtive sketch, with bass and guitar lines coming at us sideways. For the superb remix of 'Lullaby' that leads off the Mixed Up compilation, the rawness of the original is slicked over in favor of a synthier, sexier arrangement. This foregrounds the erotic side of the song more than the original, but it doesn't dispel the menace.

'On candystripe legs the spiderman comes / softly through the shadow of the evening sun / Stealing past the windows of the blissfully dead / Looking for a victim shivering in bed.' One thinks of the cautionary tales of Shockheaded Peter, or another of the great pieces from goth's late eighties renaissance - Siouxsie & The Banshees' 'Rawhead and Bloodybones'. This is definitely not the story of a Marvel Comics character in a red and blue bodysuit. The terror carries all the way through to the next morning, when the narrator wakes up in the shivering cold.

'Be still, be calm, be quiet now / my precious boy / Don't struggle like that / or I will only love you more.' These lyrics remind one of other songs of abuse like Smiths' 'Headmaster ritual', in which the narrator is grabbed and devoured by a predatory adult. The shivering cold of morning may actually be something to which the child looks forward, because it means the dangerous night is over.

Yet in the midst of these dark scenarios there is room for a barely repressed thrill, as the man quietly laughs and approaches the foot of the bed. 'I feel like I'm being eaten by a thousand million shivering furry holes' is wide open to interpretation (pun intended), and there is more than a hint of salaciousness in Smith's delivery of this line and others. The shivering cold of morning is also the shudder after the orgasm.

It's undoubtedly a disturbing story, all the more so because of its ambiguity than its specific details. And this multivalent quality elevates it above much of the rest of Smith's estimable songwriting. 'Lullaby' also holds a place in the odd sampler of unexpected homoeroticism in alternative music (see also: Nine Inch Nails' 'The only time' and Franz Ferdinand's 'Michael'.) It's remarkable how uncontroversial each of these songs have been, despite their queer shadings.

In the case of Robert Smith, he has always been at his best when he has incorporated a childlike point of view into his music, be it whimsy, wonder, or wishfulness. With "Lullaby", it is the irrational embrace of disturbing things which threaten but somehow don't overwhelm innocence. Despite everything that threatens him - monsters, molestors, sexual initiation - he remains a boy in pajamas, singing in his bed.

Cure official website