Thursday, October 23, 2008

13 Infinite Possibilities

The forthcoming studio release from the Cure, 4:13 Dream (which is scheduled to be released in the US on October 28th) has be the most greatly-anticipated Cure album in the past 15 years.

The growth of the Cure's fan-base on the Web has greatly facilitated the exchange of knowledge, opinion, file sharing and general discussion among fans, literally worldwide. When the Cure play a concert in this day and age, the images and music are broadcast out around the globe in hours, sometimes even bare minutes from the end of, or even during, the performance.

So when the Cure began to play some of the new songs of this album on tour as early as October of 2007 (Notably, the Download festival, where "The Only One" was first debuted as "Please Project" ) and continuing on throughout the 4Tour in 2008, interest in these new songs was fueled primarily through amateur concert video and audio tapings, and limited amounts of rapidly-Youtubed television footage. It is a testament, then, to the sheer raw power and brilliance of these songs, that even a fraction of their real magic was captured and transmitted online.

Far from diminishing interest in these songs, these limited glimpses into a new world of Cure music have helped to stoke interest in the new material to a fever pitch. Indeed, the four singles released during the summer of 2008 shot readily into top of the sales charts worldwide with, in the US at least, a trivially minuscule amount of radio play. That a band can sell so many copies of a recording based almost entirely on interest generated through non-mainstream media channels is unprecedented, and should bode well for the future of the Cure. That they can do it in an age where music is freely available online through simple searches and a minimum of technical ability, speaks to the deep devotion the Cure's fans have to the band. Clearly, their fans care enough to continue to support the Cure through purchasing their music as well as helping to sell out their live shows whenever they tour.

Speaking of fans, I would like to extend a huge thanks to Craig over at Chain of Flowers for his endless patience and love for the band and his fellow fans as expressed through his website and new blog. Chain of Flowers was my primary source of Cure information for many years, and I have been thrilled to interact with Craig and the other fans throughout this past year as the new blog format has allowed us to do. It's been an amazing time, and I very much credit Craig with helping to introduce some wonderful new Cure friends into my life. The music of this album will always bring back fond memories from this past year of attending concerts "virtually". For the shows I did go to, knowing that there were other fans waiting breathlessly for every text, as I had done at other shows, helped to create a feeling of community that is still so amazing to me. I'm happy to be a part of the "family" over at CoF!

With that being said, I'd like to preface my review of the album with the disclaimer that this may not be a "typical" review as I don't have much to say about the more technical side of the music, so that which follows will be informed more by my own interests in the symbolism and meaning of the songs themselves. As usual, my opinions are my own and are in no way meant to be definitive. Rating the songs individually as bad or good is not part of my intent, for ultimately I love the album as a whole and believe each song has it's own story to tell. This is my interpretation of those stories.

(Graphic: A Wordle of the top 13 words on 4:13 Dream)

For an album that abounds with mythical and legendary creatures such as sirens, angels and "The Perfect Boy", the song "Underneath the Stars" begins the album on a note firmly rooted in the physical world while at the same time introducing a beautiful scene of intimacy and love. I will never forget the first moment I heard this song, with the sound of the crashing waves holding me stock-still in amazement. (So much so, that I forgot to turn on my camera!)

Prefacing the lyrics invoking the very creation of the Universe, (13.73 billion years ago, to be precise) the sound of the waves breaking echoes both the watery beginnings of life on earth and the water which cradles human life inside the womb. The scene is set of lovers entwined, floating together beneath a beautiful, starry sky. They lose themselves in each other, and in the infinite possibilities of the universe, held in a moment where the present, past and future intersect. That this song encompasses the most intimate of moments wrapped up with philosophical wonderings about the entire, infinite universe is quite impressive, and even in low-fidelity recordings became an instant and much-anticipated classic. It's musings on love and eternity are bound to place it very high on the charts of those Cure fans who revel in the dreamily romantic songs of the Cure's extensive discography.

Once the soft, dark night of "Underneath the Stars" has faded into daylight and everyone has woken up and had a good lunch, the Cure go in for a bit of afternoon delight in "The Only One", with Robert elucidating the many ways in which he is explicitly delighted by his lover. Unabashed and completely unashamed, this openly sensual riff on an adult repertoire has a bouncy beat and ecstatic rhythm completely befitting the subject material.

Like a visit from a particularly interesting and yet psychologically-unstable friend, "The Reasons Why" brings us out of our hazy afterglow with some jarring lyrics about suicide and friendship. Fittingly released near Halloween, this song seems to speak of someone who is in contact with the spirit world, and who is thinking about joining them very soon. The third-person style of this song is a bit unsettling after the extreme intimacy of the first two songs, however it seems to fit the material more closely, and certainly serves to put some distance between the singer of the song and the ideas expressed within (suicide, right to die). Interestingly, the conversation expressed near the end of the songs calls to mind the same symbolism found in "Underneath the Stars" regarding the infinite nature of the Universe as well as seeming to express some of Robert's belief regarding the afterlife, or lack thereof.

Perhaps driven by a need to get rid of some of the emotional baggage left over from "The Reasons Why", "Freakshow" lurches onto the dancefloor and shakes like a freak until the weight has dropped away and all that's left is a hallucinatory bubble of sights and sounds. Settling itself down next to the hookah in the back room, "Freakshow" leaves the harsh reality of the everyday world behind and pops open a hooky, catchy chorus determined to make you forget your woes. Aliens, swing dancing and a somewhat cranky girlfriend make for a psychedelic trip to the club downtown and you will be singing along even if you don't quite know what "infradig" means

The distressingly short "Sirensong" unfolds itself languorously from the mists of ancient memory, enchants us with glimmerings of golden paradise, leaves us aching rapturously for more, and then, disappears like a wisp of shimmering smoke.

"The Real Snow White" is all grown up and looking nervously around the room at seven dwarfs who want her to visit another kind of cave. Here, the raw, pale underbelly of life is exposed and crawling with seedy sycophants, disorienting drugs, lost time and lost innocence, and Snow White has been left wanting ever more.

Leaving the world of grime and slime behind, and perhaps inspired in a perverse way by the journey through it, Robert waxes philosophical with an exploration of the concept of "The Hungry Ghost". In Tibetan Buddhism, as in many other faiths around the world, the hungry ghosts are "a metaphor for people futilely attempting to fulfill their illusory physical desires". The placement of this song just after "The Real Snow White" seems like a deliberate way to contrast two extremely different states of mind and being. Debauchery and addiction have been cast aside in favor of robes of saffron and somber contemplation, and the effect is extremely thought-provoking indeed!

The introspection continues during "Switch" as Robert begins to question everything about his life, friendships, possessions, thoughts and habits, and ultimately decides that he's changed, but he is not certain why this is so. In this hard-rocking lament, difficult questions abound, the answers are few and far between, and all we can do is suffer alongside Robert on his quest for truth.

Spinning yet another tight vignette of a song into being, "The Perfect Boy" marries a sunny, poppy love song with a jaded, cynical tale of lust and betrayal. The girl believes, and the boy believes too, as long as he gets his way in the end. Fortunately, the song ends long before the optimism does.

"This. Here and Now. With You." is a perfectly Zen moment of clarity expressed in quirky, chiming rhythms and expressive beats. The words and phrases tumble over each other as if the moment will pass too quickly and they will be left behind. The urgency and immediacy of the lyrics weave a story of lovers brought together fatefully, perhaps bringing to mind the illicit relationship expressed in the song "Strange Attraction" from 1996's "Wild Mood Swings".

Resurrected from the "Head on the Door"-era demos, the updated (presumably) song "Sleep When I'm Dead" presents either a waking dream or walking nightmare, complete with conversations with angels and cute baby animals. Hallucinatory echoes reverberate throughout this ethereal landscape and the catchy chorus compels us to sing along, pulling us through the mirror and into an alternate reality littered with divine beings and reflected visions of the world we left behind.

The story of the "Scream" begins slowly, in the springtime, and plays out throughout the seasons as the subject of the song grows progressively more distant and distraught until the final drawn-out scream spins her into a whirlwind of frantic action and emotion. A picture is drawn of someone moving in a slow motion, as if they were in a time-lapse film, as the year spins faster and faster around her, until she is snapped into reality by the intensity of the "Scream" and upon awakening, finally looks around with a lingering sense of horror at the wreckage.

The tone of finality of the closing song "It's Over" takes on literal and figurative meaning, spinning the loss and distress expressed in the lyrics of the "Scream" into an angry return to the grim, drug-fueled world of "Snow White" where time is once more lost and deeply lamented.

The lucid introspection and philosophical meanderings of earlier songs has turned to remorse and self-hatred. The sense of limitless possibility captured in "Underneath the Stars" has turned bitterly, sourly wrong, cynicism rules the day, and the angry howls of disgust are all that are left behind. Launching a sonic assault on our hearts and minds, "It's Over" leaves us hoping desperately that it is not over at all, and that the long-rumored dark album will continue the story much, much further.


Randy said...

excellent review, rev.

Alice said...

Heron - I admire your interpretition of the new Cure songs. I feel very much you come close to the heart of the songs. I can hear the waves of the ocean and the shining of the stars and the flames of the twilight zones in your own poetic words. I like very much you always create something new and positive out of your love for the Cure. But what i was wondering when I listend to Sirensong: Since what time do fly mermaids away?? I guess that this motiv would make a wonderful new T-Shirt decoration....Best whishes, please excuse my bad englisch, Alice

altr2elise said...

Rev - you have such a beautiful way with words. Thank you for taking the time to write this fabulous review.

christl d. said...

Im listening to the songs as i read this.. I LOVE how you didnt get into the technicality and rating the music.. from the start, this was a highly personal, and much different review from any that ive read. your musings, analysis and feelings about the lyrics and the music.. like alice said, youre at the heart of the songs.

TheFigurehead said...

Hello again (you might have seen me in the Top 20 Cure chat) I really enjoyed reading your review of 4:13. It really painted an image and kind of connected the songs through an interpreted storyline. Very awesome indeed.

Rev. Heron said...

Thanks for your kind comments everyone! Alice, to answer your question, mermaids are not sirens. The mythical Siren was described as a half-woman , half-bird creature and thus possessed the ability to fly.