Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Primary Colors of the Cure - Part 2

I hope that you enjoyed reading Part 1 of my short exploration of the colors in the Cure's song lyrics.

Following that train of thought, it seemed to me to be only natural to explore the color palettes presented by the studio albums. As we saw in the first part of this series, color is used to add meaning and emotional impact to the songs themselves. I think it is interesting how an album cover can also be distilled into distinct color palettes which can give us clues as to the overall emotional content of the songs in a particular album. For this blog post I used the color palette tool on the Colour Lovers website which is a lot of fun if you are artistically / creatively inclined and enjoy playing with color.

Here are all of the 13 studio albums as color palettes, along with an image of the album cover itself and a brief commentary on each one.

1. Three Imaginary Boys

Although Robert famously hated the cover artwork for their first album, the visual depiction of the band members as a lamp, a refrigerator and a vacuum cleaner (a hoover) is a now-iconic piece of 80's album art. Produced by the record company, the cover of Three Imaginary Boys was such an irritant to him that Robert insisted on complete creative control over the final product on all future albums.

2. Seventeen Seconds

As noted above, the cover of Seventeen Seconds was the first album cover personally overseen by Robert Smith, and the contrast between the first and second album covers could not be more striking. As the first entry in what would become the three darkest albums of The Cure's early years, Seventeen Second's cover provides a view into the new sound of The Cure after the disjointed pop of Three Imaginary Boys, The stark, minimalist expanse of white is broken by a blur of eerie tree branches and grey, undefined shapes. The splash of red on the lower left corner hints at a surge of emotion coloring the otherwise bleak landscape, and the frenetic lines suggest movement, which is fitting as the Cure's first charting single in the UK, "A Forest" came from this album.

3. Faith

Based on a photograph of the 12th-century ruins of Bolton Abbey in the fog, the moody atmosphere of the cover of Faith presents an even bleaker landscape than that on the cover of Seventeen Seconds. The second of the three dark albums, it offers little respite from the mood previously set into place. Here there is dim light, shades of gray and very little texture, broken only by the small logo and unadorned text near the top left. The brooding hulk of Bolton Abbey towers ominously above the viewer who appears to be lying on the colorless grass at the bottom of the cover. The emotional resonance of this cover is intense, oppressive and more than a little claustrophobic, perfectly expressing the music within.

4. Pornography

The final album of the three dark albums and the first in the later "Trilogy" series, Pornography takes the bleak landscape of Seventeen Seconds, and the despair and hopelessness of Faith and channels them both into a dark swirl of anger, hatred, death, lust and cynical passion. The sighs of gray on the cover of Faith have been replaced by bloodcurdling howls of red and purple, and the pale, distorted faces appear to arise from the black depths of a particularly gruesome nightmare. The narrow, unadorned text at the very top nearly fades into obscurity with its thin, stretched lines. This is the first album cover to feature the faces of the band members, and the only one to feature members other than Robert Smith on the cover. Notably, the three albums which do feature Robert Smith on the cover (Pornography, Disintegration and Bloodflowers) are all considered by fans and critics alike to be the best work of the Cure's extensive catalog, and were the focus of 2002's "Trilogy" DVD in which all three albums were played in concert back-to-back.

5. The Top

After exploring the oppressive darkness of the last three albums, coming across the artwork for The Top feels a little like stumbling into a circus sideshow tent just after visiting the Holocaust Memorial. Many fans of the era were reported to be furious at Robert for abandoning music influenced by the somber introspection that he had been immersed in. Understandably, there should be some confusion about how and why the man who wrote the line "It doesn't matter if we all die" suddenly began to cuddle kittens and sing about caterpillars! The sudden change in mood and atmosphere is vividly reflected in the cover art for The Top, with it's poppy, psychedelically optimistic tones of yellow, red, blue, green and gold. The emerald-green font of the album title takes up most of the front cover, another departure from the previous covers, with The Cure written in gold and larger than on any other cover previously published. The loopily introspective music on The Top is reflected in the bright jewel-toned colors of the album cover as we explore what is the closest thing to a Robert Smith "solo" album that has been published to date.

6. The Head on the Door

A more subdued palette greets us on the cover art for The Head on the Door . Fluttering, indistinct shapes in pastel yellows and pinks arise from a sea of black, overlaid by blue text full of curlicues and organic shapes. Although this color palette is toned down as compared to The Top, the surreal psychedelia of the songs on the album is still well represented by both the colors and shapes on the cover. The claustrophobic pop anthems of The Head on the Door take the hint of absurdity found in the music of The Top and add a hit or two of ecstasy, the swirling guitars of Porl Thompson and an undeniable pop sensibility to produce some of the Cure's first major US hits.

7. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

With vivid red lips illustrating the album title, the colors of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me show us a more mature intensity that is less concerned with anger than with lust and love. The fiery reds and oranges of the cover invoke the heat of coupling, the desires of the flesh and the joys of union. Many of the tracks on KMKMKM explore themes of relationships and the conflict therein, and this is expressed in both the album artwork and color palette. The happy-go-lucky lyrics of the pop gems on The Head on the Door are gone, and in their place is a furnace of sexual energy and an abundance of sophisticated intellect. Meticulously crafted love songs and catchy pop masterpieces dominate the offerings of this, their 7th studio album. This album was the one that put the Cure on the radar of mainstream music with "Hot, Hot, Hot", "Why Can't I Be You" and "Just Like Heaven" pouring out of radios and onto club floors worldwide. Here the Cure are on fire, and it shows in the colors!

8. Disintegration

Once the fiery flames of KMKMKM had subsided, Robert decided to douse the lingering embers with the deep green waters of his own nightmares, and the result was Disintegration. Famously condemmned by the record company as commercial suicide following such an upbeat, passionate musical journey as KMKMKM, Disintegration proved that the fans were ready and willing to follow Robert into the depths of his own psyche. Here the album cover of the second installment in the "Trilogy" provides yet another visual glimpse into the watery, emotional heart of the Cure. The dark green depths of the cover are broken by shadowy, silhouetted flowers and a hauntingly pale gaze upward. The psychedelia here is less concerned with colorful eye-candy than with the veiled, introspective gaze which explores the shadows of the heart. The only counterpoint to the deep and pale greens here on the cover of Disintegration is a touch of brown which could even represent the viewer grasping for a place to stand while sinking into the dark.

9. Wish

Back on dry land once more, a surge of happiness suffuses the cover of Wish like a breath of fresh air from the circle of blue sky on the cover. One of the most commercially successful Cure records after Disintegration, the lyrics and music of Wish present a vision of the day breaking after the gloomy depths of midnight have passed. The colors on the cover present a happier Cure, with optimistic blue skies and white fluffy clouds surrounded by bright reds and oranges. The strangely compelling, iconic artwork by Parched Art draws us into an exploration of the meaning and imagery of the album cover and promises an optimistic view of love and life. Uniquely, the cover of Wish seems to have inspired more Cure tattoos than any other album artwork. From the commercial hits "High" and "Friday I'm In Love" to the lush promise of "To Wish Impossible Things" and the epic masterpiece "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea", the Cure is in love, and so are we.

10. Wild Mood Swings

Fittingly, the cover of Wild Mood Swings features a windup clown toy, because this album represents the Cure at their most playful. The bright primary colors of the cover reveal songs which are very much mood swings, alternately coy and condescending, playfully erotic and heartbreakingly sincere. This album features some of the happiest Cure lyrics ever written, and some of the most underrated songs of their oeuvre. From the "gorgeous strawberry kiss" of red to the honey-colored yellow and tender-hearted blue, the clues to the moods of Wild Mood Swings are written in bright tones throughout the album and the cover.

11. Bloodflowers

As the self-described third part of the Cure's career-spanning "Trilogy" of albums, the cover of Bloodflowers is a near-explicit echo of the bleak understatement of the cover of Seventeen Seconds. Here we see the stark whites and blood reds, the dense blues and greys of that cover, but portrayed with much more intensity and depth. The mariachi band of Wild Mood Swings has decamped and the paper streamers from last night's party are but pale tatters fraying in the wind. Here the colors of the foreboding winter moon has brought us through the night to dawn and we understand that with age brings wisdom as well as bitter realization. On the cover of Bloodflowers, we return to the pale forest of Seventeen Seconds and Faith, but have brought both a compass and a friend along, so that this time, the journey is not nearly as lonely or as disorienting.

12. The Cure

Perhaps remembering the incoherent nightmares of his own childhood, for the cover of the Cure's self-titled 2004 album, Robert asked his numerous nieces and nephews to draw pictures for him and then compiled them into the artwork for The Cure. The resulting effect takes all of the unspoken night terrors of pre-adolescence and distills them into a creepily subdued palette. The muddied colors evoke the fear of that spooky old mansion down the street, the yellow color of the wash of light from the porch light and the purple shadows lurking in the yard after midnight. The colors and disconnected childish cartoons of the cover let us know what to expect, and what not to expect from the Cure's 12th studio offering.

13. 4:13 Dream

Returning once again to the Parched Art aesthetic which was missing from Cure covers for 16 years, the cover of the forthcoming album 4:13 Dream is sprinkled with effervescently optimistic colors which highlight the shadowy shapes and hand-sewn detail of the watercolors on the front of 4:13 Dream. Bright flashes and splatters of yellow, pink and blue surround the hypnotically glowing red eyes of the central mask-like figure which echoes the pale faces of the cover of Pornography. The stars invoke the much-anticipated opener "Underneath the Stars" and the surreal, dreamlike shapes bring to mind the hallucinatory lyrics of the new singles "Freakshow" and "Sleep When I'm Dead".

As with many other Cure albums such as Wish and Wild Mood Swings, the themes of the main album are repeated and expanded upon on the covers of the singles, creating a coherent and immediately recognizable visual theme, which is reinforced through use of color and style. Here, the overall effect is one of entering a bright daydream where the echoes of the past Cure albums reverberate, informing and infusing the new works with the spirit of the old.

A Final Note:

It was while writing this article that I first noticed that the three "Trilogy" albums are the only ones to feature Robert's face on the cover (albeit more abstractly with Pornography) and thought that it was interesting that they are the ones which Robert Smith considers to be the most representative Cure albums. Certainly others have noticed and remarked on this phenomenon before, however it was not something which I had thought about before doing this analysis of the album covers. It definitely made me wonder more about the process that they go through to produce the covers, and whether Robert's confidence in the material is what inspires him to put his face out there on the album, or whether that has even been a conscious decision on his part. If you have any insight into this process, please leave a comment or message, I'd love to hear from you!


christl d. said...

bloody hell, rev. this is insane. thank you for that deep analysis, such intricate writing. i was blown away by the depth!

as usual, you have an outstanding eye for things like this.

definetly one of the best articles, cure or not, i have ever read.

bw - the verification thing below reads SWTPHTS!! ROFLMAAAO

lovecat44 said...

Hi Heron,
Wow, I read at CoF about your posts at chainofroberts on Primary Colours of The Cure, and lurked in aand.. truly amazed I am!
Great work!

And by the way I am a synaesthete and when I listen to the music, I have my head full of colours, the wildest combination I get when listening to Halo, it's pink and green together and green

I perceive sounds as colours, "see the music"

Have you heard about this phenomena?
It's insane!