There are only so many ways to describe the void of unrequited love, the bleakness of rain-soaked cement and the stupor of overwhelming gloom. Robert Smith has said them all. Some might argue he's said them several times over. But on The Cure, the 13th album by the band since forming in the mid-'70s, this group of miserablists has continued to make vital and morose pop tapped from a deep well of romantic fatalism that should have--for any other band--run dry by 1985.
From the first spiraling, clanging moments of first track "Lost," Robert Smith plays his role. Catharsis is what the Cure has always done best. Smith's shudders and yelps have given millions of distraught listeners release. But when he sings in "Lost" that he is "playing out the passion of a stranger in love," Smith does so as an actor aware of his purpose, and as an artist whose drugs and depression have been replaced by marriage and adulthood.
Neither reinventing the sound of the band nor plying its tired dignity, The Cure is an album by a band who knows cameras are rolling, and broken hearts, red lipstick, eyeliner and vampiric pallor are expected.
Directed at a public more aware of Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights than the Cure's Pornography, this album also serves as a statement of relevance. To say the music of the Cure has aged gracefully would be misleading.
Thirteen albums in, the Cure hasn't aged at all. (Richard Shirk)
Various Portland Artists
PDX Pop Now! 2004
Gloomy skies, dark beer, fishbelly pallor--Portland's never developed the cheeriest of reputations. But the organizers of the PDX Pop Now! festival (see Volume, page 35) have assembled a wonderful compilation highlighting the sunshine intermittently reflected off Puddletown these days. Familiar tastemakers and press darlings (the Decemberists, the Shins, the Thermals, Quasi) saunter and pogo about a number of hotly touted bright young acts for a note-perfect set list--a two-hour drive-time block of masterful choruses and swaggering melodies. A good number of tracks, from Kind of Like Spitting's snotty, infectious rant on "In the Red" to the Helio Sequence's harmony-drenched psychedelic groove on "Don't Look Away," are rock-solid examples of music that has hopped the city limits and traversed many an indie-pop fan's stereo across the country.
It's the lower-profile bands that most intrigue, of course. On "Mr. Extreme Jeans," Sunset Valley explodes through a vocodered Kinksy strut with elegant abandon. Blitzen Trapper's clever, confident unreleased track "Pink Padded Slippers" is an adventurous bit of pop swirling around a gorgeous tune and deceptively simple lyrical conceit. It claims the title "best song" on an album lousy with them. Some of the most inspired moments come from the fringe selections that stretch the definition of indie pop in Portland. The Planet The's spiky rhythms, Yacht's shimmering instrumental electro-folk and Orange & Allred's ambient flourishes would probably confound Top 40 audiences. And the Lifesavas, in the classic sense, are two turntables away from pop. But, if pop is short for popular, which all these artists should be, it's hard to argue against their inclusion. (Jay Horton)