Robert Smith is bucking for a promotion from alterna-gloom standard-bearer to timeless rock god. His comfortingly tortured croak has been everywhere lately: on this summer’s Ozzfest-style Curiosa tour (with younger bands Interpol and the Rapture, who owe the Cure big time), crooning with blink-182 and Junkie XL, hitting the club charts as guest vocalist for house producer Junior Jack, headlining the Coachella festival, and remaking the old Cure single “A Forest”–twice.
All of which was a buildup to the best-sounding album the Cure have made since their younger fans were born. Slipknot/Limp Bizkit producer Ross Robinson was smart enough to record them playing live in the studio, and they rock like the hair-raising live band they’ve become since the current lineup stabilized nine years ago. “Lost” is a demonic séance, with the band hammering at three sour chords until they burst and Smith wailing like somebody’s just stolen his mascara; and the latest ten-minute end-of-Cure-album epic, “The Promise,”starts as a whine (“Make me forget / You promised me”),then builds into a volcano of angst. The Cure haven’t gone metal–although “Never” comes regrettably close–but they are ready to break stuff.
So it’s disturbing that Smith’s songwriting seems to have hit a wall. If The Cure feels like a re-capitulation of the band’s career, it’s because they’ve recorded songs very much like these before. “Taking Off” is basically just “In Between Days” with lyrics about “tomorrow” instead of “yesterday.” “Us or Them” is the Cure’s first overtly political song (a rant about jingoistic terrorism panic), but “get your fucking world out of my head” would be a better line coming from someone who hadn’t wailed “get your fucking voice out of my head” 17 years ago. “I don’t want another go-around–I want this to be the end,” Smith sings on “alt.end” (evidently titled as such because he’s already written a song called “End”). But if the Cure are trying to build a legacy out of endings, they need a few more new beginnings.