For their 13th album, the Cure reverse a long downhill slide with a record that clearly matters — not just to leader Robert Smith, who’s been revising it for years, but to everyone involved, particularly peak-era guitarist Porl Thompson, whose return results in this 30-year-old band’s densest and most detailed effort ever. At times, it sounds as though a dozen or more simultaneous guitars are tangling with Smith’s iconic teased-hair tendrils, each one snarling and strumming and buzzing away at him as equally psychedelic vocal effects twist his familiar squeal into uncommon swirls.
Despite all this activity, 4:13 Dream is the rare Cure effort that takes a middle path neither dominated by dirges nor flooded in syrup. It’s a shame that most of its melodies and lyrics aren’t as finessed as the guitars and sonics: Smith reins in his sprawling abstractions on the refreshingly straightforward failed-love lament “The Perfect Boy,” yet no single cut announces itself as a Cure classic. (The hypnotizing, Disintegration-echoing opener “Underneath the Stars” comes close.)
But Dream immediately feels greater than its individual parts, and gradually insinuates itself. Even if he never wins back the Interpol/Bright Eyes bystanders he lost with 2004’s overly heavy, underachieving self-titled punt, Smith finally rewards longtime fans with a proper Cure album, not a quasi-solo-project facsimile.