I used to have about 200 VHS videos with recordings made from the TV over 30 years. Lots of Star Trek, Babylon 5, Brideshead Revisited and Robin Of Sherwood but also including about 70 3-hour videos of different music. Kate Bush on Top Of The Pops, Soft Cell, The Waterboys and R.E.M. on The Tube, along with hours of Van Morrison, Neil Young and Loudon Wainwright III. Best of all is The Netteswell School Band on “Nationwide” which I uploaded to YouTube a few years ago and has had over 2000 views. (“We love the teachers”).
Everything was catalogued. One of my greatest achievements of my life was when Sarah and Neal came to my flat and I set Neal a challenge. Name a band and I’ll show you them performing on my TV. He was about 10 years younger than me so he was probably humouring me when he said Ashton, Gardener & Dyke. Within 5 minutes, my filing system came up trumps and “Resurrection Shuffle” was blasting out of the TV.
Over the past ten years, I’ve transferred everything to DVD, thrown out the VHS player and now I watch everything on YouTube. More importantly, my concentration levels have dramatically decreased. It’s almost unknown now for me to watch a whole concert by one act on TV or YouTube. I’m constantly flicking from one thing to another. One song by Mandolin Orange is followed by one song from Wings, then another by The Weather Station.
The exception to this is The Cure. For some reason, watching a whole concert by The Cure holds my attention. They appeared at Glastonbury in 2019 and I remember watching it twice all the way through. Yesterday evening, Sky Arts were showing the whole of a concert they performed in Hyde Park in 2018. Some of the songs I know well and some I don’t but the performance is gripping. There’s something about Robert Smith’s demeanour that is particularly appealing. I don’t know if it’s the lipstick but he often appears to be smiling as if he realises that this all a bit of a lark really but then some line from a song resonates with him and he seems to be overcome by terror. His voice is always strong, with carefully enunciated lyrics and he invariably looks like he is wracked with guilt. “If only I’d thought of the right words, I wouldn’t be breaking apart all my pictures of you.”
The way that “Disintegration” was recorded involved the band rehearsing the music for the songs before taking a break in which Robert Smith wrote all the words to the songs. They convened in “Outside Studios” but on the first night a fire broke out in a room where Robert Smith had left an exercise book with all the lyrics. Despite pleas from the rest of the band, Robert Smith entered the smoke filled room to retrieve the satchel containing the book. “I coughed up soot and smoke for days after. I was pretty sick…but I’d rescued the words! The pages were burnt and scorched but most of them were still legible. I knew that if I didn’t go in to get that bag, “Disintegration” was going to be an instrumental album….and I really didn’t want that.“
“Lovesong” was a Top 20 UK hit and climbed to Number 2 in the USA. It’s a perfect Cure song with a great hook and a wonderful vocal performance. Robert Smith has been married to Mary Poole since August 1988 and the song is, ostensibly, a love song extolling the healing effect that she has on him. “Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am fun again.” The implication is that he’s not a complete person when he’s away from her and that explains the despair and sadness in his delivery.
“Last Dance”, according to Robert Smith, is about “someone that you meet and you haven’t seen for a long time. And you used to have very strong feelings for and you don’t anymore, you suddenly realize… It’s a horrible sensation“. This song isn’t on my original vinyl album as it was omitted due to the album over running. Luckily, it’s on the CD. On the live performance below, Reeves Gabriel plays a beautiful chiming guitar. He worked with David Bowie between 1987 and 1999 and was a member of Tin Machine. Somehow, Robert Smith manages to convey deep emotion and a bemused detachment at the same time. It’s wonderful.
“Lullaby” is the highest charting single by The Cure in the UK, reaching Number 5. The video won British video of the year at the 1990 Brit awards. Here’s what Robert Smith said about this song. “When I was really young I had a very strange uncle (also called Robert!) who delighted in finding as many ways to scare me witless as he could. One of his favorites was to whisper grim bedside stories into my ear, stories that often related the twisted deeds of a horrible boy-eating creature called simply ‘the spiderman’. One night he actually went so far as to climb in through my bedroom window after the lights had been put out… I screamed for what seemed like days. The ‘spiderman’ stories ended that night, but my fear of the dark and spiders persisted for quite some time.” In that context, the video is particularly funny or scary, depending on how you feel about watching a man in pyjamas in bed, wearing lipstick and makeup being serenaded by musicians covered in cobwebs and singing “I feel like I’m being eaten by a thousand million shivering furry holes.”
The first three songs on Side Two of the album are a gloriously apocalyptic trio of doom laden, dark, menacing despair. “Prayers For Rain” starts with a wonderful bass line played by Simon Gallup who is the only other member of The Cure to have been in every lineup. As Robert Smith starts singing, it becomes clear that the rain he is waiting for will cleanse him of the hopelessness and imprisonment he is feeling. “I suffocate, I breathe in dirt and nowhere shines but desolate and drab. The hours all spent on killing time again. All waiting for the rain.”
This leads into “The Same Deep Water As You”, which is over nine minutes long. I think this is my favourite song on the album – it has a slow insistent hypnotic rhythm with another outstanding vocal performance. There were a few days when I was driving to work that I would play this song on repeat over and over again. It certainly helped to release any negativity I might be feeling and allow me to walk into my classroom with a sunny disposition, whistling the chorus. I’m being serious: that’s the effect this music has on me. Robert Smith has said that the song is about not being able to live up to other people’s expectations. That’s not at all apparent from the lyrics which sound like someone’s dying words. “Kiss me goodbye, pushing out before I sleep. It’s lower now, and slower now.”
The climax of this trio of songs is the title track, “Disintegration” which Robert Smith has said “is my scream against everything falling apart, and my right to quit with it when I want to.” It starts with another monstrous bass line accompanied by the sound of objects shattering as if to symbolise Robert Smith’s psyche finally giving up. It reads like a final farewell – the culmination of the feelings he was expressing on the previous track. “I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery and stains on the carpet and stains on the memory and songs about happiness murmured in dreams when we both of us knew how the end always is. How the end always is.” Gulp.
There are two more songs on the CD but “Homesick” wasn’t on the original vinyl and “Untitled” feels like a forlorn coda after the intensity of the preceding three songs. The album makes for compelling listening and luckily, YouTube gives ample opportunity to see multiple live versions of these songs.