Bloodflowers (Fiction/Elektra 62236)
Bloodflowers may well turn out to be The Cure's last album, which Robert Smith all but guarantees almost every time a new Cure album is released. But if it turns out to be the actual last one, it's a good one to go out on. It'd be kind of ridiculous for The Cure to turn into an Allman Brothers-like festival act, continuing to plug away as all the goth kids get older and less tortured. To their credit, for a bunch of near-40-year olds, they aren't pumping out the typical complacent rock music that you got from people like Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton when they were 40. Robert Smith is a restless songwriter who has invented his own style, and this CD offers the instantly recognizable Cure sound with a slightly more studied approach more acoustic guitars, more careful tempi, and up-front vocals that lay the lyrics bare.
Pornography and Disintegration, the albums which are being mentioned as the predecessors in a trilogy that Bloodflowers completes, were much more intense and chaotic. I'm not sure this one is as good as those two in the long run, definitely not as good as Disintegration, but then how could it be? That album is exactly what its title implies, and it's amazing. Bloodflowers seems to be intending to be a great Cure album, clearly modeling itself on the darker non-goofy albums the band has put out, but the weight of Smith's own knowledge of his own material makes this slightly a "more of the same" experience. But it is definitely the strongest thing Smith's released since Wish, and probably the principal drawback is that there are fewer desparate highs, just a solid, great, passionate album all the way through. That's a bad thing? No, but the album doesn't really take you to the same places that a lot of the earlier albums did. And that's a bad thing? Hm good question.
I suppose that I appreciate being at a point in my life where The Cure doesn't speak to me as much as they once did. Not being able to totally connect with The Cure indicates that I'm not as dismal as I once was. And listening to this album, I get the feeling that Robert Smith isn't as dismal as he once was either, although these songs are in the same swirly mode as Disintegration. But it really seems to be coming from Smith's head rather than his desparate heart he's not howling like he used to, he's struggling with the loss of that desperation. He's grappling with growing older, and getting into "real life."
That's not to say he's gotten content, but these songs are definitely the work of a guy who's not going to kill himself anymore. Is that a loss of credibility? No, I think it's cool to sort of resolve the emotional path that he's documented on albums over the past 20 years into a statement on entering some kind of maturity. You can't howl into the wind forever, and I for one don't mind seeing that classic Cure sound get left in the past. We can always listen to those albums, and they'll always be as good as they always were. But 40 years old is pushing it to keep pouring out adolescent angst, even though Robert Smith is extraordinarily good at that.
This does feel like a summing-up for the band. The songs almost feel like an encore to the past 10 years, sort of like the "question and answer' section after the actual performance. The songs are strong, though as I said, kind of studied. We've heard 'em all before, but they're damn good. Lots of four-chord progressions and ascending-descending lead guitar lines, rock drums, moody bass, and atmospheric synths. A couple of the tracks are really long: "Watching Me Fall" clocks in past eleven minutes, and "Bloodflowers" is over seven minutes. Both strive for the vibe of stuff like "Same Deep Water as you" and the later stuff off Disintegration, but seem a little Xanaxed comparatively. "39" is also in excess of seven minutes, and is a good deal fresher, not dwelling so much in the same style as you expect at this point.
All of these are great songs, though the "fire" and "flower" metaphors get kind of overplayed. The lyrics are less obtuse (and slightly less effective) than Smith's best. He's one artist that tends to lose a little by becoming more direct, which is a rare thing. My favorite tracks are "There Is No If," a great acousticky thing with a good pop chorus, and "The Loudest Sound," which is subdued and contemporary sounding, with some twiddly synths cropping up. These are probably the two least "typical Cure" sounding songs, though the stamp is clearly on them. "Maybe Someday" would have fit on Wish no problem, and "The Last Day of Summer" is kind of a grown-up "Love Song," a little slower and weaker in the knees, but wiser.
"Out of This World" sounds a lot like "Plainsong," but also, freshened up a bit and less gigantically intense. The album as a whole is much more introspective, an interior monologue as opposed to a scream for help. Nine songs total, clocking in at an hour. A swan song? I wouldn't bet on it, but if so, a very natural one. From here on, we'll have to see what becomes of the lifelong-suicidal as they reach their golden years.
Review by Jacob Ocular-Migraine