When one of our writers
suggested that we feature the Cure in the next Classics, something funny
happened. No one could agree on which album deserved the honor. So we decided
to do something different and for the first time in Classics history we
are going to feature a series of Classics reviews from different reviewers
telling us why their selection deserves the distinction of being a classic.
During the next few weeks we publish these reviews of different Cure albums
and you can decide which ones are classics to you! For the third review
in this special series, DeadSun tells us why Pornography is definitely
"Waiting for the Deathblow."
Someplace in between the post-punk, aggro
pop posture of a release like Seventeen Seconds, and the full bodied,
ambitiously produced effort which is Disintegration--- lies Robert
Smith's most palpable creation of funereal analogy to date: Pornography.
Released on May 4th, 1982, the sum of Pornography's
vision, considered alongside its peers in contemporary Rock, is as rare
as it is manifold. Exceedingly rare. Throughout the 1980s, Pornography
stood as a testimony to the decade's appetite for pop-oriented, synth soaked
bombast, yet Pornography--- perhaps to a degree more acute than
any other Cure release to date--- positions its stark tenor and dismal
imagery in diametric opposition to the ongoing love affair between pop
artists and that which is substantively flippant, saccharine, and banal.
The release, one could argue, went on to gain even greater relevance during
the 1990s, a decade that, in retrospect, now drums up auto-associations
of a musical surge which brooded in an endless sea of emotional angst and
cynical outlooks. Despite Robert Smith's time honored coating of smeared
make-up and cascade of overly tousled hair--- a grave taboo in the 1990s---
Pornography emerged unscathed, and I submit to you, the reader,
that it was the value inherent to the substance of the recording which
made that possible.
From the perspective of sound texture,
Pornography is (admittedly) not particularly unusual, given its
style, and the time period during which is was created. The percussion,
with emphasis on the snare, is blousey, insensately mechanical, and dressed
with gated reverberation. The bass tracks are (generally) mixed more towards
the mid to high range, allowing Simon Gallup's notes to maintain a temperate
feel, neither too warm nor too cold, yet still achieve a defined punch.
This is no small item, though, as Gallup's basswork often functions as
the critical glue which anchors the melody down for the listener, during
those times when Smith utilizes his portentous guitar sound to shape and
filter the recording's ill-omened atmosphere. The effect ensemble for the
guitar runs the other-wordly gambit: phase shifts, chorus, delays, echoes,
mid grain crunch, and a reverse filter employed to praiseworthy effect.
The area in which Pornography excels,
the quality which makes it fall into a higher category of artistic expression,
lies in the richness of Robert Smith's writings. If one's mind is willing
(and able), Pornography leaps to life not as a collection of disparate
bits of song, but as a singular, cohesive idea--- time is the cruelly
detached master. In Pornography, the implications of our bodies
subordinated to time and space are clearly defined, as they persist (within
context) throughout the recording; death (the most obvious) and the loss
we attach to it, and by extension the idea of aging. Smith is very preoccupied
with the notion of growing old, and he conjures up this specter frequently
in guises such as decay and regret. His outlook is decidedly pessimistic.
Smith's first pertinent declaration of
the recording comes during the devastating "One Hundred Years"--- that
we are waiting for the inevitable--- we are waiting for the deathblow.
Whether conscious or otherwise, it is a wait. Some of us learn
about death and loss early in life, as Smith explains: "... the pain
and the creeping feeling / a little black haired girl / waiting for Saturday
/ the death of her father / pushing her white face into the mirror".
In death, Smith's spectrum ranges from the poignant farewell, "leave
me to die, you won't remember my voice"--- to stoic observation, "worms
eat my skin" (both lines from "Siamese Twins"). Other times, his morbid
elaborations are colored with an ironic hue: "we all look so perfect
as we all fall down" (title track). To complete the perspective, Smith
also casts death as a welcome release of sorts, in spite of our dreading
its arrival, spinning pictures of us singing out loud, and laughing into
"the fire". During "Strange Days", our meeting with the end, in Smith's
words, comes "as a sudden hush across the water".
Even love becomes the servant of entropy
and decay in this recording. In the midst of "The Figurehead", Smith issues
two more of the album's most interesting declarations:
"I can never say no to anyone, but you."
"I will never be clean again."
Pornography's conclusion: if aging
and dying are circling below us, it is Time which is the detached and invincible
truth that dangles us from above like so many dispensable objects. "A Short
Term Effect" describes this condition as "an atmosphere that rots with
time". The weight of time upon us, as Smith so aptly states, "feels
like a hundred years". In the "Hanging Garden", with its vigorous and
lilting march beat, he sings that we must "jump out of time", and this
implies an equation of time with a kind of gravity--- a beautiful comparison.
Pornography is an irreplaceable
contemporary recording. It waivers relentlessly between melancholic self-analysis
and morbid fixity. It is music in which we are at the mercy of time, and
time is the invincible tide that is permanently receding, that washes us
out to an unknowable sea beyond.
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