The Cure: Bloodflowers

In 2000, The Cure broke a four-year dry spell with what the band assumed would be its final album, “Bloodflowers.” Thankfully, The Cure did not fall apart, but with the disc’s wholly inescapable malaise, it sounds as though they very well could have.

Mixing sorrow with fleeting happiness and a touch of beauty is standard fare for The Cure, and they do so exceptionally well on this disc. While the arrangements (and solos) can sometimes sound notably similar, it’s always a feeling of dark comfort rather than a suspicion of lazy songwriting.

All but one of Bloodflowers’ songs are over four minutes long, recalling the long track format of the equally gloomy 1989 “Disintegration.” “Out of This World” is awash in electric and acoustic guitars and cymbals, while Robert Smith’s listless voice floats atop them like driftwood. “Where the Birds Always Sing” uses similar instrumentation, but has more assertive vocal work and an almost nihilistic lyrical perspective: “The world is neither just nor unjust / It’s just us trying to feel that there’s some sense in it.”

The Cure have always had a fondness for writing one verse, changing a few words for the second, and painting an entirely different picture from those slight variations. A good number of Bloodflowers tracks are written this way. “There is no If” is a prime example of the technique and is more poignant than it has any right to be, while the minimal instrumentation offers a pleasant change from the general wall-of-sound buzz on the CD.

After the dreadfully boring “39,” the album’s title track give the disc a breathtaking finish. The song’s world crumbles and dies with each passing verse, while the instruments surge and fade in an organized chaos.

This disc seems more like a sequel to 1991’s “Wish” than to “Wild Mood Swings,” though Bloodflowers is far less commercial; “Maybe Someday” is hardly the next “Friday I’m in Love.” In other respects, the albums seem to come from the same state of mind. Bloodflowers’ emphasis on distorted guitars and heavy drums recalls tracks like “Open” or “End,” and the dramatic keys and guitar leads of “The Last Day of Summer” sound much like Wish’s wrenching “Trust.” Lyrical themes of uncertainty, self-doubt, unfulfilled dreams, and the obligatory love and loss carry over with remarkable consistency.

Instrumentally notable is Bloodflowers’ thorough use of the acoustic guitar, what Robert Smith once considered a “hippie instrument.” Though used in many popular Cure songs, such as “Just Like Heaven” or “Inbetween Days,” the acoustic has never been employed as much as it is on Bloodflowers.

Bloodflowers is clearly an album for Cure fans, rather than the pop music market. After the inconsistent and uncharacteristic work of Wild Mood Swings, not to mention a good deal of commercial success, Robert Smith and company ignore marketability concerns and return to the gloom that they are best known for.

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