The Cure – Pornography (1982): Review

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Produced by Phil Thornally and The Cure
Label – Fiction

“I wanted to make an album that was unbearable” says Robert Smith of his band’s fourth studio album “Pornography”. Weary from 200 shows over the previous year promoting the dense, blurrily layered “Faith”, The Cure front man was living in a dark abyss of depression, drink and drugs. With tensions between his band members close to breaking point, the four weeks virtually barricaded in bunker like RAK studio surroundings would result in a collection of claustrophobic, deeply depressive, and tortured soundtracks to a wasted individual baring his soul on record. Smith, for his part has blanked out on many memories from the recording experience; too wasted from coke binges that were catered for at a cost of £1,600 from the studio budget. First time producer Phil Thornally spent much of his time coaxing productive effort from the trio, but often session work wouldn’t begin until four or five hours of copious chemical intake had stirred some belated activity. Smith’s state of mind is reflected in his lyrics for the album, a mix of impending dread, cruel carnage and existential crisis. Opener “One Hundred Years” sets the tone as the singer announces to his audience “It doesn’t matter if we all die”. The music that surrounds him carries that same bleak significance to its lyrical message, deeply dark, rhythmically monotonous, with down tuned bass melodies that rumble from the bellowing depths. Smith’s phased guitar lines feel less prevalent, flirting, echo laden and somewhat distant.

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Overall, “Pornography” is an album that finds root and sonically resonates its chilling despair for a short time, and then, due to arrangements that are extremely repetitious and musicality that borders on persistently dull and uninspired, fizzles out badly, particularly on side 2. It’s easy to understand why fans of “Disintegration” can relate to this, but for those that were inspired by the swirling instrumental textures of “Seventeen Seconds” and “Faith”, “Pornography” feels overtly mechanical, one paced, and when Smith runs short on melody his vocalization has a nagging whine. Lol Tolhurst’s attempts to replicate machine rhythms limits the variations in tempo, a point that Smith would express in future interviews, suggesting that the drummer’s lack of skills were a hindrance during the recording process. That said, “One Hundred Years” is a breath taking lead off, with the magnificently confined riff , it’s an overwrought monument to Smith’s state of mind. The best known song and single “The Hanging Garden” rolls along to a relentless tribal rhythm and a bass line that pummels the senses. “Siamese Twins” is suitably disturbing, and “A Strange Day” was the only song that impressed Fiction Records boss Chris Parry enough to leave the band alone to create table cloth tents and mountainous piles of empty beer cans. And that may be part of the reason for the uneven nature of “Pornography”. As a representation of Robert Smith’s state of mind, it feels unfocused at times, derailed by the in fighting within the band, the rock star excess that one would have never expected from a group of musicians who would have baulked at the thought that they were lumped in with their peers.

As the final installment of the so called trilogy of The Cure’s post punk/Goth early recordings, “Pornography” stands as the weakest of the three. Whilst there’s a descending gloom that enhances “Seventeen Seconds” and “Faith”, the bleakness of this record is at times just too impenetrable to anybody but those that suffer as much as Robert Smith.

6/10

Track Rating
1 – One Hundred Years (9)
2 – A Short Term Effect (7)
3 – The Hanging Garden (7)
4 – Siamese Twins (7)
5 – The Figurehead (6)
6 – A Strange Day (7)
7 – Cold (6)
8 – Pornography (6)

The Cure – Seventeen Seconds (1980): Review

The Cure – Japanese Whispers (1983): Review

 

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