The Cure – Disintegration (1989)
This is still hands-down my favourite Cure album. I say ‘still’ because back in my high school days, The Cure were a big fave band for me and my mates. We dug their whole catalogue, but it was great timing that we should witness the release of Disintegration, because after their (partial) dissolution in the wake of Pornography (1982), Robert Smith directed the music toward a more pop-orientated sound, with the hit singles “Lets Go to Bed”, “The Walk” and “The Lovecats”. They reunited with the commercially acclaimed albums The Head on the Door (1985) and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987), which saw further success pop-wise, but Disintegration seemed to be the album we were waiting for. From the gentle opening crash of “Plainsong” the blue/green layers float down and blanket you with sonic sedatives. Ahh…s’just like coming home. Robert Smith’s whispered vocals begin their mournful litany: “I think it’s dark and it looks like rain, you said/ And the wind is blowing like it’s the end of the world, you said/ And it’s so cold, like the cold if you were dead/ And then you smiled for a second”…and those words were like poetry for morose (self absorbed) teenagers, like myself. And even though the lyrics are a bit over-marinated in gothic gloom, they fit the melody and the atmosphere like a glove. He couldn’t sing anything else. Plus I actually think Robert Smith has quite a talent for lyrics. There are some great lines on this album. Another example is the title track, with the lines: “Now that I know that I’m breaking to pieces/ I’ll pull out my heart and I’ll feed it to anyone/ Crying for sympathy/ Crocodiles cry for the love of the crowd and three cheers from everyone”. Not too subtle perhaps, but hey, this album is one long sad dirge (it’s The Cure, we know that going in). Even somewhat brighter songs like “Lovesong” or “Pictures of You” can’t fully step from the alienated (Floyd-flavoured) shade cast by the other songs. But it’s just another reason to love this album – it’s such a cohesive work, sonically and thematically. The spacey keyboards, the flanged guitars, Simon Gallup’s bass-line anchors; they all meld into one thick lava-flow of sound. Maybe the members of The Cure were going through some dark times personally, but they managed to conjure the finest gothic-prog concept album of the modern era.
Nite Jewel – Good Evening (2009)
Nite Jewel is the alias of L.A.-based multimedia artist Ramona Gonzalez, who has been making music with various indie outfits before going solo. (I say solo, but you’ll note that most photos or footage of Nite Jewel reveal the band to be a two-piece). This album of (I assume) homemade electro-pop is on high-rotation at my house, and every time it finishes I just can’t seem to find anything to follow it. So it’s on repeat. (Be thankful you don’t live with me, I’d drive you nuts). And as I hear the opening track “Bottom Rung” take-off, I know I’ve made the right decision. The vocals are treated as such that I can’t make out a single line on the album, and that’s one of the things I love about it. I love that her voice becomes an instrument, and you just love melodies rather than lines. In turn, you give it any sort of narrative, or context. So the songs mean what you want them to mean. (As is the case with all music, I guess. The response being a subjective thing, in the end. But what I mean to say is: Nite Jewel [like other avant instrumental music] somehow manages to be more intimate as a result of its non-verbal twist). This album is couched in that lo-fi, home-recorded vibe, and the intentional fuzziness lends it a subterranean quality that seems to revel in the atmospheric murk. But it doesn’t push you away, it draws you in. There are great ‘songs’ here, like: “Artificial Intelligence” and “What Did He Say”, but I love it as an album – as a group work. It’s dreamy, it’s sludgy, it’s ambient. It’s warm, it’s playful, it’s inviting. But at the same time it’s kinda dark and gloomy too. (Imagine Pocahaunted if they went pop). Like other current neo-dance bands (particularly those on New York’s Italians Do It Better label) like: Glass Candy, Mirage and Chromatics – the music of Nite Jewel seems cosy and well paced. (It sounds truly retro and modern at the same time). It’s danceable, but you don’t have to go busting any moves. Rather, take your time, there’s no need to feel self-conscious, dance slow, just sway, or spin, dance stupid if you want to, this atmosphere is friendly. Some(most)times you don’t dance at all…just sit, have a drink and a chat.
Rodriguez – Cold Fact (1970)
Back in 1995, I ended up at a friend’s house in Sydney, late at night, with a bunch of people sitting around taking turns playing tunes for each other. At one point someone put this on and I was transfixed. ‘Who is this?!’ I asked. I was told his name was Rodriguez and this is his only album, and that he was one of the forgotten troubadours of the late-60s. They said he’d done time in prison, that he’d even written this album while serving time, yada yada yada. He was over-flowing with the romantic myth of a tortured artist. Anyway, I loved the album, and I tracked it down soon after. Most of the stories were wrong as it turns out. Except the part about being one of the forgotten artists of the late-60s. Jesus ‘Sixto’ Rodriguez was born in Detroit, he recorded two albums Cold Fact (1970) and Coming from Reality (1971) and they went largely unnoticed in the U.S. But he gained popularity abroad, namely in South Africa and here in Australia. In those countries he remains an underground legend, still performing shows now and again. (He even toured Australia as the support for Midnight Oil in the early 80s) And it’s something us Aussies should feel kinda proud of. Coz this guy is great. Great songs with great melodies and memorable lyrics delivered by one of the most distinct voices of folk-rock genre. I’ve turned a few people on to him over the years, and invariably they respond to it instantly. It’s full of 60s references, but somehow not really dated. “Sugar Man” opens the album with overt nods to the hippie drug culture, ‘Silver magic ships you carry/ Jumpers, coke, sweet mary jane’. But (like early Dylan) Rodriguez is essentially a moralist. In “Crucify your Mind”, he sings: ‘Was it a huntsman or a player/ That made you pay the cost/ That now assumes relaxed positions/ And prostitutes your loss?/ Were you tortured by your own thirst/ In those pleasures that you seek/ That made you Tom the curious/ That makes you James the weak?’ It’s one of those mythic 60s/70s albums, its amazing (criminal, really) it isn’t more celebrated and renowned. It should be regarded alongside Bringing it All Back Home, and Bridge Over Troubled Water and Tea for the Tillerman and Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first album. That’s a cold fact.
By Decoy Spoon