30 years after its initial release, Disintegration still has the same profound effect on listeners that earned its original success in 1989.
30 years ago, an album came along that would go on to define the post-punk movement of the late 1980s. Nearing his 30th birthday, lead vocalist Robert Smith wanted to create his magnum opus, a legacy, following The Cure’s previous commercial success with pop hits ‘Just Like Heaven’ and ‘Inbetween Days’. To do so, Smith turned to a more gothic, introspective lyrical and musical style that had served the band so well at the beginning of their career. Alongside Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson, Boris Williams, Roger O’Donnell and Lol Tolhurst (who was later fired during the mixing process) the Cure created Disintegration, the album that would inspire generations of artists and secure the bands legacy as being rock icons.
Starting an album with what sounds like the opening score of a big budget sci-fi movie is a bold choice, but the ambitious intro to ‘Plainsong’ can’t be described any other way. ‘Plainsong’ is, in a word magnificent (best enjoyed by turning up the volume to hear the soft bells, and then getting very suddenly deafened by the synth). It’s beautifully composed and vocally haunting, and it represents the masterpiece that is Disintegration. Followed up by hit single ‘Pictures of You’, one of The Cure’s most beloved tracks, Disintegration starts as it means to go on: a record with overwhelming depth and power.
As the Cure returned to their goth-rock roots, it represented a deeper change of atmosphere within the band’s dynamic. Frustration towards critics who viewed them as predictable, Smith’s mental health struggles and the mounting pressure of being a successful group were all in the background of Disintegration’s production. Similarly, drug and alcohol abuse made tensions rise between band members. The darker side of this record shines through in some of the lesser-known tracks – ‘Closedown’, ‘Prayers for Rain’ and title track ‘Disintegration’. Smith’s uniquely haunting vocals alongside gloomy effects on the guitar lines and their trademark spellbinding synth capture these feelings. Despite the heaviness of this album – both musically and lyrically, it had huge commercial success as well as establishing them as one of the biggest names in goth rock – no easy feat to achieve both simultaneously. Although these darker pieces aren’t considered ‘bangers’, they make up an important part of the record and their significance shouldn’t be underestimated.
A personal favourite on Disintegration is the eerily beautiful ‘Lullaby’. On the surface, it’s the nightmarish tale of a spider-creature who eats children. Yeah. Deeper analysis of the lyrics points towards a metaphor for abuse, addiction or depression, but to this day the true intended meaning remains elusive. The song stands out to me for Robert Smith’s vocals, almost a whisper at points, which sounds closer to a scary story than a hit single. The main riff and stand-out bass line bring it all together, making ‘Lullaby’ a true classic.
The beauty of a rewind review is that we already know the impact that the album had on the band and the music industry. At the time, I can only imagine how difficult it was to imagine The Cure’s bright future in the middle of the tense recording process. Now, however, Disintegration has a strong presence on their setlists – take their Glastonbury set, when they performed over half of the songs on the album. The Cure managed to get past the difficulties in production and celebrate Disintegration for what it is – a genre-defining success.
30 years on, and the beauty of Disintegration will never fail to impress me. It will always be the kind of album that can be played on repeat, discovering a new favourite track with each listen. So if you like your music on the darker side, then this record cannot be missed. Here’s to another 30 years of Disintegration.
Disintegration is available via Fiction Records.