I think there's only a couple of times ever in an artist's career where you reach a point where you think, 'That's perfect. I couldn't do that any better.' Disintegration is one of those albums.
If you were to forget every last convoluted connotation that has been heaped upon the word "emo" as it is used to describe a genre of music, Disintegration would be the quintessential emo album. Instead, it's just the quintessential Cure album, and maybe the quintessential "goth rock" album. Whatever that means.
Disintegration treads a lot of fine lines but manages to come down on the right side of all of them. Many of the songs are very long -- the twelve songs of the album total just over 72 minutes -- but they come across as epic or enveloping rather than boring. The subject matter is almost universally glum, including topics such as heartbreak, heartbreak, memories, breakups, closedowns, heartbreak, nightmares, loss, regret, and heartbreak, but the music never sounds depressing and in some places it's even paradoxically uplifting. Finally, and most impressively, Disintegration manages to be emotional without being whiny.
This music has been mixed to be played loud, so turn it up
Disintegration liner notes
Disintegration is not an album to dance to, or an album to exercise to. If you want to really enjoy it, this isn't even an album to do homework to. This is an album to mope or reminisce to, and ideally it should be raining outside, and you should be sitting on a windowsill, looking outside, breath steaming on the window. This album may be one of the most well-known and purest distillations of memory and emotion into 72 minutes of music, and it will repay your time investment generously if you treat it with some reverence. Even non-goths and optimists such as myself can appreciate the quality of this music, despite the sentiments being ones we usually try to avoid.
More than anything else, the atmospheric sound of the music and the often free-associative nature of the lyrics make Disintegration an album of memories. Most songs take the time -- often as long as a couple minutes -- to establish a mood before the lyric starts. This may cause many of the songs to seem to blend together at first, but over time Disintegration reveals itself to be quite diverse. The album sounds like it belongs at the end of the summer, but it has in it echoes and memories of winter. Many songs are slow and brooding, but there are a few that pick up the tempo. And while the overall mood is dark, occasionally light shines through the clouds. Usually that light is in the music rather than in the lyrics, but you have to take what you can get.
"Disintegration was the best album ever!"
Kyle Broflovski (South Park), via dem bones
Plainsong … Pictures Of You … Closedown … Lovesong … Last Dance … Lullaby … Fascination Street … Prayers For Rain … The Same Deep Water As You … Homesick … Untitled
"I think it's dark and it looks like rain," you said
The first song, Plainsong, starts off almost inaudibly. Few sounds could be more appropriate to start off this album, though, than windchimes, which are simultaneously evocative of memories and indicative of a coming storm. Plainsong itself is a light-shining-through-the-clouds song though, full of shimmering, warm strings, chimes and a calming guitar line. The sparse vocals and the guitar are suffused with echoes that make the events of the lyric feel like a distant recollection; the abrupt beginning feels like an opening of the floodgates holding back the memories and emotions that Disintegration is submerged in.
I've been looking so long at these pictures of you that I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel
The first of those memories is Pictures Of You. Complaints that this is a three minute pop song stretched to seven minutes are not unfounded, but what a seven minutes it is. Pictures Of You builds up for almost two minutes out of intertwining guitar and bass lines, which culminate in a lyric that encapsulates the feel of Disintegration perfectly. Between the theme of lost love, the scattered recollections that make up the lyric, the intense and emotional vocals, and the intricate and densely layered but harmonically simple backing track, it's fair to say that if you don't like Pictures of You, you probably won't care much for the rest of Disintegration.
I'm running out of time, I'm out of step and closing down
With the heavier bass line, more intense drums, and desperate though minimal lyric, Closedown is in some ways a prelude to the darker second half of Disintegration. The bubbly guitar line like that in Pictures of You, however, and the strings still ensure that Closedown has a fairly warm feel to it. As a four minute long song with only forty seconds of lyrics, Closedown is a bit of a curiosity. But the closing of that lyric, "if only I could fill my heart with love," is a perfect lead-in to the song that follows.
Whatever words I say, I will always love you
The radio play that Lovesong got gave no indication of how the rest of Disintegration sounded, and indeed of all the songs on Disintegration, Lovesong seems to be the most out of place. Nevertheless, it exhibits the same buildup of musical ideas and atmospheric nature -- note the organ -- that characterize many of the songs on the album. Its brevity, then, makes it feel more condensed than misplaced. The relatively cheerful tone makes it a single happy memory to make all that follows it that much more distressing by comparison. Even though the lyric seems to be nothing but sunshine, the song is in a minor key, and the lyric almost borders on obsession. These facts, and the matter of the surrounding material, give Lovesong a depth in the context of Disintegration that barely comes through when it's on its own.
I'm so glad you came, I'm so glad you remembered, to see how we're ending our last dance together
Last Dance may mark the beginning of Disintegration's descent into extreme wistfulness, regret and loss. Though it's not one of my favorite songs, Last Dance creates a clearer image in my mind than any other song on the album: that of a man and a woman, dancing together in the middle of a very large and very dark room while a snowstorm rages outside. The drums echo like they were in a ballroom, and the guitar sounds windswept. As with the opening to Last Dance, you may notice that many of the hooks hereafter are based on descending lines. Given the subject matter of many of the songs, I suspect this is no coincidence.
The spider man is having me for dinner tonight!
One of the other singles from the album, Lullaby, is another song that seems vaguely out of place on it. Of course, Lullaby is a slightly bizarre song, so that's all right then. This may be the most directly evocative song on Disintegration, perfect for Halloween, all creepy pizzicato strings and whispered lyrics (complete with an extremely cheesy slurping sound following the lyric quoted above) about creepy monsters. Like Lovesong, though, it's hard to take Lullaby at face value in the context of this album; while the song is ostensibly about a nightmare with a spider monster in it, it seems improbable that that's the end of the story.
Let's cut the conversation and get out for a bit because I feel it all fading and paling and I'm begging to drag you down with me
If Lullaby was about a nightmare, Fascination Street could be about the evening that caused it. The bass line is like a sinister version of the one in Closedown, and the imagery here is that of the city: dingy, claustrophobic, raucous. The keyboard riff played high suggests neon lights. The lyric is one of escape and hiding, from the quote above to the oft-repeated "pull on your hair, pull on your pout," and the indication of disguise therein. This is not a hoppin' "let's go to the club" song; indeed, underneath the driving beat there is a knowledge that none of these shenanigans will get rid of the pain. But if they can cover it up for a night, isn't that something?
You fracture me, your hands on me, a touch so plain, so stale it kills
Many of the songs on Disintegration are wet songs, wet with tears or rain or melted snow. But Prayers for Rain is, as the name would imply, a dry song. The guitar that opens the song sounds parched, and the low synthesized strings do nothing to change that. During your first few listens to this album, it might start getting hard to tell the songs apart at around this point. But as long and atmospheric as this and the following song are, Prayers For Rain has not one, not two, but three different instrumental hooks in it, and that's not counting the drums. The content of the lyric can be pretty well described by replacing the "rain" in the title with "change." The dryness is that of a stagnated relationship, all killing time again.
Kiss me goodbye, pushing out before I sleep, can't you see I try? Swimming the same deep water as you is hard
Following Prayers For Rain is The Same Deep Water As You, the wettest song on Disintegration. From the endlessly reverberating vocals to the watery, echoing guitar to the sound of rain and thunder which begins and ends it, The Same Deep Water As You may be the most atmospheric song on the album as well. The delivery of the heartbroken lyric simply drips with sorrow. While this is the longest song on an album of several lengthy tunes, it may also be the most profoundly emotional and the most subtly powerful of any of them. And while the fifteen minutes of Prayers for Rain and The Same Deep Water As You may make it start to seem like the album is dragging a bit, the next song will help change that...
I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery, stains on the carpet and stains on the memory, songs about happiness murmured in dreams when both of us knew how the end always is
Expectations that the title track would be airy and atmospheric as most of the rest of the album would be legitimate based on the name and the length of the song. Instead, though, Disintegration is a fast-paced and extremely intense song with a very long, rambling lyric and occasional sounds of shattering glass. The lyric is perhaps the most fascinating part of the song: the delivery starts out calm but gets more and more agitated as the song goes on and the agonizing regret and shame at leaving someone, "feeding the stench of love for a younger meat," becomes painfully clear. The lyric obliquely references the Bible, makes several allusions to breaking and other forms of destruction, contains several rambling and seemingly free-associative passages and finally winds down with the repetition of the phrase "how the end always is." However subdued the memories may be after they've been dulled by time, this -- intense, painful, cutting as shards of broken glass -- is how the end always is.
Just one more, just one more go, inspire in me the desire in me to never go home
After the relentless onslaught of Disintegration, it makes perfect sense that Homesick would be a slow song. It is, and moreover the delivery of the lyric sounds utterly worn out, defeated by the tangle of emotions in the preceding songs, aching for... something. Homesick starts with a sweet melody on a piano, which might be the best part of one of the weakest songs on the album. Nevertheless it works perfectly in its place on Disintegration, and it seems that the events in Homesick directly follow those of the previous song; the singer is pleading with his "younger meat" to convince him not to return to his old life, to the stains on the carpet and stains on the memory.
Never quite said what I wanted to say to you, never quite managed the words to explain to you, never quite knew how to make them believable, and now the time has gone
After all the heartbreak and sadness, the final, untitled track on Disintegration is all about regret. It opens with a lonely organ, and throughout the production is probably less dense than any other song on the album. The stripped-down sound is very effective as an album closer, and while with lines like "I'll never lose this pain," it isn't exactly a cheerful song, it is a resigned and forward-looking one. "Never dream of you again" is, at the end of all this pain, a lopsidedly hopeful sentiment.
Notes, Facts and Stuff from other, pre-empted write-ups
I thought it was our masterpiece, and [the label] thought it was shit.
Disintegration was released on May 1, 1989. It debuted at No. 3 in the UK charts, and debuted and peaked on the US Billboard charts at Nos. 45 and 12, respectively. Melody Maker named it the Album of the Year for 1989, just ahead of the Pixies' Doolittle. Lovesong reached No. 2 in the Billboard charts in the US, the Cure's most successful single in the US at that point.
Disintegration is the second entry in The Cure's "Dark Trilogy" which started in 1982 with Pornography and concluded in 2000 with Bloodflowers. I have not heard either album yet but everything I have read says they are similar in sound to Disintegration, if perhaps not as consistent in quality. Upon its release, Robert Smith said that Disintegration "fit between Faith and Pornography," but the "Dark Trilogy" assessment is more recent and widespread.
The list of members of The Cure has always been turbulent, and Robert Smith is the only person, at this point, who really defines the band. In that vein, Disintegration is notable for seeing the end of drummer and keyboardist Laurence "Lol" Tolhurst's involvement in The Cure. Tolhurst had been one of the original members of The Cure, and his post-Disintegration dismissal left Robert Smith the only founding member still in the band.
The debacle leading to Tolhurst's being fired is summed up best, I feel, by Smith's response to a Q Magazine reader's question in 2000, "Why were you so horrible to poor Lol Tolhurst?"
We were playing shows and he was too pissed to stand, so I think he was being horrible to me, really. In about 1986 the piss-taking directed at Lol started getting really nasty, partly because we were trying to make him see how ridiculous he'd become. In the end Lol kind of validated himself by being a victim and a clown. He was a safety-valve and took all this stick because it was the only way he could justify to himself being in a group. He didn't write or play anything. Making the Disintegration album I used to despair and scream at the others because it was fucking insane the way we were treating him. Even then I kept him in the band because I felt a certain responsibility towards him. But the other band members gave me an ultimatum that if Lol was going on tour they weren't.
The piss-taking didn't completely stop after Lol was fired, apparently, since the liner notes list him as playing "other instruments
" than those which actually appear on the album. Lol sued the band, with the accusation that his remuneration didn't match his contribution to the album. He lost.
For those interested in how Lol's doing now, he's in a band named Levinhurst with his wife Cindy Levinson. He and Robert Smith, who had been friends since before The Cure, have reconciled and are chums again. This story, unlike those on Disintegration, has a happy ending.
I would like to announce
That if any more bands get famous simply by covering songs off of Disintegration
I am gonna take four shits and die
Roast Beef, Achewood