There was a lot of to and fro’ing around this post. How much to write and how long to write it for? What to say and what to hold back? Could I get away with a curt “Hell yeah! Robert Smith is King!” and bury it in lots of clips or do I tell the story (slim as it is). In the end I elected for something closer to the truth which in the hands of a more skilful writer would peel back the layers of The Album as well as give you its context. Unfortunately it’s me writing this blog so it’s turned out something less about the Album and more about me. Which wasn’t my intent, is even a tad embarrassing but I kind of feel I had no choice so will leave it as it stands. It’s been a wait between posts for which I apologise. An odd mix of procrastination, ‘real life’ getting in the way, a dollop of trepidation (with this Album in particular) and maybe as things wind down a smidgen of just not wanting it to end.
But here we are close to the end anyway with an Album that could just as easily have been week 1. The Cures, Faith has compelling credentials. Probably more than any of the other choices, this was the album that I immersed myself in most completely.
So where is it placed in my thin history? Well a good way back is the short answer, almost at the beginning in fact. I’m in Townsville at the tail end of my school years, circa 1981.
I was pretty miserable back then and no doubt miserable to be around too. Like most teenagers I had no idea what I wanted but I knew it wasn’t here. Adrift really in that stifling fog of angst and impotence that seems to be part and parcel of adolescence. I had a Sony Walkman and my copy of Faith was on cassette. It was played (without a hint of exaggeration) a dozen times a day for probably 9 months. One long endless loop. Play – Stop – Rewind – Repeat. To the exclusion of just about everything else. I can say without a hint of a lie that It is the only album I have literally worn out.
So 1981 means I was 17 and a head-full of unhappy. My parents were probably just as confused about me as I was about myself. However sticking to my guns I steadfastly refused to acknowledge any happiness. Most afternoons I would ride my bike home from school, grab my Walkman and walk down to the Gardens in Mundingburra a kilometer or two from home. There’s a specific spot there, that is tied to this album. A thorny (?) Coral tree that sat on a small rise in the middle of the park. There I would slump myself down and wait for my friend to walk down from her house. The Cures morose brand of melancholia marking out time till she arrived. It was a doomed relationship. I was a Prick and she deserved better. Better then Townsville and better then me. And even though I could see it at the time (in glimpses and snatches) I was throwing up walls, trying to build myself a fortress, I just couldn’t see a way out. I didn’t know what the horizon looked like. For me it was impenetrable and impossible for me to change.
I guess that explains in part the trepidation. I was not just re-listening an Album but revisiting a messy couple of years of my life, hence my lethargy in getting week 51 away.
I sent the Album up to Armidale a fortnight ago and in the accompanying letter I mentioned to Michael that I hadn’t listened to it in over 30 years. Obviously at some point I would need to hear Faith again. So rolling up my cuffs and wading in I gave my newly bought, 2nd hand copy its first recent play and realised a couple of things that I never heard the first time round.
It’s a breathtaking album is Faith. I knew that then but it’s nice to know It has stood the test of time and a critical revisiting (not just mine – review after review I have read, places it at the top of The Cures canon) and confirms just how good it was. It’s generally accepted that Faith was in the middle of a Trilogy of albums that included Seventeen Seconds and Pornography. They’re undeniably bleak, these three records but each approaches its unflinchingly morose themes from a slightly different perspective. Yes, we are talking shades of grey here but the differences between the three versions of grim are quite apparent, quite discernible. Almost like color emerging from their monochromal palettes.
Seventeen Seconds has a much more minimalist feel to it. Lots of single notes running on, rather than chords, huge bass lines and the drums pushed to the fore. It’s a great album and the title track Seventeen Seconds is probably the standout (and to take nothing away from the original, what Michael Timmins does with it, is nothing short of astonishing) but as a whole it’s almost a series of separate washes, each overlapping the other but never quite hanging together as coherently as Faith.
On the other hand Pornography is darker even, then it’s two predecessors. There’s a sense of hopelessness about it which I instinctively shied away from. It’s bleakness and despondency throwing up walls, just too dense to let me in.
Faith however is what I would call perfection. It had everything I needed. Perfectly weighted song selection. Propulsive bass lines eg: on Primary (Simon Gallup’s bass work was incredible. At times using two bass lines simultaneously; the bass as a lead instrument) that were unlike anything that I had heard before. And Synthesizers, beautiful, light, effortless synthesizers. There’s a delicateness and airiness in the keyboards that underpins the weight of the songs and lets them breath. Without them the songs would have drowned under their own dark weight.
So what has changed in all those years?
I’d probably judged this Album too harshly in my own myopic rewriting of my youth (not the music I’ll quickly add, it was me I was judging). What I’ve come to realise this time round is that rather than feeding into that dark teenage angst (they didn’t exist then but consider me then the prototype ’emo’). This album actually sustained me through what was a fairly depressing few years of my life.
I think The Cure was in some curious way, partially responsible for keeping me afloat as I intuitively clung to them with my obsessive listening and re-listenings. And for me that was what made them special. What set them apart from all the other merchants of gloom and ‘Gothic Rock’. There was something deeply sustaining within their songs. Something that eschewed artifice and allowed me, allowed all us teenagers locked in our bedrooms and tied up in knots, to connect.
The “Faith” that Robert Smith struggles to uncover. The theme that underpins this entire Album is not found in the fog shrouded images of Bolton Priory (the cover) in religion or its hollowed out houses. No, what I drew from this Album was something more real. An instinctive understanding that the alternative was too terrible to contemplate and must be set aside. And therefore what is left is a reluctant acceptance; begrudgingly made and ground out from flint and stone. That things will change (they must for that defines our condition). What is Hope? and What is Faith? Wait and the wheel will come around.
I always felt that The Cure or Robert Smith in particular just didn’t care what the rest of the world thought. At the height of their reign as crown princes of Gloom rock they turned around and released The Love Cats which is just silly happy. In concert and on record they would run forever with a melody if it took their fancy, ringing every drop out of the endless looping; Pictures Of You.
Well, I’m not sure if I’ve given you an Album review or something else again. Maybe a confession, perhaps an apology? For me this Album was as important in my life as music gets.