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The Boston Phoenix Swan Songs

The Cure's "Bloodflowers"

By Matt Ashare

FEBRUARY 21, 2000:  Every time Robert Smith took the Cure on the road in the '90s to support whatever their latest album was, we were inevitably treated to vague yet undeniable hints that this would be the final tour. And as each tour wound down, Smith would teasingly suggest that he was unsure when or even if he'd reconvene the band for the next session. None of which was particularly surprising.

After all, the Cure (which began in 1976 as the Easy Cure when Smith was just 17 years old) are, along with the Mekons, more or less the last graduates of English punk's class of '77 who are still around making music. In 20 years with the group, Smith has released 20 albums, 13 of which have been proper full-length studio albums: there would certainly be no shame in his wiping away the makeup for good, tossing his last can of hairspray in the trash, and finally calling it a day.

But the new albums and the tours have continued to come, if not at any kind of hectic pace, then at least with greater regularity than plenty of bands who have never spoken of calling it quits can manage. And it's gotten harder and harder not to hear Smith's end-of-the-Cure insinuations as anything more than a ploy to help put bodies in chairs at the large venues the Cure have been playing in the US for the past decade.

According to the press teaser that Elektra sent out with copies of the Cure's new Bloodflowers, the "emotional and lyrical clarity" of the new disc "combine to make the listener uncomfortably aware that this could indeed be the oft threatened 'last ever' Cure album . . . " In fact, though, the very vagueness of the lyrics and emotions flowing through Bloodflowers make the listener uncomfortably aware, not that this could be the last-ever Cure album, but that Smith has resorted to using the "last ever" ploy as a subtext in his songwriting. The hints begin with the very first line of the very first song -- "When we look back at it all as I know we will . . . " -- and continue through "Maybe Someday" ("If it can't be like before/I've got to let it end"), "39" ("So the fire is almost out and there's nothing left to burn/I've run right out of thoughts and I've run right out of words"), and into the nine-song disc's final track, where Smith intones sadly that "The time always comes to say goodbye."

Endings and the accompanying feelings of sorrow and loss have inspired Smith's songwriting since the beginning of the Cure -- the very title of the band's second album, Seventeen Seconds, suggested the catastrophic nuclear end of the world as we know it, and Smith didn't feel the least bit fine about it. But on Bloodflowers, even in its most wistful, minor-key moments, there's almost a sigh of relief hanging in the air -- a sense of resolved resignation -- as Smith offers what appear to be veiled farewells to the fans who have allowed the Cure to be so consistently viable an enterprise for such a long time in band years (10 is probably the median retirement age).

According to Smith, Bloodflowers is meant to be the final part of a Cure trilogy that began with the claustrophobically bleak minimalism of 1982's Pornography, the album that preceded the release of the almost frivolous new-wave dance single "Let's Go to Bed," the song that first broke the Cure in America. Disintegration (1989), a dense, dark, guitar-driven epic that marked Smith's return to brooding introspection rather than, uh, playful despair, was apparently the second installment. And Bloodflowers completes the hat trick with its generally melancholy outlook and an absence of upbeat single-fodder along the lines of "Friday I'm in Love" (from 1992's Wish) or "Mint Car" (from 1996's Wild Mood Swings), with its "so happy I could scream" sentiments.

But, even in the absence of the trilogy construct, it would be hard not to hear echoes of Disintegration in Bloodflowers, and that's not just because the opening tune, "Out of This World," seems to be based on an inversion or extrapolation of the melody line from Disintegration's "Pictures of You." It's also that the heavily chorused guitars at the start of "Watching Me Fall" sound as if they'd been torn from the metallic fabric of "Fascination Street," and that, despite the several tunes that rely more on acoustic than electric guitars, Bloodflowers (which features a Cure line-up that's been together since '96 -- bassist Simon Gallup, guitarist Perry Bamonte, keyboardist Roger O'Donnell, and drummer Jason Cooper) has the same measured pace and layered weight as Disintegration. Which is another way of saying that Bloodflowers is yet another solid album from an artist who defined his unique sound, style, and vision years ago, and could probably go on working at this level for another decade if he so chose. And if he should choose not to, it also has all the makings of a perfectly respectably swan song.

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