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A big tribute to the Cure

By Douglas Wolk

JULY 31, 2000:  The Concise Pink Pig Atlas is one of the most dumfounding acts of devotion ever directed at a rock band. A 14-CD set presented in a handbound 170-page book, assembled via a Web site (www.pinkpig.com.ar) by two Argentinian fans identified only as German and Flor, it features 192 bands from 25 countries covering 192 songs written or co-written by the Cure's Robert Smith. That's everything on the Cure's 11 studio albums, every B-side and compilation track, every scrap of incidental music from art films, every demo from their earliest days as Easy Cure . . . everything.

There have been other Cure tribute albums, but Pink Pig isn't a nod to the peaks of a fondly remembered old favorite -- it's a deep bow to personal heroes and their entire career. Any decent bar band can pull off "Boys Don't Cry," but it takes a special kind of interpreter to find a way into "Uyea Sound," an instrumental from the cassette-only benefit release Lost Wishes.

Which is not to say that Pink Pig is actually good very often. None of the 192 band names is at all familiar; this might well be the first time many of the participants have been heard playing music outside their immediate circle of friends. They're amateurs in the truest sense: "We pretend not to be listeners for one time, but the interpreters of that all-time beloved song," German and Flor note in their foreword. (Their own contribution is "Out of This World," from Bloodflowers: Smith as Prospero, breaking his magic wand and announcing that it's time to go back to real life.) The set does include some excellent moments of unintentional comedy -- goth classics performed by singing-in-the-shower voices with heavy foreign accents -- but hearing an entire familiar album in earnest amateur renditions can be unnerving, like waking up to find everything in your apartment replaced by lopsided plaster models.

A few tracks are unbearable -- mostly the ones by bands that try to replicate the original recordings. The most impressive contributions are the radical rearrangements and total reconceptualizations. Instituto del Quemado make a near-abstract collage of "The Caterpillar"; Lumpy Froth try to sell "Killing an Arab" as Weird Al comedy, complete with lead accordion and silly voices ("I'm alive! I'm deaaaaaaad!"). Pablo Dog's weirdly gripping "Let's Go to Bed" consists of little more than the out-of-tune, multi-tracked voice of Parisian fan Olivier Rigaud, who attempts to swing it like a hipster, snapping his fingers and dropping in snippets of organ and big-band brass.

Most of the recordings here are zero-budget undertakings, and some of the pure audio-vérité moments are some of the most transfixing. The mid-'80s B-side "A Japanese Dream" is sung a cappella by a Canadian girl who calls herself Dji; she's not singing it in any particular key, but she obviously loves the living hell out of it. Lindsey Grodoski goes so far as to play the original recording of "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea" on a CD player with a karaoke function and then sing along. You can tell it's a performance that's been running nightly for years but has never had an audience before.

Pink Pig is especially useful for the perspective it provides on the Cure's own records. Robert Smith has one of the least lovely voices that's ever drawn a crowd -- strained and nasal, riddled with mannerisms and tics; but hearing his songs sung by people who genuinely can't sing makes it clear that he's a master of phrasing and inflection who's figured out how to make the best of his bizarre instrument. The set also reveals that the Cure's most resilient songwriting comes from the middle of their career. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me looks better in the mirror than any other album: the melodies are strong enough to survive amateur abuse yet flexible enough to inspire inventive arrangements. As sung by Supermika, a man who can't pronounce his r's and a woman whose every high note sounds like a personal victory, "The Perfect Girl" becomes an endearing Serge-and-Brigitte pop-reggae duet. And the most touching track in the whole set is "Why Can't I Be You?", for which E. Koven, a young woman from New Jersey, sings and plays violin and viola over a cheesy MIDI rendition of the song, adding some extra lines: "Everything you do has changed my life today/Everything you do is simply enchanté."

The Cure have announced that they'll be throwing in the spiky wig after their current tour ends, and German and Flor have given copies of Pink Pig to everyone in the band as a sort of retirement present. It's hard to imagine a sweeter gift. We love you, Pink Pig says. We love you. We love everything you have ever done. You taught us to ask the first question an artist has to ask: why can't I be you?

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