Heaven knows, I'm miserable now

OK, I admit it—in my youth I had a penchant for dark, moody music. As a disenfranchised teenager, the angsty, drug-addled and downright depressing music of The Cure and Depeche Mode was right up my alley. So, while I moped around my bedroom with that giant Boys Don’t Cry poster of Robert Smith’s back staring down at me, the stereo was blasting The Cure’s Faith and Pornography, and Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration and Violator. Not to mention Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. Fast-forward to 2009 and new albums by The Cure and Depeche Mode have landed on my desk for review, their 13th and 12th studio albums respectively.

Oh, another trip down memory lane. After taking a listen to both albums, I can’t help wondering if it’s just me? Have I grown up leaving these stalwarts of my youth behind or have they grown old, refusing to admit that their best days have passed them by and their new songs are doing harm to their once-proud catalogue? I mean, let’s face it, the last time either band recorded what could be defined as a masterpiece was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, The Cure with 1989’s Disintegration and Depeche Mode with 1990’s Violator.

The lads in Depeche Mode will have you believe that there has never been a better time to be in the band. Everyone is clean, having kicked their addictions and things are going well. If only their new album, Sounds of the Universe (EMI), didn’t sound so stale and boring, they might just be on to something.

As a person who has known too many friends who have battled their addictions, I will not make light of their tepid new album by suggesting that their lack of substance abuse has led to them making crap tunes, but the fact remains that this band has lost their edge and are slipping into adult contemporary mediocrity with ease.

On the whole, Sounds of the Universe sounds like a lightweight version of everything I used to love about this once great band. Lead singer Dave Gahan continues his recent attempts to write songs for Depeche Mode and offers up three new ones.

While the first offering from Gahan, Hole to Feed, is one of the better tracks on the album, his two following efforts, Come Back and Miles Away/The Truth, are completely forgettable. Lead songwriter Martin Gore also offers up a couple of half-decent Depeche Mode songs in the form of their first single, Wrong, with its harsh synth sound and Little Soul, with its moody, downtempo electro beats. However, he also offers up shockers like Jezebel, which just doesn’t go anywhere.

By now you know what to expect from a Depeche Mode album, so while this album may convince some that the band still has what it takes, it will convince others that the band is going stale. I fall into the latter category. Regardless of how you are invested in the band, it’s clear that this album is among their worst so far. So don’t expect them to blow your mind the way they used to.

Robert Smith’s The Cure, on the other hand, have been threatening to retire for years. I remember when 2000’s Bloodflowers was released and Smith announced that it would be the band’s last. I was relieved to get tickets for their Australian tour, having never seen a band that was so integral to my adolescence.

They blew my mind that night, and so when 2004’s self-titled album was released, I was glad that Smith had decided not to call it a day. Until I listened to it, that is. Produced by Ross Robinson, who previously worked with nu-metal bands Korn, Limp Bizkit and Slipknot, the album had a harder edge and sounded more commercial. Smith was obviously trying to appeal to the kids. It was at this point that I started to wish he had retired.

Four years later and The Cure have a new album titled 4:13 Dream (Universal), and while it’s better than that 2004 turd, it’s an album I really could do without. It sees the return of former Cure guitarist Porl Thompson and features mostly up-tempo songs. It was initially planned as a double album and 33 songs were recorded. However, Smith scrapped this idea and an album of the more moody, darker material is expected soon. Hopefully that is the album that redeems Smith’s decision to continue on with a band post-2000.

But back to 4:13 Dream. Opener Underneath the Stars is not half bad and initially it gave me hope that this was going to be The Cure comeback album I had been hoping for. Unfortunately not. The second song, The Only One, is a sheer regurgitation of ideas that Smith has explored on numerous albums before. It could quite easily have been recorded for 1992’s Wish. From there, things just get worse. Freakshow is a bizarre little pop song that had me cringing, while The Perfect Boy and Sleep When I’m Dead are just trite.

Funny, all four songs I’ve mentioned are the singles off the album. This leads me to the conclusion that Smith’s attempts at writing hit singles severely fail on this album and if he had decided to leave them off this album and included some of the moodier, darker material, this could have been half decent. So excuse me while I head back to my bedroom to mope to Faith and Violator.

Lloyd Gedye

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