[myPod is an attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]
Cansei de ser Sexy, or CSS, needs to be better. Their self-titled debut boats some sexy dancefloor pop confections like “Patins,” “Alala,” and “Art Bitch.” But the record is mostly frontloaded with the good stuff; the second half is indistinct. Donkey is more even, but that’s almost a disappointment. It’s not boring, but it never tops “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above.” It also occasionally edges into yacht rock territory, weirdly. Still, if I combined the best tracks from each album, I’d have one unimpeachable dance record.
Verdict: Keep Cansei. Dump Donkey.
Ever the Kiss devotee, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo is a savvy businessman who never puts all his great songs on one album (At least, not since Pinkerton). That’s the only reason I can come up with to justify his refusal of breaking up the lost Weezer album, Songs From the Black Hole, over several releases, including his solo demo series Alone. To be fair, Alone’s installments have both been strong so far, but the cynic in me thinks he couples newer demos like “This is the Way” and “Can’t Stop Partying” with “Longtime Sunshine” and “I Was Scared” because he knows hardcore/old school Weezer fans will have to buy them. Weezer hasn’t been great in a long time, but these demos sets are great, lo-fi additions. Man, now I feel bad about being a dick about them.
I love The Cure. Robert Smith is one of the best songwriters of all time. I put him on a pedestal the way some people treat The Beatles. In the ’80s, Smith released eight full-lengths with The Cure, as well as albums with The Glove and Siouxsie & the Banshees. The dude just straight up shat out golden pop tunes. And for a while, Smith burned with so many musical ideas that The Cure’s sound constantly evolved.
It seems impossible now, but the group began as a punk outfit. Three Imaginary Boys has art school leanings, but the band didn’t completely make the jump to post-punk until Seventeen Seconds. TIB was retooled for the U.S. as Boys Don’t Cry with some of The Cure’s poppier singles like “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” rotated in, but I honestly prefer Three Imaginary Boys thanks to its sequencing and daring anti-commercialism (The original version didn’t include a tracklisting and, in the case of “Subway Song,” went out of its way to be noisy). Joy Division seems to have had a big influence on Smith, though, and the band started evolving as his tastes diversified, to the point that original drummer Lol Tolhurst moved to keyboards because he couldn’t keep up. Seventeen Seconds and Faith are ominous and hazy, but Pornography packs a dark bluster that makes it the best of The Cure’s first run. Smith’s lyrics have always been strong, but this is where he starts to really step it up. Pornography is laced with despair and longing.
A devoted Jimi Hendrix fan, Pornography also marks a turn in Smith’s guitar playing, as “One Hundred Years” sounds psychedelic and satanic as fuck, perhaps aided by Smith’s insane drug consumption at the time. The Top is the flipside – the drugs bleed into the lyrics, resulting in some of Smith’s dumbest/trippiest imagery. It’s not a bad record, but coming off of Pornography, it’s something of a disappointment. Still, The Top translates well to the group’s live show caught on Concert. “Shake Dog Shake” is so heavy.
Smith regrouped via The Glove and The Banshees and returned with The Head on the Door. A step away from psych-pop and copious amounts of LSD, Door is a collection of great pop songs (“Inbetween Days,” “Push,” “Six Different Ways,” “Close to Me”). Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me marries those pop leanings (“Why Can’t I Be You?”, freaking “Just Like to Heaven”) to psychedelia (“The Kiss,” “Like Cockatoos”) in a sprawling double-album that doesn’t suck.
The best Cure album overall is Disintegration. It sustains a gloomy, ambient mood throughout, delivers a perfect pop song in “Lovesong,” and manages to be trippy without being too trippy. Unfortunately, Disintegration also ruined The Cure. Most ’80s artists struggled in the ’90s (Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen), and while The Cure did better than most, they still took a notable downturn. Wish strains to rock super hard while preserving Disintegration’s longer songwriting, almost as if it were a reaction to the grunge movement, but it comes off as bloated. Compared to Pornography or Three Imaginary Boys, it just doesn’t deliver enough oomph. 1996’s Wild Mood Swings was widely loathed upon its release. Admittedly, it is the worst Cure album, but I still think it gets a bad rap, even if the Caribbean vibe of “The 13th” feels really weird coming from a goth icon.
The Cure turned things around creatively in the new millennium, though. Bloodflowers matches the band’s ’80s output. It’s also the muscular display Wish strived to be while delving into Disintegration’s murky depths [Side note: Smith has called Bloodflowers the conclusion to the “Dark Trilogy” of albums he began with Pornography and Disintegration. It strikes me as something of a gimmick, in that Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography form a better trilogy musically, but the sonic connections between Disintegration and Bloodflowers are undeniable).
The Cure and 4:13 Dream followed. The Cure is a Wish retread: Watered down and louder. It’s got some good songs, but nothing truly great. I love Dream, though, even if it does sound cater to the Hot Topic crowd a little too much on tracks like “The Real Snow White.” Dream has some of Smith’s best songs ever, like “The Hungry Ghost” and “The Only One.” While his output has slowed down since the ’80s, Smith still knows how to write a ridiculously great love song.
That said, I am going to prune my collection slightly. While I’m keeping Concert, I’ve decided to sell off my other live records, Show and Paris, as well as a promotional single I bought “Pictures of You.” The B-side, “Fear of Ghosts,” is amazing, but I already have it on the stellar boxed set Join the Dots.
I LOVE THE CURE SO MUCH.
There once was a time where I lived for Cursive’s passionate, discordant brand of emo. Then, like a lot of artists from the Saddle Creek scene, frontman Tim Kasher ran out of songwriting ideas. Now he’s kind of like the Woody Allen of indie rock, in that he keeps creating simply to create. But for a while, Kasher burned with ideas. I still don’t have Cursive’s first album, but their Saddle Creek debut, The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song, is a stunning burst ’90s emo with some post-hardcore touches. It’s not as removed from Hot Water Music as some may pretend. Kasher tends to write albums around central themes, and Domestica is the first time that theme evolves into a concept album. Bolstered by the addition of cello, Domestica chronicles the pitfalls of a relationship between the characters Sweetie and Pretty Baby. It’s full of anger and resignation. The Ugly Organ repeats that idea to great effect.
Unfortunately, Kasher’s brain has rarely gone beyond sex, limiting his music. 2006’s comeback Happy Hollow is the point I cut myself off from Kasher. It’s another concept album; this time he takes on the Christian Right (with horns!). It’s a little long but still pretty good. But everything Kasher has done with his bands (Cursive, The Good Life) and solo has revolved around his dick, and what was once clever and concise has become tedious and dull. Still, I treasure Cursive’s run from 1995-2006.
I also have some odds ‘n’ ends to fill in the margins, including singles and a few EPs like Burst and Bloom and a split with Eastern Youth. They’re not as essential as the albums, but they’re still good.