January 11, 2021
FIRST IMPRESSIONS – SELF-TITLED 2004 ALBUM
The general vibe about this album from other people had been fairly negative – including from my husband, who sampled it in a record shop when it came out but decided he didn’t like the sound. But you know what, I’ve just given it a spin and I like it.
Just clarifying – looking at what’s been written out there, on Reddit and forums and in the music press, I get the general impression that quite a few of the original fans (or at least the most vocal ones) were never really happy again post-Wish (or some of them, post-Pornography). The extra-whiny complaining began with Wild Mood Swings, and never really ended. Sometimes I think that it’s common for people get stuck in a perceived golden musical age of their own teenage years, possibly because that’s when everything is fresh, and a lot of neural connections are being made, and people go through a lot of feelings. Once you’ve grown up, you may not be quite so easy to move or inspire again, particularly if there’s a tendency to nostalgia, and a dissatisfaction with the present in general. And the problem may actually be that, and not the music.
Because Brett didn’t like this album on first impressions, my expectations were at the low end, but I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, the sound production on this one is very good – and this was not the case with 4:13 Dream, or with our copy of Disintegration. Both sounded clipped the way MP3s sound clipped to me, and the 2008 album sadly seems to come from the bottom of a well, and not in a good way. So, the first thing to like here: Decent sound.
It’s true that the music has a hard edge to it on this album; more on some tracks than on others. However, I was already used to that from the back end of the 2008 album; songs I ended up making friends with, on closer examination, and after I was over the aural shock. But there’s more on this album than hard edges – there’s also a lot of beauty, and a lot of maturity, and above all, a huge amount of passion.
And as is usually the case, there’s lots to think about. The lyrics are already creating a favourable impression. That kind of mature writing, I so much prefer to a lot of what I heard on The Head On The Door, for example. But you know, I’m in my late 40s, and not nearly as easy to impress as I was in my 20s – particularly by things that strike me as illogical, or unwise. Writing does tend to improve with age, when people are open to learning.
Occasionally Robert Smith is a bit screamy on this record, which was one of the things that put Brett off (but he listens to Tool and I don’t, go figure). Sometimes though, the song kind of requires it – Us Or Them was already a firm favourite of mine from live recordings. I remember when Pride (In The Name Of Love) came out a long time ago, my father was saying, “Is this guy crazy? Why is he screaming like this?” but Bono wasn’t actually screaming aggressively, and the verses were quite restrained, while the chorus carried all the pain and outrage of the subject matter (there’s a world of difference between destructive aggression, and that). I think it’s the same sort of thing with Us Or Them. Why don’t we compare and contrast the two, today – considering I’ve already recently been drawn into the Cure vs U2 discussion on the CF forum, and considering that these songs are especially topical again just now.
We’ll go chronologically:
There’s a lot of melody in this song; it’s an unusual track, and one that made my hairs stand on end when I first heard it, and still does, with its combination of rawness and dignity and all-out, unashamed passion and involvement. This has always been a favourite song of mine; and very few on that theme have come near.
Until this one, 20 years later:
Musically it’s very different, but the spirit of it is the same to me. ♥
More later; have some more listening to do.
January 12, 2021
SMALL UPDATE – SELF-TITLED 2004 ALBUM
I can already tell you this much for sure – where I’d put this album in my little diagram:
Disintegration / KMKMKM / Wish / The Cure (no particular order)
The Top / Wild Mood Swings / 4:13 Dream / The Head On The Door (no particular order)
The individual tiers happen to be in the order of acquisition – not in order of preference – these are tiers that I think are about equivalent. And since I taught for about two decades of my life, if I had to “grade” these albums, then Bloodflowers would get an A++, the next tier an A+, and the “bottom” tier – which is not so bottomy, after all – would get somewhere between an A- and a B+. I’m prepared to concede that personal preference is making me lift Bloodflowers above the next tier by a small increment, but then a lot of this is subjective anyway. However, I do feel that Bloodflowers is a more emotionally mature piece of work than Disintegration, and that it’s musically more beautiful than the self-titled (emotional maturity I could make objective arguments for, the question of beauty I cannot).
I’ve had a couple more listen-throughs with the 2004 album, and it’s getting better with each listen – there’s so much depth there. I don’t want to skip anything, and the lyrics are excellent. There’s nothing in them that feels borrowed and regurgitated, or not well thought through. It all feels genuine and up-front and real; the thoughts of a person who’s accrued some living, and has been engaged in independent thought, without obvious deference to particular systems of belief or philosophy, but clearly informed by those things.
As I’m getting used to some of the musical hard edges, I’m simultaneously discovering a lot of loveliness, in counterpoint but also, interestingly, in the hard edges themselves. The singing on this album is tremendous; it’s so expressive, and also often so melodic, and so acrobatic, that it’s breathtaking. It’s often like voice-as-instrument, and like voice-expressing-raw-emotion in the way that mere words cannot.
But this album is not emotion without thought; there’s a lot of thinking that’s gone on here – and I like to see both the head and the heart in music and literature and other art, not just one or the other – because the intellect without a heart is cold, and the heart without an intellect is anaemic and gullible.
This album is making me think, and it’s also moving me immensely – no mean feat. I don’t need to tell you about the musical competence of these people; I think everyone here agrees on that, whether or not the band is playing a style you personally like. But it’s the heart and the intelligence in this music that I’m responding to, with this album (as with Bloodflowers). ♥
I’ll start pulling songs out of this album that are particularly jumping out at me, when I get some more time!
January 12, 2021
Here’s the song that leaps out at me the most – one I’d not heard before. There’s lots of excellent tracks on the self-titled album, and as mentioned before, Us Or Them has been a longstanding favourite from live footage/audio. But this song is breathtaking – this is going to be a lifelong favourite; and I don’t as yet have words, so I’ll add those later and for now, just post the song.
I’ve just played that on the main stereo and even Brett said he thought that was musically fantastic, and that’s despite the fact that he left this CD in the shop after test-listening, when it came out. “It wasn’t Bloodflowers,” he said – and I laughed, because Bloodflowers is Bloodflowers, it’s a one-off, unique album, and it would be rather sad if a band just turned something unique into a formula, and played it to death. Instead, they turned around and four years later, made something else unique that was not like any of its predecessors. Wish and Disintegration are also unique in their own way. Don’t ask me how The Cure managed to do these changes in direction, and still sound like themselves, instead of sounding like everyone else.
I’ll write more about the song when I find some words.
♦ ♥ ♦
OK. Let’s start with the lyrics.
A year ago today we stood
Above this same awakening world
I held you…
You never wanted me to know
Another year ago today
Before this same awakening world
I held you…
I never meant to let you go
There was a moment
There always is
When time stood still
And always was this…
One endless moment
You turn in pain
And I always let you go
Over and over again…
A year ago tonight we lay
Below this same remembering sky
I kissed you…
You never wanted me to know
Another year ago tonight
Behind this same remembering sky
I kissed you…
I never meant to let you go
There always is
As time stands still
And always is this…
One endless moment
You tell me all
And I hold you and I kiss you
And I never let you go
I never let you go…
The words make lovely standalone poetry, once again – but singing these words, and setting them to music, the way that was done here, takes all of this up to a totally different level. It lends the words wings. There’s so much that language just can’t express, but music can. I read somewhere that Robert Smith was lamenting sometime ago never reaching the greatness of the writers he admired, but at his best he’s as good as anyone I’ve read, and then there’s the music…he’s got extra dimensions to paint with, so he really needn’t worry about that – this track is as deeply moving as anything I’ve read in literature, or heard in music. ♥
The best works of art, whatever they are – visual, written, music – fly me out to the edge of the stratosphere, to give me both a bird’s eye view of life on earth – and as part of that, my own life – and a view skyward into infinity. I see us in our proper perspective, which is that we’re tiny ants in an enormous and incredible place – the same feeling I get when I walk on the dramatic coastal cliffs of our South Coast: I feel how small I am, and how larger than life the landscape is, the forces of nature are; how extraordinary it is that rocks and water, waves and sunlight, gravity and Rayleigh scatter, life on earth exist; and planets, and stars, and black holes, and infinite distance. I feel how insignificant I really am in the scheme of things, whereas the arrogant, blind and emotionally destitute amongst us, with their childish me-me minds and obsession with possession and control, view us as the cream of creation and the masters of the universe, and to them the whole world, XTC put this so brilliantly, “Is biscuit-shaped / and just for me to feed my face.”
My smallness, and humanity’s smallness, in the scheme of things doesn’t scare me, or make me feel uncomfortable – it actually comforts me. Whatever happens to us, individually or collectively, these things that many of us like to tread underfoot will still be here a long time after we’re gone. They are bigger and more enduring and don’t participate in our fantasy of human greatness.
♦ ♥ ♦
This is a song about love. There’s another incredible thing – that we fleetingly exist and can love one another. But love is not an easy, happy-ever-after thing, not even in a long-term relationship between two people who are best friends and then some, and have many things in common, and who admire each other for good reasons, and laugh so much their faces are creasing permanently, and love one another to bits, and make adventures out of life, and love to share the road.
Because when you love, you also have to confront the deepest darkness in each of you. The best songs about love acknowledge this, and it makes them more beautiful, because they are anchored in truth and honesty, and not in fantasy or turning a blind eye or creative editing. And love is more real and more secure once you stop denying this, once you acknowledge there’s flaws in each of you, and when you can love each other without your honeymoon glasses on. When neither of you feel you have to be perfect in order to love and be loved; when it’s enough to be works in progress; when you understand there is no love without compassion and forgiveness, for yourself too.
It’s not easy to talk about these things clearly, so I want to also say what I do NOT mean by this. I’ve written the above in the context of a healthy, respectful relationship, not as an excuse for abuse and bad behaviour. I’m aware that habitually abusive people like to invoke notions like forgiveness and compassion with the people they abuse, rather than cleaning up their own act and growing some respect and empathy (if that’s even possible for some of them). Sadly, people can get sucked into these notions, which are very warped notions of what forgiveness and compassion are supposed to be; because neither are an open invitation to use a person as a doormat, and because love also includes our responsibility to protect ourselves from other people’s abuse.
There is a difference between relationships where abuse is a pattern, from one or both sides, and fundamentally healthy, respectful relationships between people who are also human and flawed, and will collide painfully with these flaws from time to time. The difference is in the acknowledgement, the taking responsibility, and the genuine working on it. I’d hate for people in a relationship with a habitually abusive person to think, “I need to have more love and compassion and forgiveness for them to make this better; I need to accept them as they are and put up with it, everyone has flaws.”
Your primary responsibility is to your own mental and emotional health, and to understand where your responsibility begins and ends. Another person’s bad behaviour is not your responsibility, it is theirs; and to change that is their responsibility – you’re only responsible for your own behaviour, and you’re also absolutely responsible for protecting yourself from other people’s bad behaviour. You can be compassionate and forgiving, without putting yourself back in the firing line – you can decide where your own limits are, and enforce those limits – you do not have to make yourself available for abuse, or to continue to be in a relationship of any sort with a person who has a destructive pattern. You do not have to fix people like this; you can’t – they have to do that for themselves. We are all only responsible for our own behaviour – and absolutely responsible for our own behaviour.
It’s kind of sad not being able to write about love without also getting into this stuff, but that’s the reality, and one that’s not sufficiently talked about. Think about all the people sitting in relationships with abusive partners, who hear songs on the radio about the dark side of love and the flawed nature of humans, and use that to normalise their own situation, which they should be getting out of. (Or, of course, who are listening to songs about love that promote dysfunctional patterns as “romantic” and “normal” – there’s lots of songs like this, because there’s unfortunately lots of people writing love songs who aren’t clear on stuff like this themselves, or not yet anyway.)
After that unfortunately necessary aside, I will be returning to the fantastic song we started out with.
♦ ♥ ♦
Happy love songs can be OK, but the ones with a bit of vulnerability in them tend to be more compelling, to me anyway. Also, there’s this general principle that it’s often not until we are confronted with loss that we become wide awake, and fully realise what we have, instead of taking any of it for granted. Here’s a Leunig poem on the topic:
God bless this tiny little boat
And me who travels in it.
It stays afloat for years and years
And sinks within a minute.
And so the soul in which we sail,
Unknown by years of thinking,
Is deeply felt and understood
The minute that it’s sinking.
Also tying in with this is Khalil Gibran saying that the more you are carved out by sorrow, the more joy you can contain. I like art and literature and music that goes to both sides – the pain and the bliss, the dark night of the soul and the flight on clouds – two sides of a coin, in human experience – but then, human experience is a lot more than that particular coin, too!
The song Anniversary could be about a wedding anniversary or another kind of relationship anniversary. It could be about an anniversary of something significant and/or painful happening in or outside a relationship (which is probably a spouse relationship, but doesn’t have to be). The details of that don’t really matter; the imagery is more important; and it’s beautiful imagery which points at the vulnerability of human beings, and the vulnerability of love itself. There’s something not being told, and eventually it is. We don’t know what that is, but the details don’t matter. The disclosure of something difficult has a tension most of us would be painfully aware of from our own experience. People can get hurt either side; can hurt each other with the way this goes. Can run if they get hurt, or can reach out.
When we were married a couple of years, we had some rough spots, and a wise neighbour who’d been married for decades saw that we were upset and later said to me, without knowing any details, “Forgiveness is really important for going the distance.” It was lovely of this person to come out and say this, just like that, in-between discussing the window installations we were working on at the time. Just one sentence dropped into the general conversation like that, and a look, and, “I don’t want to interfere, it’s just I’ve been married over 30 years and this is the biggest thing I learnt and why we’re still together,” and then back to the conversation about window installations. This came back to me when I heard this song, and it is very true. Wouldn’t it be great if you could never hurt each other, but that’s not how it is, even if it’s really important to you – because you’re human and life is complicated. You can get better at it, which is nice. I always think that just when I’ve got it all worked out, I’ll be 80 and needing to plan my own funeral.
It’s hard to express in words why I find this song so moving; I’ve touched on a couple of points here that come into it, but it’s also that after invoking things like vulnerability and tension and fragility and pain and sadness and compassion and personal limitations and even the brevity of life, it ends in love and acceptance. And that sentence I just wrote is just a charcoal sketch with my left hand, of something that itself is a watercolour, and speaks so much more eloquently for itself than I can speak for it, that I sometimes wonder why I even try!
I love music like this; it’s such a vivid expression of being human, and being in this universe. ♥
January 13, 2021
If you read the leaflet that comes with this album, you learn that it was recorded live and in a candlelit room etc etc. Which reminded me of another favourite song of mine, which this artist did for a soundtrack and freaked out the studio personnel by turning off the lights, lighting a candle, and arranging a doll in a corner, which she proceeded to sing to:
The live recording explains some of the immediacy of the 2004 album, I think. And as I said earlier, I think the singing on this is actually marvellous. Screamy or not! 😀
January 16, 2021
I already know which song I want to get into next, but just wanted to add a little post-post (as opposed to postscript) to the Anniversary entry above. I was thinking about love songs with a high level of tension and vulnerability in them as is the case with Anniversary. From the overall pool of songs about love I’ve heard, both voluntarily and involuntarily , over the last 35 or so years, any artist, these are in the minority. (Mushy melodrama and hormonal hyperventilating are not the same thing as what I’m getting at here. )
Obviously The Cure do a fair few of these – Plainsong and If Only Tonight We Could Sleep are two obvious examples of that, to me. I wanted to post a few examples from other artists though, that have that kind of liquifying effect on my interior, that kind of heart-stoppingness and needing to remember to breathe.
This one was written by a person in his mid-20s, which I think needs to be taken into account when you’re considering the lyrics – I’m not quite sure if he’s super aware at this point that we’re each responsible for our own selves and that our partner is not our rescuer – like a lot of early love songs by all sorts of artists including The Cure, there’s a hint of co-dependency in this one (as opposed to inter-dependency) – and considering there’s a fair bit of enculturation of co-dependency (even if your own family of origin was miraculously free of it), that’s unsurprising. But putting that aside, musically and vocally, this fits the category…
A traditional song, lyrics and translation here, interpreted by Capercaillie:
Another traditional song, interpreted by Sinéad O’Connor and band, who drag it firmly into this category:
One from Nick Cave:
One from The Waterboys; Mike Scott pens a fair few like this:
Reader suggestions for suitable songs are always welcome too.
PS: Note that the Waterboys track is over 12 minutes long. That’s even longer than Watching Me Fall, or The Promise. Of course, a song is as long as it needs to be. Still, this little fact got Brett into At Home With The Smiths mode again. He was going, “The new album isn’t out yet.” (Assuming morose cartoon voice:) “I’ll show Mike. I’ll do a song one second longer. Then he’ll have to buy me a beer next time we’re down at t’pub.”