Musical Epiphanies #7 – Faith – The Cure

The sun is shining (where I am anyway), everyone is t-shirt and shorts clad, and it’s been way too long since I’ve written an article. So, what better to do than write about one of the most depressing records of all time to bring everyone reading back down to earth and remind them of our nation’s slow demise into nothingness?

Whatever your view on Brexit, the EU or Boris Johnson’s ever-receding hairline, these are extremely unpredictable yet utterly dull times. Turn on the news, and you’ll get one headline, with the same commentary that’s been relentlessly supplied for the last three years. Did anyone notice the cyclone in Africa? Probably not*. We’re all too bored and fatigued in our own indifference to take notice of anything else anymore, nor are we allowed to take notice of other events.

*Donate to the aid effort here if you can

We are miserable and everything is glum. If only there were a record to aptly sum up the absolute mundanity of it all. If only!

Step back 38 years and enter 1981, the second full year of Thatcher’s reign. After the release of Seventeen Seconds the previous year, it seemed The Cure were no where near finished with their exploits in ethereal elegance, nor with their descent into gothic gloominess. While Seventeen was a dip in the pool of darkness, Faith would be one of the defining moments of goth.

I was 15 when I first listened to this record. A family friend had been pushing me to listen to it as I was on a bit of a Cure phase, though only the happy-sad-lovely hits of the late 1980s. I must admit I expected the same kind of vibes as Three Imaginary Boys, punk with a twist of pop which wasn’t a particular challenge to listen to.

First, I saw the cover of Faith. It’s quite literally 50 Shades of Grey without any of the eroticism (Disclaimer: I’m yet to see or read 50 Shades, and I think this will remain for a while). In terms of album covers that weren’t manufactured to catch your eye with colour and vibrancy, this ranks up there with the most monotonous of them all.

Yet it is a wonderfully fitting preview of what is to come. And the more you look at it, the more you’re kind of dragged into its utter misery. What looks to me like a vague outline of a church with a smattering of angular, dead-looking grass, it’s simply magnificent in its minimalism. Even the writing of ‘faith’ has an aura of total indifference.

Writing this article has made me listen to this album for the first time in ages, and there’s no sweeter welcome back than the throbbing bassline of album opener ‘The Holy Hour’. It ascends and descends wonderfully, before it’s joined by a simple drum groove and gloomy organ line. With a crash, Smith’s guitar enters the fray with crisp chords, and we’re in full motion.

‘I kneel / And wait in silence / As one by one more people slip away’. How’s that for opening lines? The lyrics become more and more gloomy, and Smith’s voice, as ever, is in an absolute league of its own.

Even the bridge, with the high pitched guitar line is simply brilliant. Following this comes the closing lines ‘I cannot hold what you devour / The sacrifice of penance / in The Holy Hour’. The bassline continues valiantly, carrying the tune along with total control and ease, rising and falling majestically before a final hit of the drums, and a weird cross between synth and church bells signals the end of the beginning of a classic record.

With a few dry cuts of strings, in races ‘Primary’, consisting solely of two bass guitars (one high, one low), drums and Smith’s urgent vocals. This has always been one I’ve continuously overlooked and dismissed as a duff track, even as the lead single. But this revisit is teaching me a lesson. The rumble of the battling basslines is irresistible, and the track is a whole is a fantastic doff-of-the-cap to the punk movement, yet made more eloquent, refined and experimental. In all, a stand out moment in the early years of The Cure.

The way the album flows between tracks is something I’ve just noticed, and is marvellous. The gentle fade into ‘Other Voices’ and the ever-powerful Simon Gallup bass introduces the song brilliantly, with Smith now basically shouting down the mic with gentle fuzzy fade outs after each line. As a track, this is one that’s pretty good. To me, as long as the track makes you nod your head along, it’ll do, and I think the nod-ability (if you will) is a motif of the album as a whole. One review states of the album that ‘you may not love it, but you’ll be addicted’, and I think ‘Other Voices’ fits this description nicely.

A few hits of the drums more, and an abrupt end brings the track to a close.

Now we have one of the defining moments of The Cure’s releases. A repeating drum groove (not dissimilar in style to ‘Atrocity Exhibition’) brings us into ‘All Cats Are Grey’, one of the most miserable and destitute songs ever made. Led by an organ riff that invades every corner of the room with overbearing yet gentle force, Smith gently serenades ‘I never thought that I would find myself / In bed amongst the stones’, blending into the onslaught of atmosphere wonderfully. As far as poeticism goes, I don’t think Smith reaches many heights greater than the ones he does on Faith, which is an unrelenting barrage of lyrical and expressive beauty.

A haunting, solo piano line brings it to a close, and what follows is one of my favourite tracks of all time.

The synth-o-meter is whacked up to a thousand, with a fuzzy and warm chord sequence leading the tune into full charge. The bassline is infectious, as is Smith:

‘Two pale figures ache in silence / Timeless in the quiet ground / Side by side in ancient sadness’

‘The Funeral Party’ is, as you may have guessed, so utterly funereal and so utterly stunning. If melancholy needed a theme tune, this would be it. When I first heard this song in my dimly-lit room, I just sat in total awe of what was emanating out of the speakers. Everything about this song is wonderful. Joyously brilliant.

Smith continues ‘Memories of children’s dreams / Lie lifeless, fading, lifeless’. I think the contradiction between the innocence and – dare I say – happiness of the instrumental compared to the sadness of the lyrics is utterly spellbinding. The song drifts gently, swaying without worry before gently disappearing into the distance. Wonderful.

‘Doubt’ bursts in out of no where, catching the complacently relaxed listener off guard. I’ve always hated the fact they put this slab of rough aural assault after such the beauty of ‘The Funeral Party’, and it’s another song I’ve always dismissed, but again I have to confess that I am loving it. It’s got something a bit more sinister and ominous compared to its similarly speedy contemporary ‘Primary’, and Smith’s voice seems to have a childish carelessness unseen on other tracks. Another stunner.

‘The Drowning Man’ starts absolutely brilliantly. Keyboard handclaps are extremely hit-and-miss with me, but combined with the creeping guitar line which grows louder and louder, it’s a brutish but brilliant combination. Smith’s vocals are basically one long, drawn-out drone at this stage, but still work with the backing effortlessly. God, it’s gloomy. This is a track I never ever listen to. Not out of dislike, just out of general ignorance and forgetfulness, but I never remember it being so deathly. It is glorious, mind you.

And after a slow, whirring fade out and four taps of the drumsticks, we are welcomed by the creeping, ever-growing and always wonderful closing track, ‘Faith’. The guitar line, despite revolving around about five notes, always seems to find a way to evolve and develop. Moving up an octave just before the two-minute mark, it continues this exploration of minimal bliss, before Smith joins in with eerie semi-croons, ‘Catch me if I fall / I’m losing hold / I can’t just carry on this way’.

Even this song is surprising me regarding its darkness. I can’t imagine recording this album being a fruitful adventure of emotions or a celebratory process, just a slow descent into complete misery. To close with this six minute stunner is undeniably apt, however. I love the constant repetition of the line ‘but nothing ever changed’, slowly disappearing in the haze of the bass and guitar lines, a mystifying final goodbye from Smith, which returns in the final minute of the song with more urgency and anger, and the single guitar line just after we reach six minutes is indisputably superb.

Heavy drums and ghostly Smith vocals bring the song to a slowing, lethargic end. Eight songs, thirty-six minutes and fifty-six seconds of absolute miserable joy.

Much like my exploits with Joy Division, I held many school friends hostage with this album. ‘Listen to the bassline!’ I’d say to them about ‘The Holy Hour’, but, as ever, worries for my mental state and happiness seemed paramount with others. I mean, I don’t at all blame them, but at least try the music!

Still, this was the moment when I realised goth was for me. I utterly adore the album as a whole – there are certainly tracks that aren’t as strong as others, but as a whole package it’s an absolute masterpiece, and another album which I feel is so overlooked by punk commentators. This record also led me on a journey into darker pastures; my discovery of Siouxsie and The Banshees’ Juju and the fantastic Only Theatre of Pain by Christian Death.

What we have here is a defining record that altered my musical adventures forever, and began my exploration into avenues of melancholy, gloom and beauty.

For The Record #1 – Telephone Thing / What Do I Get? / Dazzle Ships LP

On a visit home from university last weekend, I came to find a turntable atop an old stacked stereo that my Dad had bought on eBay. I also came to discover my order of three Fall records (I Am Kurious Oranj, Couldn’t Get Ahead and Telephone Thing) waiting for me on the kitchen table, only my second acquisition of any Fall vinyl.

So, what else was I meant to do other than invade and occupy my living room for the next hour playing my records whilst annoying my Dad for not letting him watch TV in peace? He doesn’t even like The Fall that much, which gave me extra incentive to fully disrupt the harmony that he became so accustomed to in my absence.

Over the weekend I brought my vinyl down from my room to the living room to sit and listen, from Roxy Music to Harry J. All Stars to Au Pairs, to the extent that Dad offered me the turntable to take back to university – how could I refuse?

From there, a new series of prospective articles was formed – me going on about a couple of records an article, reviewing and rating them, and blabbering on about how authentic it is to put the needle on the groove, because no one has ever written about that. Very original from me indeed!

I’ll start with two singles and one album – The Fall’s (obviously) ‘Telephone Thing’, Buzzcocks’ ‘What Do I Get?’, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark’s brilliant ‘Dazzle Ships’.

Telephone Thing B/W British People In Hot Weather

My first hearing of Telephone Thing was a four or five second interlude in an interview with Mark E. Smith, with Smith walking around in the video looking so bored with everything, as usual. Something about the song seemed very peculiar, quite a funky beat (originally written by electronic duo Coldcut) mixed with a discordant bassline that was surprisingly quite satisfying, as if any flirtation with commercial success must come with the price of barely tuned inaccessibility and a complete departure from the ‘sound’ of The Fall.

I listened in full quite a while later – I was heavily dedicated to listening to 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace before going further into the late 80s and early 90s in The Fall’s discography. I finally listened in full and was automatically in love with it. I loved the minimalism of it, there’s no real chorus, there’s no real verse, there’s no real anything structurally speaking – it’s so odd.

What’s even more odd, yet even more brilliant, is their performance on The Late Show in 1990. I always thought its as if the rhythm section has been told to simply do their usual thing, while Coldcut and Smith just improvise with whatever sounds they can make. Smith seems to laugh throughout the whole performance, and I’m one hundred percent sure he loses track of where he is in the song – about five seconds after every instrument has stopped, he loudly slurs one more “I’m tapped-ah!” – it’s all a bit ridiculous, but makes for essential viewing simply for its absurdity.

The B-side British People is okay – I find the synths very outdated, a bit cheesy to be frank, but it’s a satisfying enough song to listen to. Still, a bit forgettable compared to other Fall material of the time. But the headline act makes for essential Fall listening; definitely an accessible yet quintessential starting point for any first-time listener of The Fall.

The sleeve is beautiful – I love the Extricate period artwork, it’s quite abstract yet still minimalist, a perfect epitome of The Fall sound in vision.

A-Side: 4/5  –  B-Side: 2/5  –  Sleeve: 5/5

 

What Do I Get? B/W Oh Shit

I’ve always had a soft spot for Buzzcocks, both with and without Howard Devoto. I think everyone has heard ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ at some point, whether it’s the original recording or some horrible American teen film cover that loots every bit of punk sentimentality out of it. However, it’s comforting to know that they will definitely live on through the ages.

What Do I Get? is a real piece of pure joy. I bought the 7” single on my first ever trip to a record fair in 2014, and it hasn’t lost any of its rawness. The gentle fade into the explosion of the first chord is absolutely sublime – you can’t complain. It’s energy, much like many of Buzzcocks’ other singles, is totally incomparable. It’s prime punk.

It is a shame, however, that this classic was used in a McDonald’s advert advertising chicken wraps. Admittedly, however, I can’t deny the real sense of punk rock and coolness in the assemblage of mid-market ingredients within a tortilla by a stereotypical goth girl who flirts with male customers while squeezing barbeque sauce onto a piece of round bread. It’s what Iggy would’ve wanted.

The B-side is total carnage, a bit childish, but still indispensable Buzzcocks. I love the ending, the repeated shouting of ‘Admit! Admit! You’re shit! You’re shit! You’re shit!’ and so on. Very angsty, very listenable. The sleeve is minimal, it doesn’t really evoke anything emotionally. Nice enough, though.

A great single that has perhaps lost its way given its current re-emergence, but still a scintillating listen.

A-Side: 5/5  –  B-Side 3/5  –  Sleeve: 2/5

Dazzle Ships

Now then. I can categorically say that this album changed my outlook on music. Easily in my top five albums of all time. It’s truly astounding artistry.

What’s even better is that I bought this album in a record shop simply because of the sleeve – I knew Enola Gay by OMD, but that was about it. In fact, I’d never even listened to any 1980s synth outside of Enola Gay at all – I was totally unknowing of what the grooves would hold. But everything about the Peter Saville sleeve and the gatefold opening totally took me. I had to have it.

However, my first listen was one of bemusement to say the least. I was only 16 and had never really been exposed to music that wasn’t of a traditional verse-chorus structure. I didn’t understand the weird naval sounds, the slowness of it, its atmosphere was just too unsettling for me.

I shelved it for a year or so. It didn’t really cross my mind for a while until I started to listen to OMD’s earlier albums – I loved tracks such as ‘Messages’, ‘Souvenir’ and ‘Sealand’, the latter being the most similar in style to the songs of Dazzle Ships. Naturally, I returned to Dazzle Ships, this time with a more open mind, a greater eagerness to listen, even. And then it hit me.

It had this total other-worldliness which transported me to a realm of global tension and nuclear fear. It was still as unnerving and unsettling as the first listen, but one that challenges you, invites you to immerse yourself in this dark fantastical world.

Radio Prague kicks off the album, a cheery radio theme tune with eerie interludes of silence – it’s so chilling, so tense, an impending sense of something unsettlingly indescribable seems to wait around the corner. What follows is pure triumph – lead single Genetic Engineering comes in with solitary hi-hats, the tension of its predecessor still lurking in the surrounding silence. It crashes into euphoric life, McCluskey’s vocal rise and fall with electric elegance, a tribal roar leading a synth-induced fever of power.

There are weird moments, of course – ABC Auto-Industry is strange, ethereal yet also oddly innocent, while Dazzle Ships (II, III and VII) is so dark, the most chilling track of the album yet still as relevant and important as any other on the album. But the album closes with the beautiful, sorrowful Of All The Things We’ve Made – it’s Cure-esque in its mourning, yet maintains the synth influence of OMD brilliantly; a truly understated classic.

I wasn’t particularly surprised to find that the album was panned on first release in 1983 – it’s a total departure from the commercial melody-based OMD of its predecessors, but as time has passed it’s become a cult classic, a historical piece illustrating the anxiety of a nation in deep political turmoil.

All in all, a masterpiece. I don’t usually buy records simply for the sleeve, but I imagine my musical world wouldn’t have been as mythical without it.

Side One: 5/5  –  Side Two: 4/5  –  Sleeve: 5/5

 

Next: For The Record #2