Monday, March 31, 2014

Classic Album Review: The Cure - Faith (1981)

Sometimes it’s all about your first exposure to an album. Where you heard it, how you experienced it – the context, the sense of occasion, and sometimes something like the sound quality of the equipment you hear it on can have a huge bearing on the impression it leaves ...

I recall one of the first times I heard Faith - it may very well in fact have been THE first time - shortly after its release, probably sometime in late 1981. I was sitting in a friend’s pride and joy Mitsubishi GTO (or a “get turned on” as he referred to it), marvelling at the vehicle’s sleek lines, instantaneous response, and all-round Boy Racer “cool factor”. It was night time, the dashboard was a collection of bright lights and flash buttons. It looked for all the world exactly as I imagined the cockpit of a jumbo jet would, and right in the middle of said dash was a state-of-the-art car audio (or a “cassette stereo” as we knew it). The GTO was also suitably equipped with - what were in those prehistoric Hi-Fi days - speakers to die for.
Then it happened. Press play … the tolling of bells, the rolling, almost funky bassline of the album’s opener ‘The Holy Hour’. Then the reckless angry abandon of the excellent single ‘Primary’, followed by the dark paranoid angst of ‘Other Voices’ ... just three tracks in, I was already hooked, an instant convert, and there would be no turning back.

I was indeed “turned on” and tuned in to The Cure. It is something that stayed with me, and even today I have difficulty listening to Faith without being transported back to that place and time, that motor vehicle, and that sublime car audio.

The opening three tracks are mere tasters for what follows. Faith is an album without filler, a true classic of its type and genre, a breakthrough of sorts, even though commercial/mainstream success on a global scale (not to mention bouts of self-parody) was still a few years away yet for Robert Smith & co.

The only real criticism I have of Faith is its length, just eight tracks clocking in at around 37 minutes. Given that the epic single ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ was released shortly afterwards, and never actually made its way onto any other “standard” Cure album (although it is included on various subsequent compilation packages and 2005’s Deluxe version of Faith), it is not as though Smith was struggling for quality material during those years of prolific output 1979 to 1982.

Of the remaining five tracks, the (albeit gloomy) title-track itself is probably the pick of a brilliant bunch, suitably positioned as the album closer. The multi-layered doom extravaganza that is ‘The Drowning Man’ is very much a mini-epic in its own right, while ‘Doubt’ gives us another flash of Smith’s rather more animated form of disaffection with the world, ala ‘Primary’.

‘All Cats Are Grey’ and ‘Funeral Party’ are probably my least favourite tracks on the album, both are perhaps a little too dreary for my taste, but even in saying that, I’ve learned to love both for what they are over years of repeated listening.

Robert Smith would, of course, go on to create some of the murkiest gloom and doom ever committed to vinyl, and many consider Faith to be the initial instalment of a somewhat glum trilogy, one that also features its 1982 follow-up, Pornography, and 1989’s Disintegration ... I’m not sure whether that still stands, but regardless, Faith is a perfectly fine standalone album as it is.

Highly-recommended – more so if you happen to find yourself trapped in a confined space, surrounded by booming speakers, and propelling forward towards the point of no return at what feels like the speed of sound.

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