Saturday, June 9, 2018

Album Review: The Cure - Torn Down (2018)


My good buddy Ron is probably the biggest Cure fan I know. Ron queued on Record Store Day just to pick up a copy of the band’s RSD special, Torn Down/Mixed Up Extras, on picture disc vinyl. Ron’s also something of a vinyl purist. To the extent that the download code he received as part of his purchase meant very little to him. I’m not nearly as fussy, and naturally I was more than happy to put it to good use when he offered it to me.

Therefore, this review takes no account of the album’s packaging or overall presentation, just the music as found on the Torn Down portion of the release, not the wider expanded RSD reissue of Mixed Up. The download itself offers 16 tracks of old Cure, revisited and remixed by Robert Smith himself.

Of course, it’s a full decade since we last had any noteworthy or new Cure material. Which means the band - in its touring incarnation - is now starting to resemble a nostalgia act, and is in grave danger of losing any relevance it once enjoyed. However harsh that assessment will seem to fans of The Cure. I’m certain Ron, for one, would dispute and condemn such blatant blasphemy.

All of that said, this release is a timely reminder of just what it was that made the band so special in the first place. Keen fans will note that Smith is nothing if not pedantic, or very deliberate, with his track selection - each of the band’s 13 studio albums contribute one track each, with the remaining three makeover choices being culled from three compilations (Japanese Whispers, Mixed Up, and the Greatest Hits package of 2001). This means we get a terrific overview and a career-spanning set of remixes, with no single era of Cure music finding favour over any other.

It’s seldom the most obvious choice of track either - who knew, for example, that Faith’s gloomy album cut, ‘Drowning Man’, could be given an entirely new lease of life thanks largely to the addition of several layers of glistening synth. That remix - the Bright Birds Mix - is certainly one of my own favourites from the album.

There’s all-electric takes on ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ and ‘M’, which strip away the acoustic elements of the original album versions, as each track veers into a most unlikely trip hoppy realm.

‘A Strange Day’, ‘Just One Kiss’, and ‘Shake Dog Shake’ all stay relatively faithful to the originals, before an injection of additional sax on ‘A Night Like This’ (the Hello Goodbye Mix), turns it into a strange blend of yacht rock and acid jazz, with trademark levels of angst thrown in for good measure.

The Edge of the World Mix of Disintegration’s ‘Plainsong’ is another highlight, with just the right amount of gloss added by Smith, enough to allow it to remain true to the original, while also benefitting from the additional spit and polish applied.

‘Never Enough’ is the only Mixed Up contribution to get a makeover on Torn Down, and it comes in the form of the Time to Kill Mix, which, truth be told, is perhaps a little less compelling than that original take.

At this point, I should admit, my knowledge of latter period Cure is quite limited. I’m a big fan of most work up to and including Disintegration (1989), but most of the 90s is a void, or a big black hole for me in terms of Cure releases. The epic Bloodflowers (2000) temporarily pulled me back into the fold, but after that - post-millennium - I start to struggle again when it comes to recall and recognition.

Which basically means there’s a fair amount of stuff on Torn Down that I’m less familiar with - tracks like ‘Want’, ‘Cut Here’, ‘Lost’, and the closer, ‘It’s Over’. This probably doesn’t matter too much, as each of these tracks hold some appeal, but the danger is, over time, across repeat listens, the Torn Down remixes will tend to become something akin to definitive versions for me. For what that’s worth, as it’ll be different for each listener.

It also means that the second half of Torn Down feels a little more like new Cure, for all that I lamented earlier the lack of actual genuinely new Cure material. Which, I suppose, must be a good thing, right?

Torn Down is a worthy addition to the band’s extensive discography, not least for the wide scope of the project, and for the superb attention to detail on offer. And as a nice sequel, or sister release to the hugely popular Mixed Up. Thanks Ron.

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