It’s almost as if The Cure is two separate bands. There’s the dark and foreboding side that creates dramatic melodies like “Prayers for Rain” or “Pictures of You”, while on the other end, there’s the lighter, more pop orientated mentality, which puts together songs like “Friday I’m In Love” or “Close To Me”. In music, it’s rare that a band can make a prolific career by using two such contrasting styles such as these, yet the Robert Smith led outfit continues to surprise us.
With two different styles, come two very different types of fans, and The Cure’s fanbase is no exception. There are the fans who prefer albums like Pornography and the South Park backed Disintegration, which are heavy on epic melodies and the bleaker aspect of things. While the others claim that 1992’s Wish is the real magnum opus in the band’s discography. Regardless of which side you’re on, there is one thing that every Cure album has that the fans will always love: wonderfully melodramatic love songs. And the bands latest effort, 4:13 Dream, is no different. Being the thirteenth album from the band, (hence the 13 in the 4:13) it doesn’t offer anything new to the extensive catalogue, but it does show both sides of The Cure and also why they are so endearing to their legions of fans, which just can’t seem to agree which Cure is actually the “cure.” Pun intended.
4:13 Dream starts out on a huge high with “Underneath The Stars”, which could be The Cure’s most epic track since “Plainsong”. The drumming of Jason Cooper and the atmospheric noise that is Porl Thompson and bassist Simon Gallup only add to the track. Smith’s vocals don’t even start until nearly two and-a-half minutes in, but by that time, Thompson and crew have sucked you so far in that you don’t even notice that Smith isn’t singing. But, when Smith’s whispery vocals finally start they are accentuated by lines like “We could drift away so far” because it actually feels like his lyrics could do just that. When the song finally erupts in sound, it completely takes the listener away and sets a great tone for the rest of the album.
Much of the remaining tracks on 4:13 Dream showcase the brighter, poppy side of The Cure. “The Only One” should make fans of Wish happy as it has a catchy chorus that features some brief clapping. “The Reasons Why” has a very catchy intro, but falters almost immediately after. Smith’s vocals border on annoying as he frequently dips pitch in mid syllable.
“Freakshow” gets things back on track as Smith and company offer up their most danceable song in years. The funk filled track is highlighted by Porl’s guitar work that plays perfectly to the ironically upbeat song.
“Siren Song”, “Perfect Boy” and “This. Here And Now. With You” are the typical radio-friendly Cure songs, suggesting that Smith has finally come to terms with their iconic-stature in Pop-culture. That’s not to say that they aren’t interesting or just radio-drivel. No, Smith has never written the A-typical love song and each deal with love in their own unique way.
However, there is one major downfall to this album. The production is just beyond terrible. I’m all for the under-produced style because it gives tracks a certain warmth and can really make an album accessible, and it does work on a few tracks here, however, when there’s so much background noise that you can’t hear what’s going on, it can completely shut you off from the album. On the contrary, and to play the devil’s advocate, there are times when an album is way over-produced and it results in an almost mechanical and cold sound. Sadly enough, 4:13 Dream suffers from both. Songs that would be great even under average production suffer a great deal as a result. Tracks like “Switch”, “Real Snow White” and the middle part of the album, for the most part, are significantly damaged because of the horrendous production.
Fortunately, the album does end on a relatively good note with the surprisingly aggressive “Scream” and the huge almost over-the-top “It’s Over”. Both feature an angry Smith and a Thompson who just rip through the songs with an almost metal like furry. Both could be a hint at what’s to come in the supposedly “dark-side companion” to this album.
4:13 Dream is a mildly disappointing effort because it clearly could be a great album but, as aforementioned, it suffers terribly from the production. Still, on the few tracks that are without production flubs, there is plenty of salvageable material for both sides to be happy.