Robert Smith's most brilliant career move was embracing his own stasis. In the 25 years he's been masterminding The Cure, his hair, makeup, and musical approach have followed an easily chartable path, wobbling imperceptibly from album to album, but never so far that they weren't immediately identifiable. And good for him: The Cure has become the very definition of "classic alternative." (Don't laugh, it's a real radio format springing up on the West Coast.) His group has survived precisely because it hasn't advanced, and because it's had the good fortune to come up with some of the era's most enduring singles.
Full albums, on the other hand, were never The Cure's strong suit, and the past two1996's Wild Mood Swings and 2000's Bloodflowershave suffered from a serious hit-single deficiency. Each swirls around the same dark axis as 1989's classic Disintegration, but failed to include a "Pictures Of You" or "Lovesong" to buoy all of that emotional weight. The band's new self-titled record finds a couple of life jackets in the dark gray waters, but just enough to keep it afloat. The problem: Nothing on The Cure really soars.
Funny, then, that Smith has audaciously asserted that anyone who doesn't like The Cure just doesn't like The Cure. It's easy to imagine the band's casual fansand there must be hundreds of thousands, at leastdismissing the most sorrowful, heavy tracks (produced by Ross Robinson, who's worked with Korn and Limp Bizkit) out of hand. A couple of bright spots could garner some attention: The shiny first single, "The End Of The World," finds both a solid pulse and a recognizable chorus, while "(I Don't Know What's Going) On..." captures some of The Cure's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me-era spirit. But on the whole, The Cure simply wanders around the well-worn terrain Smith has traveled for the last decade. It's occasionally pleasing, but never unexpected. Maybe it's time for a sharp step sideways?