I owe a lot to my mom. Really, we all do. Mothers take care of us every day and prepare us for the future. But on top of everything else, my mom gifted young me with something that I wasn’t expecting: some pretty awesome music. See, I grew up with artists like The Cure thanks to her, and they’ve left a lasting impression on me. If it wasn’t for that early influence, I probably would have discovered them much later. I guess that’s part of why Disintegration means so much to me today, besides its immense musical and lyrical power. Let’s get into that, shall we?
Disintegration is the eighth album released by The Cure (the original goths, no doubt). It came out in 1989, during a pretty crazy time for frontman Robert Smith. Smith leaned heavily into psychedelic drugs during the album’s production and was battling depression. Perhaps this is why Disintegration is so powerful: it seems very genuine. The way Smith wrote and sung the album’s lyrics, it sounded like he was entering the deepest parts of his psyche and facing his demons as he went. To me, the entire album sounds like he’s pouring his soul into the music. And most likely, he actually was.
The music of The Cure has often reflected Robert Smith’s feelings; for example, 1982’s Pornography was an extremely dark album, probably the group’s darkest. This was appropriate, as in-fighting, heavy drug use and Smith’s depression were all constant while the group recorded it. This, combined with constant touring, pushed the group to the edge. Disintegration was similarly dark, as the frontman grappled with becoming 30 years old, drummer Lol Tolhurst’s escalating alcohol abuse and the clashing egos of his bandmates. The pressure was intense, and he decided to write material on his own. This is likely why the album’s lyrics are so intimate.
Good things did come out of the mess the band was dealing with, thankfully. The album was their first commercial peak and remains their best selling album. Plus, you can ask any Cure fan what their favorite album is and they’ll usually say Disintegration. The album also holds some of the Cure’s most successful songs, including “Lovesong” and “Pictures of You”. But I find that the song that resonates the most with me is the title track “Disintegration”; it’s beautiful, dark, and has some very vulnerable lyrics. Take, for instance:
I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery
And stains on the carpet and stains on the memory
Songs about happiness murmured in dreams
And we both of us knew how the end always is
With how this song is written, it seems like Smith is talking about not just the band disintegrating, but how he himself is disintegrating; He felt lost and unsure of his future. The song points to his struggles with drug addiction, suicidal thoughts and immense pressure from the growing success of The Cure, something he didn’t want at all. In fact, Smith was hoping to alienate fans (in his words, create “the ultimate ‘fuck off’ record”) with Pornography and then break up the band.
All of this strife, Robert Smith’s striking lyricism, and impressively layered instrumentation created one of the best records of both the 80s and, arguably, of all time. And from the reverb-soaked tower of synths, keyboards, and droning guitars came a record with so much emotion that it hurts. Seriously, whenever I listen to Disintegration, I feel the pain emanating from the record. When an album has such a powerful emotional quality to it like this one does, I remember it clearly. To me, Disintegration is both a reminder of my past and of the inevitable dark times that come in life. Its message has resonated with me for a long time.
If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I insist that you do; it might change your life. And if you don’t like to think too hard about music, don’t worry; it sounds really cool and pretty. Totally worth it.