The Cure’s ‘Faith’ at 35

26 Apr 2016

With the news that The Cure are set to return to Australia, we look back at what many consider to be their defining work on the week of its 35th Anniversary, the stately statement that was Faith.


35 impossibly short years ago, The Cure emerged from a chrysalis fully formed at last. After the youthful bombast of Three Imaginary Boys and the transitional watercolours of Seventeen Seconds, the stark palette of airy greys that comprises Faith revealed a band at the height of both their restraint and power. It was a high water mark in not only their career but the evolution and definition of an entire genre.

 

Even Closer by Joy Division, a comparatively claustrophobic affair struggles to match the lightness of touch The Cure use to such devastating and hypnotic effect here. The use of space, repetition and the bleariest eyed psychedelia yet committed to tape combine to form a piece of music that is both obliquely abstract and deeply personal.

 

And yet, clearly Joy Division were an influence. Robert Smith has gone on record as saying the tonal shift between the first two albums came about from playing gigs with Wire and aspiring to something less lightweight, and as the opening mass motif of 'The Holy Hour' rings out like a call to prayer, the cure have landed with both feet in that ceremonial space at last. Intense and seemingly world weary at the same time, what could perhaps seem trite rendered deeply profound by the conviction of purpose that only youth can bring. And they were only twenty one! Leave it to young men to ponder death, religion, love and all things weighty. No-one else comes at it with such simultaneous earnestness and abstract detachment.  A metaphor for the album as a whole.

 

A work of contrast despite its outward uniformity, Faith manages to be both glacial and womb-like. Like many great records it has the capacity to magnify the emotions that the listener brings to the experience, filtering them back like either a plateau or an embrace through its weird hazy prism. Consider 'All Cats are Grey', so minimal as to be seemingly spun out of spiderwebs, and yet a sturdy circular thing that rolls and tumbles in perfect symmetry, coasting on Lol’s motoric, and (here’s that word again) hypnotic, wholly underrated drums.

 


Strident basslines guide and power most of the songs here, with Simon’s picking style lending utmost precision to abstract lines that are either all edges, angles and elbows ('Other Voices', 'The Holy Hour') or sparsely melancholic (the title track). This leaves Robert’s guitars to simply sprinkle washes of colour and texture atop this skeleton, letting treble-y pockets of shimmering discord drape across it like patches of skin, essential in their remarkable use of sparseness and restraint, only ever truly erupting on the fiery ‘Doubt’.

 

Like many sympathetic alignments of synaesthesia, the album cover is a pretty decent indication of what lies within the grooves here - but it doesn’t tell the whole story. An early piece of Porl Thompson’s Parched Art, it depicts Bolton Abbey awash in myriad muted greys and lends a suggestion, even a nudge towards the moods that will be explored. I first encountered this record in my bedroom at the age of sixteen, where the walls, ceiling and even bedsheets mirrored those same shades. The songs became a mantra as I lay writhing and feeling everything, everything, so very very deeply - the curse of 16 year olds (and the perennial 16 year olds at heart) the world over. A further 22 years of listening have barely dimmed its power, and when the bass shifts keys during 'Faith' itself, just prior to the Robert informing us that he is "lost forever in a happy crowd", my heart leaps into my throat as it always did, chest brimful of both butterflies and stones.

 

The Cure would go on to explore similar territory in subsequent releases, with a white knuckle desperation on Pornography and a wide-screen wash on Disintegration, but never again would they achieve such a clarity and sparse economy. 
 

I went away alone.

 

Listen to Faith:

 

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Background photos and art by Roberto Ferri and Frank W. Ockenfels 3