In 1992 The Cure were at the height of their popularity. Their 1989 masterpiece Disintegration and the subsequent Prayer Tour had not only taken the popular music world by storm, but had also silenced their doubting record label. The label had so misjudged Disintegration’s potential on the run up to its release; having warning the album was career suicide for the band, they had at one point demanded it be reworked. The events that followed left the label with egg on their face and the band vindicated for their vision.
The label had no choice but to STFU on any creative advice for following releases. So with the creative pressures from the label mitigated, the question for the band quickly became how do you follow up a master-work like Disintegration? Do you return to the eclectic past or forge into something new? They chose to follow their muse right down the middle. Some would say the decision was playing it safe. Rest assured with The Cure there was never a moment where they played it safe. On Wish yet again the band would concoct a special blend of bitter and sweet and come up with an intriguing collection of songs.
Wish was recorded in sessions from 1991 – 1992 at The Manor, Oxfordshire, England. It would end up being the last album produced by both Robert Smith and David M. Allen. The album would also be the last in which Porl Thompson and Boris Williams would appear. In May of 1990 Roger O’Donnell quit the band and was replaced by guitarist and keyboard player Perry Bamonte. Returning to the record studio for Wish were; Robert Smith front-man and vocalist, performing on guitars, keyboards and six string bass. Perry Bamonte was on guitars, keyboards, six string bass and piano, Simon Gallup on bass and keyboards, Porl Thompson on guitars and Boris Williams on drums and percussion. The addition of Bamonte brought to the band a harder rock sound, which helped convey more anger and disenchantment than Disintegration. In the run up to the recording of Wish there were definite omens that all was not well within The Cure. There were bubbling conflicts lurking just beneath the surface. Underneath the pop shimmer and angst there is a sense that the band was still coming to grips with all that had occurred with the success of Disintegration and not all of the outcomes were positive.
“Wish” is an interesting study, because it was significantly embraced by the music loving public, yet in seems to have fallen down a memory hole of sorts. The album reached #1 in the UK and #2 in the US upon its release. The singles High and Friday I’m In Love both performed well scoring top 10’s in the UK and top 50 in US. The highly successful “Wish” tour also yielded two popular live albums, 1992’s Show and Paris in 1993. It would not be an overstatement to say Wish held its own commercially and critically. However it has always felt like Wish has been overshadowed and underrated because of “Disintegration”. The reasons for this are myriad, but some of the main reasons are that “Wish” careened around the stylistic shop, going from the Goth sadness of Edge of the Deep Green Sea to the lollipop sweetness of Friday I’m In Love and unlike Disintegration was not a concept album. There is also the shapeshifting unsettled feeling of “Wish”, which sounded happier on the surface but underneath, was in many ways just as tortured and despairing as the prior release. In addition when considered with 20/20 hindsight “Wish” marked the end of the group’s ascendancy, with members either leaving the band or in Smith’s case wanting to let some of the air out of the balloon of expectations. Whatever the reason, Wish although beloved by fans is in many ways a victim of Disintegration’s amazing success.
Wish begins with Open a quasi PSA announcement advising individuals not to join rock bands. The dirge like song describes Smith’s need to get blotto just to endure the after party functions he is obligated to attend. The song goes farther revealing the expectations of those in corporate who insisted that he be charming and approachable no matter how much he really just wanted to go to bed. He finds that the drugs and booze he has promised to stay away from are the only things to get him through the evening and he end up hating himself in the end. It is a terrifying portrait of the after party and the pure hell it is for any introverted introspective performer to endure; “I stand up too close and two wide and the smiles are too bright…the hands on all my shoulders don’t have names and they won’t go away.” It is all like a psychotic flashback as Smith relays the self hatred he has for allowing himself to be the puppet controlled by the puppet masters. The song is a cathartic confessional. It captures Smith’s attempting to deal with being forced out of the underground shadows of a cult band and into the glaring demands of popular music dictates. The droning guitars express the anger and the explosions of sound are brittle and brutalizing. Open is an aggressive bridge from Disintegration. It paints a disturbing before/after picture which was a result of the success of that album metastasising.
The song High is like an antidote to all the anger and disillusionment of “Open”. The mood lifts as crystalline chimes sound and the song sonically counteracts “Open”. Here is everything as light and delightful as a song from the Cure can be, but there is a thread of regret. The regret of letting someone beloved go, also the envying of someone for having a capacity to be happy. The song could be a companion to Why Can’t I Be You off of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me with all of Robert Smith’s signature vocal styling present. It expresses the frustration of chasing happiness and recognizing another person’s happiness while not being able to attain that happiness for oneself.
Apart again careens into the darker side of The Cure’s palette. It is about the misunderstanding and misfortune that happens between two people in a relationship. The couple in the song are trying to rebuild a bridge but do not have the faith and trust to pull it off. It is a heartbreaking song which again harkens back to early Cure efforts. The song asks the eternal question of what went wrong; “how did we get this far apart? We used to be so close together. How did we get this far apart? I thought this love would last forever.” Apart is plaintive, evocative and certainly well within the Cure’s wheelhouse of themes.
From the Edge of The Deep Green Sea is an epic song. In a nod to full disclosure let me say I simply adore this song. It continues the theme from “Apart” with each person desperate to repair a damaged relationship, but the more they try to repair the cracks the more cracked the relationship becomes. The couple seems to have outgrown each other; there have been festering betrayals, substance abuse and attempts to swear off the substances not succeeding. Both people realize they have to put an end to the relationship to end the pain. The climax of the song comes with the lyrics;” “Why, why, why are you letting me go? She says. I feel you changing shape…and just as I’m breaking free, she hangs herself in front of me, slip her dress like a flag to the floor and hands in the air surrenders it all…” The song is heartbreaking in its earnest yearning for a happy ending that will not happen.
The song sonically is a wonder, as it conveys the emotions of the song perfectly. There is urgency, intensity and sorrow threaded throughout. The discordant cacophony at the intro breaks into a buzzsaw of rock with swirling guitars and becomes a physical force that you feel as you listen, it is a genius construct. The song ends with Smith figuratively ending up alone in the middle of the sea a castaway miles and mile away from shore alone both emotionally and physically. This song is a serious contender for one of the greatest songs the Cure ever released. It is the companion to Disintegration’s Same Deep Water as You but is less elegiac and has more underlying disappointment. It is a song I recommend you hear at sometime before you leave this world, a mini master piece.
The album again swings into what seems like a lighter note. Wendy Time has all the sounds of a light truffle but is again underneath a sardonic song, giving yet another ugly glimpse into the world of rock and touring. The song turns from the soul yearning damage of a relationship in tatters that is “Edge” to a full frontal solicitation. The song is flippant and hedonistic in attitude. It is a conversation either imagined or real taking place at the hotel during a tour. A “Band-Aid” offering cheap sex and sleeping pills; “You know that you could do with a friend she said, you know that you could use a word like feel or follow or fuck she said and laughing away as she turned, you’ve everything but no one like the last man on Earth.” The offer is eventually turned down but there is a battle with the devil on your shoulder offering instant gratification. The angel on the other shoulder tells you to just turn it down because you’ll feel better in the morning not hating yourself for weakness. Again the song is illuminated by the great funky wah wah sound and amazing guitar treatments making for an aggressive in your face affront which is the theme of the song. Wendy Time along with Open displays the negative side of touring that had just about pushed Smith and the band over the edge. Here on display are the negatives that were starting to outweigh the positives of the band’s situation at that time.
With the end of “Wendy Time” the album enters a happier, poppier section. Doing the Unstuck is like a breath of fresh air after the heavy emotions and twisted events depicted prior. “Doing the Unstuck” is a song about joy and chasing after it; “Kick out the gloom, kick out the blues, tear out the pages with all the bad news.” A song that extols the pursuit of happiness and damn the consequences, simply grabbing life by the throat and hanging on, an unexpected command from Smith, but welcomed. Smith avers “ But it’s much too late you say for doing this now we should have done it then well it just goes to show how wrong you can be and how you really should know that it’s never too late to get up and go.” On the accompaniment the marriage of the keyboards and guitar are glorious with the build in the first chorus and then the explosion that is the rest of this grand and joyous song.
This happiness leads into Friday I’m In Love which is a perfectly crafted pop song. Again there is this sense of pure joyful abandon. The lyric made it a classic as the song works thorough the week building anticipation for the weekend as only Robert Smith could do it. It is hard not to smile and sing along, it is simple but brilliant and a song that is meant to sustain you through the drudge and gloom of life. It is bottled manic happiness totally reflected in the music; unexpected from the Cure but relished all the same.
Trust marks the end of the poppier respite. This is the third song about a relationship in crisis. It gets to the point quickly emphasizing that trust is the most important part of a relationship and the hardest thing to maintain; “ and still the hardest part for you to put your trust in me, I love you more than I can say, why won’t you just believe.” The song is low key on a minor chord allowing all of Smith’s evocative vocals to take center stage.
Another favorite of mine is A Letter to Elise. Again here is that twist of a happier accompaniment to a somewhat tragic lyric. The song has an underlying theme of storms and struggles a relationship goes through. The track is a companion to Edge where again the relationship looks good on paper but ends up not working out in reality. The lyric conveys all the pain of ruined hope, “Elise believe I never wanted this, I thought this time I’d keep all my promises, I thought you were the girl I always dreamed about but I let the dream go and promises broken and make believe ran out.” The track distills the feeling of when the honeymoon is over and life and its demands become too difficult for a relationship to survive. There is magnificent guitar work on the later third of this song. Smith’s delivery is bang on conveying all the earnest heartbreak of relationship failure. It is at this point in the album that the listener realizes that the entire album was a confessional well camouflaged.
Cut is angry and sad at the same time and seems to reflect on the events surrounding the departure of band mate and Smith’s long-time friend Lol Tolhurst. Tolhurst around the time of the recording for Wish had sued the band for back royalties and lost bringing an end to a childhood friendship between Tolhurst and Smith. The song is a brutally discordant attack with frustration and anger conveyed through the lyrics and music; “ Fire go out and friendship die, I wish you felt the way that I still do.” The song talks about a relationship that is totally broken. The song ends in a cacophony of chaos reflecting Smith’s confused feelings about his friendship with Tolhurst. Cut is Smith using the song as catharsis to work through the pain of this friendship ending.
The beautifully delicate To Wish Impossible Things is extraordinary. It is achingly evocative with effective use of guest cellist Kate Wilkinson. The song is bitter-sweet as it mourns love and relationships gone away. “Remember how it used to be, when the stars would fill the sky, remember how we used to dream these nights would never end, these nights would never end.” A dramatic and elegiac track, the song stays with you long after it is heard.
The back story to the song End is that Smith at the time repeatedly in interviews said that “Wish” would be the end of The Cure. To fully understand the song you have to keep that context. It is a guitar requiem, gothic and cathedral like with swirling dirge guitars and plaintive vocals. The band in many ways had reached the end of all things and found the cost too high for what was gained. Exhaustion is the theme, and Smith is unambiguous as he could be in the lyrics; “I think I’ve reached that point where giving up and going on are both the same dead end to me are both the same song…please stop loving me I am none of these things.” Smith had reached his nadir and there was nothing left in the tank. He was weary of fame and tired of adulation, it was the end of the road if temporarily that had begun a long while ago.
As we know it wasn’t the end but the band took a step back from super stardom, happy to release less firework inducing albums and gaining some peace of mind in that exchange. Someone once said; “Fame is an uneasy place, people are either running towards it or running away from it, but it is not a place where anyone can live comfortably for long, no one sane truly enjoys it.” This album marked the point where the members of the Cure made a run for it. Running to maintain their sanity, relationships and retain the love of their fans. “Wish” saw the band at their full ascendancy. The Cure would not again be seen in this exact configuration. Band members Thompson and Williams left, and Robert Smith withdrew into himself for four years. Afterwards the Cure was essentially a completely different band intentionally looking for a lower profile. It had been a long, agonizing road by the end of the recording and touring for Wish. The difficulties and exhaustion left the Cure’s “benevolent dictator for life” Robert Smith a band leader who for all intensive purposes was without a band. Some how all the underlying maelstrom of emotion surrounding Wish enabled it to easily slip into the memory hole of musical history. That is unfortunate, because it is an exceedingly worthy follow up to “Disintegration” and a masterwork in its own right.