In May, 1982, The Cure released their 4th studio album Pornography. The album forms the final third of the bands ‘bleak trilogy’ following on from Seventeen Seconds and Faith. Pornography has a different feel to the other two ‘bleak’ albums. The record is far more dense musically and The Cure move into a heavier sound that somehow escapes any rock genre in the traditional sense.
The album is the first to actually feature the band on the cover. Come to think of it, it is the only Cure album to feature the whole band on the sleeve. Here, as a trio, the band manage to pull of a moody wall-of-sound that by far passes their offerings as an expanded line-up in later days. My first exposure to The Cure was via the album that followed Pornography, ‘The Top’ or to be precise via the single The Caterpillar’. From there I went straight for the Nice Price non-album-album Boys Don’t Cry which is arguably the best introduction to The Cure possible?
Pornography attracts both criticism and praise. The band were in their very early 20’s when it was released and it stands up remarkably well as far as my ears are concerned. Of the bands 13 studio albums to date it is easily amongst their best 3 or 4 albums ever and that is very unlikely to change (via any new material). Denting the Top Ten in the U.K. it could be seen as a commercial success and it spawned a Top 40 single also. Pornography contains 8 songs of similar length and filled up one side of a C90 cassette at nearly 44 minutes in total.
A Hundred Years sets the tone of the album immediately:
‘It Doesn’t Matter If We All Die’
The guitar drone and twine is heavy yet unobtrusively so. Listening to it now you can hear sounds that Sonic Youth would develop much later in the 80’s and into the 90’s. The drums almost sound electronic. I first saw The Cure live in 1985, it was one of my first ever gigs and the wall-of sound on the album transcends into a real monster via live performance. It is a beast of a song and The Cure despite their later cuddly image are unapologetic for the songs sheer waves of brutality.
A Short Term Effect and lively solid drum patterns are droned over musically again. The sound is very dense and the band have clearly moved on from their preceding two albums. Vocals are blurred and echoe towards the end of their lines. The direct sound is cold but the sum of its blurry edges does give a fuzzy feel and the album conjures up narcotic imagery without directly trying to do so.
The Hanging Garden is very slightly more accesible. Primitive, constant drums pounding are sung over by Robert Smith in an audible cold manner. The guitar echoes John McGeoch as it swirls and shard around the piece. The track was part of an E.P. that reached Number 34 in the Summer of 1982 – however – Pornography works much better as a whole album listened to in one sitting – in an ideal world there would have been no single releases from this record.
Siamese Twins slows the album right back down to the speed of some tracks from Seventeen Seconds or Faith. The decibel levels are much higher here though and the drums, despite being slower, have a relentless loop to them which works in a near hypnotic pendulum way.
The Figurehead and the bass takes on the drums initially. Moments later soft electric guitar strums win an unlikely intro battle before the vocals weld the song together quite majestically. Slight gear changes push the song onwards, you get pulled into the near hidden hook and when the changes come they are all the more powerful for breaking away from the relentless overtones of the album as a whole.
A Strange Day has the vibe of Siouxsie & The Banshees from around the same era but stays within the cold formula that is Pornography. Guitar runs escape briefly and give off an Eastern vibe emerging from the blocky cold wall and dense doomy sound.
Cold goes for the cinematic and conjures up the sound of a camera flying over the arctic. The album is so dense at this point that the strain within the band is almost tangible via the sound. The album changed The Cure. There would be no more album a year and you can feel something breaking here – the music stands tall despite this.
Pornography closes the album of the same title. Backwards vocals and eerie sounds interspersed with indecipherable words played forwards give way, or do they, to more processional sounds. Keys and bass sound predatory as they lurch in the background getting closer and closer. This sound remains The Cure at their most experimental. The vocal enters but the stand-off continues, the aural image comes across more like a painting than a song. Narcotics are thinly alluded to and the fact the record put the band on hold for a point probably points to where they were at, at the time. This does not effect what is a great album from a very well known band. This is where the art is, post Pornography The Cure still were a great band but in these depths both their inward looking self-focussed sounds and art escape for possibly the last real time…