The Cure - Pornography - Review
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critics' view

Choosing a favourite Cure album is like trying to decide which pair of socks to wear or what breakfast cereal to start the day with. It can change at any given time for no particular reason, yet if all the votes were counted over the course of a lifetime one would remain in pole position. That record is Pornography, an album that appeared somewhat out of the blue upon its arrival in the summer of 1982.

Prior to its release, The Cure had been something of an anomaly. Not aggressive or heavy enough for those still suffering a hangover from punk, not arty enough for the new romantics, not eccentric enough for the new wave. Of course "post-punk" wasn't a thing back then; in many commentators' eyes punk was still a thing, albeit an underground fad mostly dominated by belligerent working-class youths disillusioned with Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative government. The relationship between music and politics was probably at its height, with bands like The Clash still active and 2 Tone Records continuing to break down racial barriers even after The Specials' dissolution.

The Cure didn't fit in with any scene back then and probably never have. They existed on their own terms, impossible to pigeonhole, although many have tried. Even prior to Pornography their appearances on Top Of The Pops stood out like proverbial sore thumbs. Having made their debut on the show in April 1980 with 'A Forest' and followed it up almost twelve months to the day with 'Primary', both minor hits with the former briefly bothering the lower end of the Top 40 while the latter stalled just outside, no one could have predicted they'd go onto become one of the most influential bands of their generation.

Having already undergone several line-up changes during their brief career prior to commencing work on Pornography, it seemed like The Cure's star had shone as brightly as it was ever likely to. Their status as a "cult band" seemingly assured - indeed they'd released a single under a pseudonym entitled 'I'm A Cult Hero' three years earlier - they were a band in limbo, unsure of their next move or indeed if they had one left in them. Their last release 'Charlotte Sometimes' preceded Pornography by seven months, a single that undoubtedly heralded a new direction between the oblique soundscapes of third album Faith and the bleak narrative of its forthcoming successor. Produced by Mike Hedges who'd worked on both Faith and second album Seventeen Seconds, 'Charlotte Sometimes' signified the end of an era in one way and the dawning of a new one in another.

Fuelled by depression and anxiety that resulted in a lot of self-medication, vocalist, guitar player and songwriter in chief Robert Smith (in 1982 he wasn't the icon he's since gone on to become) and his two cohorts at the time - Simon Gallop (bass) and Lol Tolhurst (drums) - wanted to make a record representative of the band's mood at the time. In fact, Pornography could very well have been the last Cure record, so fraught were the sessions which culminated in Gallop leaving the group once the album was finished. Recorded over a three month period at the start of 1982, played back now it sounds like something of a chilling epitaph. Those opening lines of 'One Hundred Years' reading like a self-referencing suicide note that gets even darker throughout the song's six and a half minutes.

Comprising eight songs in total, each telling its own story of misery, despair and desolation, it's remarkable to think that just two years later The Cure would go on to become one of the biggest bands in the world, releasing happy-go-lucky pop songs such as 'The Caterpillar' and 'The Lovecats'. Yet back in 1982, their ethos was anything but. "Derange and disengage everything" declares Smith at the end of 'Short Term Effect', a song that deals with the fantasy of death from the perspective of natural elements while on 'The Figurehead', he ominously intones "I will lose myself tomorrow" as if all hope has gone.

The sentiment of helplessness continues throughout the record. An inquisitive "Can no one save you?" punctuates 'Cold's errant emptiness while 'Siamese Twins' declares "everything falls apart", its melody inspired by Low-era Bowie rather than any of The Cure's current contemporaries. Astoundingly, the one 45 lifted off Pornography gave them their biggest chart hit for two years. Driven by a coarse drum sound inspired by Siouxsie And The Banshees drummer Budgie, 'The Hanging Garden' perpetuated The Cure as a mainstream anomaly in sounding like nothing else on the radio or in the singles charts at the time. Reaching the dizzy heights of number 32, it only stayed in the Top 40 for one week before dropping like a stone but its impact would remain omnipresent, not least by way of boosting Pornography's album sales which saw them embark on new territory in reaching the Top 10, an achievement they'd repeat throughout their existence to this day.

Ending with the title track, another six and a half minutes of disconsolate melancholy that closes with the words "I must fight this sickness." Pornography remains one of the most poignant albums of its or any other generation, an album that will never grow old or become dated. Interestingly, this was also the album which saw The Cure reinvent themselves aesthetically too, Smith adopting the now trademark spider's mop, smeared lipstick and uniform black from head to toe.

Even today it sounds like nothing else on earth, yet still demands to be heard as a full body of work rather than broken down into individual segments. The band may have been at their lowest ebb during the making of Pornography but this is perfunctory greatness personified.

Dom Gourlay
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Drowned in Sound, sometimes abbreviated to DiS, is a UK-based music webzine financed by artist management company Silentway. Founded by editor Sean Adams, the site features reviews, news, interviews, and discussion forums.
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