Weakest Cure since Seventeen Seconds; could have been great
Angry Mofo | 12/19/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"The worst thing about Bloodflowers is knowing how good it might have been. "Watching Me Fall" shows the album's unrealized potential. The production in the beginning of the song is amazing -- I'm in awe of that clean-but-heavy, electronic echo all over the guitar. The guitar line is a variation on the one in "Disintegration," but the sound itself is fascinating -- the same melodic, echo-rich production of the 1989 classic, but with much heavier, metallic guitars. (Eventually Iris ended up stealing that idea for one song on their album Wrath.)
But no: very quickly, this strong, subtle sound is drowned out by the exact same overdriven wah-wah that marred songs like "Cut" (from Wish) and "Club America" (from Wild Mood Swings). Except now, there are so many layers of the same thing that it all blurs together into a mess. Just to drive the point home, it goes on for eleven minutes, probably for no reason other than that Robert Smith wanted to outdo "This Corrosion." Later, the same thing occurs on "39," which is also full of bland wah-wah and feedback that overwhelms all other sounds in the mix. Basically, Smith wants to use louder and heavier guitars (perhaps "Lost" on the later self-titled album is more like what he wanted here), but he can't come up with a good loud and heavy song, or even a good bass line.
The slower, sadder songs are better. I have to say, the midsection of the album sounds pretty good. "Where The Birds Always Sing," "Maybe Someday," "The Last Day Of Summer," as well as the first song "Out Of This World," all sound like high-quality B-sides from either Disintegration or Wish. That's fairly high praise, since The Cure used to write great B-sides like "The Big Hand." But it does mean that Bloodflowers mostly focuses on imitating the sound of those two classic albums. In fact, you can pinpoint the specific songs being referenced. The opening hook in "Where The Birds Always Sing" recalls "Homesick," and Robert's lovelorn guitar later in the same song (and also in "The Last Day Of Summer") comes from "Pictures Of You."
It's not that there's nothing new at all. For instance, there's a lot more acoustic guitar, which sounds quite nice together with the other instruments. Many songs use drum loops with a very slight tribal or trip-hop tinge, mostly in the beginning, before the music gets started. These incidental details sound more original than the very typical Cure melodies that are later brought in on top of them. It makes one wonder about the possibilities. For instance, the drum loops suggest that Smith might have tried a full-out trip-hop sound, and written a few electronic torch songs along the lines of the second Portishead album (which covered very Cure-friendly emotional territory). Sure, it wouldn't have been ground-breaking, but it would have been really neat to see what The Cure could do with that style.
Unfortunately, Smith's lyrics are uninspired. Our beloved Robert always had a formulaic aspect to his writing, as seen in "Cut," or "Friday I'm In Love," or even in the wonderful "Lovesong." But he also had a knack for depicting quirky images and situations ("Lullaby," "Wendy Time"), as well as expressing emotions in ornate, elegant statements ("Last Dance," "A Letter To Elise"). People beat up on Wild Mood Swings, but that album is full of top-notch writing ("The 13th," "Strange Attraction"). But what happened here? Once you hear the first verse of the title track, you can easily fill in the rest. "This dream never ends, the sun never sets again, the time never comes to say goodbye," and "this dream always ends, the sun always sets again, the time always comes to say goodbye." "These flowers will never die," as opposed to "these flowers will always die." And so on, in almost every song.
The thing is, Bloodflowers is meant to have the serious tone of Disintegration. It actually emphasizes the lyrics. Smith wanted to express his thoughts on mortality and old age, but all he had was: "No, I won't do it again / I don't want to pretend / If it can't be like before, I've got to let it end / I don't want what I was, I had a change of head," followed by "No, I won't do it some more / doesn't make any sense / If it can't be like it was, I've got to let it rest / I don't want what I did, I had a change of tense." It would help if I knew what "it" was.
This brings us back to "Watching Me Fall," which is more sophisticated, and actually tries to tell a story...about going to Tokyo and having a sexual encounter with a prostitute. Most introverted adolescents would consider this an enviable success, but somehow it turns into a self-pitying tirade. Sure, a song like "Open" was about needlessly ruining one's life by binge-drinking, but it had a tone of self-disgust that showed that the protagonist understood his own failings. In "A Letter To Elise," the guy leaves the girl, but at least he tries to show sympathy and apologize. In "Watching Me Fall," he's in control, exploiting the poor woman who is servicing him, but feeling no sympathy. He actually tries to put the blame on her, making it seem like she initiated the encounter. It's quite unpleasant.
That sums it up: Smith wanted to express raging, cathartic emotions, and also to engage in somber reflection, but the results are either trite or unsympathetic. Although he was clearly considering some new ideas, in the end, he decided to play it as safe as possible. Instead of capping off a great career, Bloodflowers actually inaugurated a new period, in which Smith's writing continues to tread water."