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Reviewed by Will Harris
Robert Smith and the gang haven’t had a proper hit album since 1992’s Wish, but when you examine the records they’ve released since then, it’s not hard to deduce why. 1996’s Wild Mood Swings lived up to its title, 2000’s Bloodflowers was a work of gothic genius but never had a chance in hell of being a mainstream sensation, and their self-titled album of 2004 found the band trying to go hard rock, but only served to annoy their longtime fans.
Perhaps that’s why the Cure’s 13th album, 4:13 Dream, opens with “Underneath the Stars,” a song which unabashedly harks back to the band’s most commercially successful album, Disintegration. And why the second track, “The Only One,” could’ve been a lost single from the Wish era. And why the bass work on the third track, “The Reasons Why,” will have the old-school fans smirking and remembering why Peter Hook’s mum noticed how much Cure bassist Simon Gallup was totally ripping off her son’s work in New Order.
Sensing a pattern, are you?
As well you should be. While 4:13 Dream isn’t a particularly groundbreaking Cure album, you certainly can’t say that it doesn’t sound like a Cure album, and that feeling of familiarity is what makes it the most enjoyable thing to come out of the band’s camp in many moons. Just having guitarist/keyboardist Porl Thompson back in the lineup provides a sense that the group is attempting to get back to the sound that they do best. Originally planned as a double album, the Cure instead decided to pare it down to 13 tracks, which are ostensibly the upbeat tracks from the sessions. Your definition of “upbeat” will very possibly vary from Robert Smith’s, but it’s fair to say that, although you will still be awash in melancholia from start to finish, the majority of the songs do at least move along at a steady clip.
No less than four singles emerged in advance of the album’s release. As noted, “The Only One” could pass for a sibling of 1992’s “High,” but while “Freakshow” is a wah-wah-laden rocker, “Perfect Boy” has a sweet and romantic feel. The best of the quartet, however, is “Sleep When I’m Dead,” a song which was reportedly written way back yonder in the Head on the Door era and feels every bit like it. Other highlights of the record include the grinding guitar of “Scream,” which favorably resembles the band’s Bloodflowers-era sound, the skittering fretwork on “Hungry Ghost,” and the threatening verses and soaring choruses of “Real Snow White.”
Perhaps it’s because the bar was set so low when the band last released an album, but 4:13 Dream comes a lot closer to defining the phrase “classic Cure” than anything we’ve heard from them in quite some time.