I sure hope I’m right about finding solace in the abyss because that’s exactly where The Cure’s 1982 release Pornography fixes its gaze. To those only familiar with The Cure’s radio friendly releases, I say buckle in. Robert Smith is about to give us an education. People don’t toss around the term “goth” when speaking of The Cure because the band once wrote a song about falling in love on a Friday. The band won that moniker because they put together this freaky little musical suicide note and scared the crap out of suburban moms and dads everywhere. Let’s proceed, shall we?
January and February with The Cure’s Pornography
As the dead of winter lowers my seasonal depression to a critical level, I reach for my copy of Pornography and once again drink in the album art. I see the band’s name in a new typeface along with the album title, Pornography. Below this information, I find a nightmarish image of the band. Reds, violets, and blacks dominate the color palette. Fitting for an album about death and sorrow, no? The visuals let the listener know immediately that Robert Smith wanted this album to be an unbearable experience. It dabbles in the obscene and finds a fitting name in Pornography. Its lyrics exploit and expose. Its instrumentation is chilling and unrelenting. It quickly becomes apparent that this recording was crafted by a man well acquainted with depression and personal suffering.
So… are you ready to dig in?! I should note, if you think we are going to be able to ease into this one, you are wrong. The album’s first song is about to repeatedly beat you about the face with your own mortality for six minutes and forty-one seconds.
One Hundred Years
“It doesn’t matter if we all die.” What a way to start things off, right? Pornography goes beyond Faith’s fearful realization that death is imminent. Instead, it opts to hurl itself toward its own demise willingly at 90 miles an hour. The opening track, “One Hundred Years”, begins with an up tempo drum beat and then launches into a bending guitar riff, packed with enough sustain to make Nigel Tufnel jealous. In January, everything has a tendency to seem pointless to me. I never want to start anything new, always hoping the motivation will eventually arrive when the weather improves. “One Hundred Years” is a song that helps me pass the time and survive the “everything is futile” phase of my depression. “Over and over we die. One after the other. One after the other. One after the other.”
A Short Term Effect
“A Short Term Effect” is written from the perspective of a man ready to die. Burial analogies run rampant, along with an analogy referencing a radio or television set that is no longer receiving a signal. “Cover me with earth. Draped in black. Static white sound.” It’s also impossible to escape the nods to suicide. The lyrics depict a harrowing scene of a friend finding a lifeless body of a loved one. “Scream as she tries to push him over. Helpless and sick. Jump, jump, dance and sing.” Here we see some poor soul begging the universe to once again reanimate the recently deceased. While I’ve never entertained suicidal thoughts, I’ve certainly had my dismal moments. Most often, early winter seems to trigger these thoughts for me.
Robert Smith has said in an interview that this song is about guilt. In “The Figurehead” we find a man on the edge, feeling as if he can never be redeemed for his past sins. “I will never be clean again.” The song also illustrates those moments where depression and guilt can break the mind, causing the afflicted to act a bit nutty. “I laughed in the mirror for the first time in a year.” As the new year begins, I too find myself thinking of the poor decisions I’ve made or things I’ve done that have hurt people in unimaginable ways. “The Figurehead” captures the unclean feelings that often overwhelm me, and it reminds me that I am not alone in my grief.
The instrumentation for “Cold” gives off an evil vibe. The lyrics once again deal with death, this time seeming to focus on the death of a loved one. “A shallow grave. A monument to the ruined age. Ice in my eyes, and eyes like ice don’t move. Screaming at the moon. Another pastime. Your name, like ice into my heart.” This song is a perfect fit for the chill of late February with its many references to ice and the coldness of death.
The last album of The Cure’s dark trilogy fittingly ends with another title track, “Pornography”. Wow, this song is unsettling! It begins with garbled voice recordings. It’s hard to make out what is being said and often some of the speech sounds reversed. Strange scratches and scrapes ring out and an overall feeling of uneasiness grows in the heart of the listener. Is this what death is like? Holy crap, are we dying?! I’m honestly not sure if I’ve ever survived all six and half minutes of this track.
Anyway, the speech fades out and we are met with a tribal sounding drum beat. It sounds as if a horde of demons is coming from the shadows to carry us away to the devil’s inner sanctum. We eventually hear voices again, shouts, and maybe animal noises? About three minutes in we realize there is a synth bed playing in the background as we are being marched to our doom… and then Robert Smith sings. He sings of death, suicide and the vanity of existence. “In books, and films, and in life, and in heaven, the sound of slaughter. One more day like today and I’ll kill you. A desire for flesh and real blood. I’ll watch you drown in the shower.” As dark as this all sounds, the song resolves in sort of a hopeful way. I find this small glimmer of light inspiring as I sit in late February, wondering if spring will ever come. Robert concludes by showing that he still has an inner determination to persevere. “I must fight this sickness. Find a cure. I must fight this sickness.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series dealing with my personal struggles with SAD and greatness of The Cure’s early 80s trilogy. Please check out these records if you haven’t. I glean something new from them with each listen.