Disintegration is The Cure’s highest-selling album and the one that saw them cement their place as an arena rock band, in the UK, Europe, America and Japan, at a time when that was still a huge achievement for an ‘alternative’ rock band. In terms of popularity, the album represents the peak of The Cure’s career, after more than a decade and seven previous albums of atmospheric, bittersweet, dark and joyous music.
In addition to its commercial success Disintegration was ecstatically received by critics. It was Melody Maker’s ‘Album of the Year’ in 1989, while Q listed it as the 17th best album of the ’80s. It made it on to both the US and German editions of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” in 2003. Pitchfork says that “Disintegration stands unquestionably as Robert Smith’s magnum opus”.
The 3 million+ copies of Disintegration sold worldwide mean that it’s certified ‘Gold’ across Europe and ‘Platinum’ in America. It also spawned four successful singles – Lullaby, Lovesong, Pictures of You and Fascination Street – which brought the band unprecedented levels of airplay and attention.
With Disintegration The Cure pulled off that rarest of tricks; producing an album that finds huge mainstream, commercial and critical success without alienating their original fans.
But of course, not everybody likes it. And some of those who don’t have been good enough to write Amazon reviews warning potential buyers to tread carefully before spending £5.32 on a CD.
“There are not enough words to describe how awful the complete waste of time called “Disintegration” really is. Horrible, disgusting, nasty, wretched, and atrocious doesn’t even begin to describe the listening experience.”
That’s the considered opinion of JX, as expressed in a 2004 review titled “An Epic Pity Party”. JX continues:
“Asking me to listen to the Cure or U2 is like asking me whether I would like to be shot in the gut or kneecaps.”
JX also reckons:
“They add complex melodies just to show how pretentious they are.”
Really? Is that why those melodies are there? To show how pretentious they are? I’d always thought they were part of the music in some way.
DPG is also unimpressed, heading his/her review “Garbage” before explaining:
“The Cure were best when they did fun pop songs, like in the 80s and early 90s!”
“Pop songs are what gets played on radio, and the radio is the only sure sign of what’s good in music.”
Wait. What? “The only sure sign”? That doesn’t seem right. I heard Nickelback on the radio once…
“Obviously this album doesn’t get played on the radio.”
Ah, OK. DPG has subtly implied that Disintegration is no good because it doesn’t get played on the radio. This seems like a flawed argument, because a) “what’s good in music” is entirely subjective, b) it fails to take into account the commercial pressures on radio stations which restrict the variety of music that they are able to broadcast, and c) the singles from Disintegration got a shitload of airplay.
So DPG fluffed that argument. Maybe he/she will have more luck when discussing mental health issues:
“Smith’s mopey vocals sound so much better when he’s in a good mood. And why wouldn’t the guy be in a good mood? HE MAKES MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!!”
Nope, DPG fluffed that argument too.
Despite awarding Disintegration three stars, JM also finds the album a bit of a downer:
“so depressing it’s hard to take for more than 20 minutes.”
Conversely, MDG describes the album as “Carnival Music”, adding that in his opinion it “Sounds like a carousel; droning around and around”.
Meanwhile, BS calls the album “puzzlingly popular” and says that on it Robert Smith’s songwriting is “at an all-time low”. The review concludes with the statement, “Smith never had the juice for a long term career in my opinion”. Now, BS wrote this is May 2000, by which time Smith had released 11 studio albums with The Cure over the course of nearly a quarter of a century. Eighteen years later, The Cure are still going, and have slipped out another couple of well-received albums, so maybe Bob did have the “juice” after all.
BS gives his review the title “Overlong and dull”, and he’s not the only reviewer to criticise Disintegration for being too long. None is more vehement in this criticism than CS who, somewhat ironically, drones on for fully 400 words about how long it is. The review, titled “Slow, Boring And Long”, includes a description of each song – “Fascination Street: Not ‘fascinating’ at all!!”.
BS gives Pictures of You and Lullaby four stars and Love Song and Disintegration five stars, but the album itself receives a disappointing two stars overall. “Moodiness is not what I expected from The Cure!”, she says.
So to recap, contrary to popular opinion, the album described by Kyle Broflovski from South Park as ‘the best album ever’ is actually a “disgusting, nasty listening experience”, “pretentious”, unworthy of radio play (the only real mark of quality music), “depressing”, “carnival music” with “mopey vocals”, substandard songs and way too long. Probably not worth £5.32, in that case.
Interestingly, none of the negative reviewers I’ve found have picked up on my main criticism I have of Disintegration – that synthesizer sound always, always reminds me of the original theme music from Casualty.