1982 / 2005
fter six albums, The Cure’s introspective mood had begun to barrel into depression (heralded by Seventeen Seconds’ and Faith’s lyrical downturn) and, in 1982, was brought to the cliff's unstable lip by Pornography’s thick sense of isolation, fatigue, self loathing, and pessimism. The abyss was about to open up and swallow Robert Smith, Simon Gallop, and Lol Tolhurst leaving The Cure to briefly fragment.
The sleevenotes of this two disc remastered set reveal that Smith had set out to make the “ultimate fuck off record;” instead he ended up creating the Cure’s first definitive goth album and a cornerstone for budding miserablists around the world. It was the first of Smith's so called ‘trilogy of doom’. Musically the majority of Pornography is still upbeat enough to pass as acceptable rock / pop (although there is an odd Oriental skew to some of the music) even with its dry passionless drums which this remaster thankfully doesn’t seek to “fix.” Luckily, the queasily viscous chiming guitars and Edgar Allen Poe keyboards stay as well. It’s certainly not as obviously black as it might’ve been, although the album’s limited palette of sounds does lend the album some gloom to the proceedings. It works well as a bed for the lyrics showing that music doesn’t need to be ragged, excessively loud or permanently descending into chaos to soundtrack a mental collapse.
There’s an acute (almost detached) awareness of this descent in the lyrics with seemingly enough control to adequately describe how Smith felt when pulling together the fragments of writing that made the album. Is there a more pessimistic opening line than "It doesn't really matter if we all die / Ambition in the back of a black car"? There’s a thick line of lyrical sickness (not as in ‘shocking’ but as in ‘unwell) running through Pornography, the sum of the obvious internalised damage of an individual who wants “everything and nothing” on his own messed up terms. The scattered chopped up recollections of a psychological disintegration are couched in twisted imagery ("I open my mouth and my head bursts open / Sounds like a Tiger thrashing in the water / Thrashing in the water") and everyday clichés (“Meet my mother”). This is a band that used to perform these songs live with lipstick around their eyes so that when they sweated, it looked like their eyes were bleeding. What state of mental health makes that seem like a good idea?
Bill Hicks was often fond of saying that Pornography was ‘any act having no artistic merit and causes sexual thoughts’, not so for The Cure. It seems to have signified something altogether uglier. Back in 1982 pornography was a little darker and definitely more unclean than it is today. These items would be hidden away and passed around or sold from under smudged ebony counters; it was something deviant to be embarrassed about. It was something behind closed doors that you had to seek out; you couldn’t access it within seconds like you can today. Pornography the album is a sinister tainted affair too, thoughts that don’t need to be shared are shared and the air of post-orgasm shame is as thick as the spillage on peep show windows. Smith’s words are too keen minded to be considered callow, but at times this feels like we’re privy to something very private. The record’s unsettling aura runs deeply through tracks the marathon widescreen of "One Hundred Years" and "The Hanging Garden"s strict martial beat like leather tightening around wrists and ankles.
This reissue’s extra disc tacks another 70 minutes of similarly shadowy material onto the Pornography legend. Much of it is dragging and pensive (especially “Break”) and the instrumentals generate the perfect mood for a spot of brooding with the bass led “Temptation” (no relation to New Order) being positively happy in comparison to other offerings. “Airlock: The Soundtrack” is an extended atmosphere, the mood being spooked the fuck out waiting for the bogeyman to come in with a soundtrack of plinky out of tune piano and dislocated moans from a mouth twisted in an dreadful rictus. Live takes on the LP’s original tracklisting are interesting as period pieces from the unhappy performances of the album’s accompanying tour, but reveal nothing further about the mindsets of the players.
Pornography may not be pornography but you might still want to carry it in a brown paper bag.
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2005-07-11