The Epic Sound of Falling Apart

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The Epic Sound of Falling Apart

The Cure

'Disintegration (Deluxe Edition) (3CD)'

(Rhino)

Grade: A+

The mopiest I have ever been — not saddest, not most heartbroken, but mopiest — was Aug. 22, 1989. I was 15 years old and at the beach with my parents, not, as I had hoped, in Landover, Md., watching the Cure's Washington, D.C.-area date at the Capital Centre to promote their album "Disintegration," which had been released in May of that year. I was at the beach, for Pete's sake. Yet I was miserable, more bummed by the hour. By what I knew to be the band's start time, I might have taken to my bed. It was, in retrospect, kind of perfect.

In stores Tuesday, 21 years after it first gave form to many blue moods, "Disintegration" has finally received the overblown reissue it deserves.

There are two kinds of Cure fans in the world: those who believe that "Disintegration" is not only the best Cure album but one of the signature albums of the 1980s and those who were born before roughly 1969 or after, say, 1976.

Before '69, you probably have vivid high school memories of "The Head on the Door," the Cure's epic singles collection, or "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me." After '77, you probably have warm feelings toward the radio smash "Friday I'm in Love."

But for those of us in that sweet spot, for lots of girls and for lots of guys who thought girls would like them if they acted more like girls, "Disintegration" is "Dark Side of the Moon," a generational landmark up there with the Challenger disaster and seeing your first Mac. Suffice it to say that had "Donnie Darko" been set one year later, "Disintegration" might as well have played through the whole thing.

From the wide-screen opening moments of "Plainsong" — 20 seconds of chimes before psychedelic piles of keyboards, bells, giant drums, six-string bass, lush keyboards and overreaching melodies explode like a star going nova — "Disintegration" announced itself as a Romantic in the large "R" sense, all awe and genuflection in front of the sublime. Singer Robert Smith is Caspar David Friedrich's "Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog" with giant hair, smeared lipstick and flange pedal.

Few albums have quite embodied the sound of self-regard that alienated teens feel — its oceanic size matches its audience's conception of its own sadness. This is less Gothic than progressive rock for kids who were too hung up on girls (or too actually female) to be caught with a Rush album.

Much of it is a little amorphous — are there people who ever made it to the end of "Homesick"? — but the singles are stunning. "Fascination Street" leans on that six-string bass for an ode to a seedy night in a red light district, "Lovesong" was a gift from Smith to his wife Mary. "Pictures of You" is the jaw-dropper, a mixtape staple of intertwined ascending and descending riffs, a Moebius strip of unrequited desire while a storm of deep-focus keyboards rolls like the rising tide.

The extras are stellar — the entirety of the "Prayer Tour" live document "Entreat" is here, with extra tracks added to make a complete, live "Disintegration." A disc of demos shows the song in various stages and sound for all the word like finished tracks from modern no-fi new wavers such as Blank Dogs or Cold Cave. But unlike those folks, Smith was always in search of a bigger bigness, and on "Disintegration" he created an expanse of sound to mimic the sheer magnitude of his fans' pent-up passions.

jgross@statesman.com; 912-5926

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