The Cure – Bestival Live (2011)

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The Cure, appearing at this year’s Bestival, offered a fibrous retrospective — tearing its textured later gothy efforts down to a nervy, straight-forward post-punk vibe that recalled the group’s breakthrough triumphs. That gives the resulting two-disc Bestival Live: 2011 a seamless quality, despite its decades’ long sweep.

Robert Smith — still, yes, sporting electroshock hair and zombie eyeliner — blends tracks as diverse as “10:15 Saturday Night” (from the Cure’s sinewy 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys), “Boys Don’t Cry” (from the 1980 album of the same name, it was streamed overnight here through Soundcloud) and “One Hundred Years” from 1982’s Pornography with latter-day cuts the billowing title track from 1989’s Disintegration, “End” from 1992’s Wish, “The End of the World” from 2004’s The Cure and “The Hungry Ghost” from 2008’s 4:13 Dream. By the time they hit with the positively creepy “Lullaby” in late 1980s, the original trio had ballooned into a six-man mope-rockestra. Yet all of this mixing and matching worked brilliantly at the Isle of Wight this year because Smith has downshifted the band back to its lean, spring-loaded, bashy roots.

He’s joined here by a core group that includes bassist/keyboardist Simon Gallup, who played on those early records then returned in 1985 as the Cure released the transitional Head on the Door, from which “Inbetween Days” is plucked for this Isle of Wight show. Guitarist Porl Thompson, a longtime sideman, became a permanent member around the same time. Keyboardist Roger O’Donnell has been on board for three separate stints, beginning in 1987 as the band began its most commercially successful period with Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. (That album’s “Just Like Heaven” and “Hot Hot Hot!!!” are included on Bestival Live: 2011.) Jason Cooper has manned the drums since 1995.

Still, Smith remains both the group’s principal songwriter, of course, and its public face. As cartoony as that face can sometimes be, his was a writing voice that defied easy categorization. On the one hand, he helped frame things for a generation obsessed with this almost literary gloominess; on the other, Smith always had a canny ability to sidestep that same existential misery in favor of a lipstick-smeared lovestruck pop sound that simply bursts with giddy joy.

Bestival Live: 2011, due today from Sunday Best Recordings, walks the same fine line — even while it deftly ties together a series of disparate eras of the Cure’s music. It’s a must-have for longtime fans of their layered art pop, and a good entry point for those trying to get a handle on these freshly minted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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