Wild Mood Swings, Bloodflowers & “The Trilogy”

I wanted to make another great Cure album, something I could really be proud of and, to be honest, Disintegration was the last album I really liked. So I grabbed the band and made them listen to Pornography and Disintegration and said, “These, to me, are the two high points of what we’ve done as the Cure in this idiom, and I would like us to make a third part of an emotional trilogy.” I mean…it isn’t the third part of the trilogy, but I wanted it to sound like it was. Robert Smith, on Bloodflowers

During the week of November 7th, 2002, the Cure staged a radical three-night stand in Brussels and Berlin, called Trilogy. During these concerts, the albums Pornography (1982), Disintegration (1989), and Bloodflowers (2000) were performed in their linear entirety.

These shows were in one sense the culmination of Daryl Bamonte’s involvement with the Cure. Previously an inner-circle “5th member” of Depeche Mode, Daryl officially joined DM as a touring keyboardist in 1994, just as his brother Perry Bamonte had when Roger O’Donnell left the Cure in 1990 (O’Donnell attributes this to "growing pains" in his bio, which is probably a polite way of saying “repellent drug-fueled egomania”).

Daryl moved over to the Cure’s camp in 1995, when Robert Smith was corralling various players and producers to help assemble Wild Mood Swings, the worst album to carry the Cure’s name by a large margin. Fans were consistently happier with its subdued B-sides than the manic, throw-shit-at-the-wall kaleidoscope the final LP resembled, so it was no great shock when the Cure’s long-coming next album had more in common with those cuts than anything on Wild  Mood Swings

The American leg of the 1996 Swing Tour was a marked low-point for the Cure as a live draw. Six dates, most in admittedly weak locations (Pensacola, Florida? Portland, Maine?) were canceled for lack of interest. The major debacle was San Diego, where ticket-holders for that surprisingly scratched gig were “treated” to a rushed daylight pre-concert in Irvine, a mere 93 miles away. Five hundred or more die-hards made the trip, but it was a major embarrassment, and Smith’s on-stage demeanor got progressively uglier as the tour continued. He began inserting uncharacteristic ad-libs into the songs ("Put your laser pointer to the sky!” in “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea”), sneering at no-one in particular, and in Gainesville, Florida, with seven dates remaining, he essentially lost the plot:

You’re talking about something and you find it really hard to explain what you want to say. You know you’re saying the right words, but it doesn’t kick. And the other person just doesn’t see the same picture in his head. This is us on stage tonight, with what’s going on…

Granted, it’s easy to throw armchair psychoanalysis at pop stars, whose real lives are often completely different and well-guarded, but that’s what made Smith’s awkward, obstinate behavior in the mid-nineties so much more glaring.

The interviewer is really not doing his job well, but there are dozens of even more uncomfortable moments with the press in that year. It really did seem Smith was bitter about losing fans, and possibly his status. He was not aging gracefully, somewhat in a physical sense, but moreso emotionally. As a once-feted Rock Star attempting to reengage with a world obsessed with trends like nationalist Britpop, jungle techno and the ass-end of grunge, he was often treated as an anachronism by interviewers, and without the record sales or radio play to shove in their faces, it was a bitter pill.

Following on the breakout success of "Lovesong" (#2 US) and its eventually triple-platinum parent 1989 LP Disintegration, 1992’s Wish was a definitive “smash hit”. The album debuted at #1 in the UK, and quickly reached #2 in America, selling 1.3 million copies. Its saccharine pop single, “Friday I’m in Love”, was good for #6 UK/#18 US on the singles charts. Four years later, Wild Mood Swings sold barely more than 350,000 copies, and its catchiest single, “Mint Car” peaked at only #58. The world was not yet ready for another Cure album, and it let Robert Smith know in no uncertain terms.

By the turn of the next century, the Cure had been lying low for a few years, digesting this existential career turmoil while enjoying a surely comfortable standard of living. Ultimately though, Robert Smith wasn’t going to go out on a bum note: he cared too much about the Cure as a concept, and Bloodflowers was, if not a revelation, confirmation that he understood what people cherished most in his music.

Still, there was some grumbling about the marketing value of the word “Trilogy” in 2002, because fans had been referring to the band’s classic morbid-youth LPs from 1980-1982 (Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography) as “The Trilogy” since the late 1980s. The Trilogy shows weren’t an unqualified success—particularly the Pornography set ("Siamese Twins" and "The Figurehead" were great; "Short Term Effect" less so)—but the Disintegration midsection was outstanding, and fans were only too happy to know what they’d be getting in advance. All told, last year’s Reflections gala was more enjoyable for its lighthearted, matter-of-fact inauspiciousness, and it seems the Cure have lately moved into a period of unpretentious self-celebration. Which is exactly what so many fans had hoped for in the 2000s.