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Exploring the Back Catalogue

Started by SueC, January 26, 2020, 02:58:00

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Well, I started annotating the lyrics to The Reasons Why but wasn't enjoying the process with this one, so I'm going to leave it.  I want to finish with this album so I can start listening to the two others that have arrived.

So, Freakshow.  It's not a song I particularly enjoy, but it's not the worst thing they've done either; however, it does contain one of the worst guitar sounds that ever came out of The Cure - that bit in the middle that sounds like a dentist's drill.  :1f632:

And so to the lyrics:


I can't believe it, I must be dreaming
She turns the sound down
Says, "I am heaving
This is a freakshow"

...did someone not appreciate the narrator's musical taste / TV programme?   :winking_tongue   This is actually very funny!  Both the over-the-top comment, and the narrator's disbelief at the situation.  And while this could be a million scenarios, it's very funny to imagine it as a husband-wife interaction.  :lol:  There's this sense of throwing down the gauntlet here.

And I am screaming
She spins the world round
I want to stop
Bittersweet again
Her opening move
Down and out in black
Soft shiny and smooth
Looks like the alien
Crowd got groove
She burns her name into my arm
But I can never get through
To play the game
She's trying to lose
Her ultraviolet makes it
Harder to choose

Mmm, tealeaves again.  Opening move to what?  A metaphorical dance?  The references to ultraviolet and the alien crowd are pretty impenetrable.  Ultraviolet to me personally has connotations of danger - because it burns you and causes skin cancer, so it's a rather unfriendly part of the spectrum of light.  But, that doesn't remotely mean any such connotation was intended by the author.  All I'm really getting here is the fuzzy sense that this is some kind of murky relationship interaction / commentary.

Looks like the edge
Of the earth got moved
She blurs a way across the floor
I spin to swallow the view
And it's the same sway
Yeah, it's the same slide
It's the same stare, oh
It's the same smile
Yeah, it's the same but
It's not quite right
Oh, it's insane
She shakes like a freak
Stuck in the middle
Of the room for a week

Looks like the only way
To get on the beat
Is take her up on how to swing
But I am missing my feet
And it's the same sway
Yeah, it's the same slide
It's the same stare, oh
It's the same smile
Yeah, it's the same but
It's not quite right
I'm in a step, out
She two more steps down
For three steps up, clap
And go around, ow

Still some sort of metaphorical dance - or maybe this is some kind of preliminary courtship ritual?  :angel

It makes my head buzz
She wants to come now
I try to stop
Always infra dig her
Finishing move
Up and down in black
Soft shiny and smooth
Looks like the alien
Crowd got groove
She cuts a number out my arm
But I can never get through
To play this game
She's trying to lose
The stuff from Mars
Makes it harder to choose

I remember when I first listened to this, joking to a friend, "What is this about?  Kinky sex?  Or just walking the dog?"  Clearly not about walking the dog.  There's something rather off-balance here though.

Looks like the final frontier got moved
She blurs a way across the floor
I spin to swallow the view
And it's the same sway
Yeah, it's the same slide
It's the same strip, oh
It's the same smile
Yeah, it's the same
But it's not quite right
I can't believe it, I must be dreaming
She turns the lights up
Says she is leaving
This is a freakshow

And I am beaten
She spins the world round

So - what?  The choice of music / viewing was objected to, there was some kind of bizarre courtship ritual that may or may not have involved actual dancing, or maybe it's a metaphor, there was some kind of consummation, and then the woman says, "Wham-bam thankyou mister, I'm going now!"?  ...and it looks like she won that round, anyway.  And that the narrator kinda likes her spinning the world around.

Your guess is as good as mine.  Feel free to help me out here!

Oh heck, while I'm here I may as well address a few other songs, so I can get this over with.  Sirensong is not the kind of song I get the urge to listen to over and over; I find it musically middling, and if I had to express how much I relate to its lyrics, I would have to use negative numbers.  This time the lyrics aren't inscrutable, and I find some of the ideas in it thoroughly offputting.  It's not that I don't think men get attracted to women, and vice versa, and other combinations, but it's the bilge that goes with it in some popular songs that I don't like.  This whole "she had me in her magic spell" concept is just so cheap, to me, as if you're not a free agent, as if we've not moved on from the idea of women as temptresses or "uncovered meat" - Australians will understand the reference, famously made by a particularly daft imam - not that all imams are daft, but this one was, about women, and about men not accepting responsibility for their own sexual desires, and I'm disappointed Robert Smith is blowing out of that same old jaded horn.  "And I was tricked," my backside, unless it's a reference to sexual biochemistry, in which case I'll pass it - but not if it's another limp reiteration of, "It was Eve's fault, she offered me the apple!"

Interested people can look up the lyrics and form their own impressions.  To me though, there's nothing magical about this song, or this description of a sexual attraction / interaction; it's too stuffed with passing the buck, not accepting responsibility, poor-me-I-can't-help-myself.   And the finish of it is in the same vein: 

My whole life hanging
On a single word
To be hers evermore
Or mine alone

This is not a healthy way to think about love and partnership, this is basically codependency again - thinking that another person has that much power over you (and that you're willing to give it up to them), and that this is OK with you.  A healthy relationship doesn't have that kind of power imbalance or those kinds of power games.  And the concept of ownership - that in a relationship, the other person owns you (and/or you them) - that's just way off.  You each own your own self and share it with the other - but perhaps that's too unromantic, or not dramatic enough for some people.

You see a lot of these misconceptions about love in songs written by young people, but to see this one coming from a middle-aged person is a bit disappointing.  It really is a pity they don't do thorough relationships education in schools, since so many people have the misfortune to grow up in dysfunctional families, and then have to learn the hard way through their 20s and beyond (and some never do).  And I don't care if the author agrees with the narrator here or not, it just perpetuates stuff that I personally really think is unhelpful rubbish.  It does not particularly invite you to critique the viewpoint, it's just flat and there and not the kind of thing I want to spend my time listening to.

The Real Snow White perhaps does invite critique of attitudes (or perhaps not) - I'll deal with that next time.

SueC is time travelling


Confession time:  When I was listening to the B-sides collection, I liked most of the material from CDs 2-4, and some of the things I wasn't so keen on at first kind of grew on me, like Doing The Unstuck, despite its Playschool vibes.  I think that's something of a parallel to my acutely disliking the songs Love Cats and Why Can't I Be You as a teenager, but then actually beginning to like them in midlife, when I had unwound a bit and was starting to have fun in ways I simply didn't as a youngster.  So there you go, our tastes can change - just like I started eating avocado with relish in my mid-20s, after abhorring the taste as a kid; or giving myself a push to try sashimi when the fish had been caught and prepared that very morning by a work colleague I trusted (and I've eaten it ever since).

But the confession I have to make is that the opposite is happening for me with much of 4:13 Dream.  When I first listened to it, I was thinking, "OK, it's The Cure on holidays."  It does have a cruisy kind of vibe.  And I do really like the first three songs, that part has not changed - but after that, things are getting murky for me, and I'm actually liking a lot of the songs less the more I listen to them.  I've wondered why that is.

In part it's issues with lyrics - that with some of the songs, as I'm getting to know the lyrics, I'm finding myself objecting to viewpoints presented, whether or not actually endorsed.  Or I'm wishing that there was more clarity and less "read the tealeaves" - and that has me wondering whether Mr Smith is sometimes trying to write lyrics to go with a song-under-construction, rather than having lyrics and setting those to music - not that it's necessarily a binary thing.

The most wishy-washy of U2's early albums lyrically is October - where Bono famously lost his folder with the prepared lyrics just before they were booked into the studio, and had to recreate from memory, and in some cases just ad-lib.  So, some of the songs got a bit murky lyrically, which was not the case for the albums immediately before and after.  But in general, Bono writes above-average lyrics which reflect a wide-ranging literary diet, and an intimacy around language.  He generally writes clearly, and has a sense of the words he's using - and much as I've not liked some of his preachiness through the 90s especially, and am kind of rubbed up the wrong way a lot these days when I hear him talk, I still really respect his feel for language, and the way he often paints with words.

Mike Scott is another favourite lyricist, for similar reasons, as is Suzanne Vega, and it's nice to know they're still on the same planet as the rest of us, after all these years, which is where they have the edge on Bono (hahaha, sorry, I only just realised the pun :lol:), whose own lovely wife described him as being "unencumbered by reality" and I laughed so much when I heard that!

So Robert Smith is a funny one.  I do think he's on the same planet as the rest of us most of the time, and I don't wince when I hear him interviewed (although I don't always agree with him either).  I don't think he goes around thinking he knows vastly more than he actually does, while I do think Bono does (he has some really obvious blind spots), despite of the fact that I would also wager that Bono has read more seriously and more widely than Robert Smith over the course of his lifetime, and spent more hours in total with his nose in a book.  That's my professional hunch, from being an educator for 20 years.  I think Robert Smith possibly has less cognitive bias than Bono (we all have cognitive bias to some extent) and possibly is less invested in his working hypotheses of the world - but I obviously haven't sat down and tested them on these parameters.  It's just that I've read a lot of student essays, poetry and creative writing in my life, from students I knew reasonably well as people, and have noticed certain patterns that correlate with these parameters, so that when I'm reading someone's lyrics it's going through that same analytical machinery, and I think about it as I would student work, with the same interest in the person behind the work.

Robert Smith has written some fabulous lyrics, but also some pretty ordinary ones.  I think he's generally improved with age and experience there.  I love a lot of the music that has come from The Cure, but not all of it, and one of the occasionally repeating friction points with material from this band for me is lyrics rubbing me up the wrong way, either because murky or a bit sloppy or because not that well thought through logically.  I think Robert Smith is better at painting with his guitar than he is at painting with words - and he's exceptionally good at painting with his guitar, from my perspective - I'm often holding my breath because so blown away by that.

So yeah, on 4:13 Dream, on closer acquaintance, some of the lyrics began to grate on me, and with Sirensong to the point of not wishing to play that track again at our house, when there are so many tracks I enjoy a lot more, both by this band and others.

But in addition to that, after the first three songs, some of the music, and some of the vocal delivery style, was also grating on me.  The Cure are so very good at doing gorgeously atmospheric soundscapes, and at playing together like a bunch of string players rather than a bunch of people competing for attention, that it's kind of odd to get moments on this album where I'm actually putting my hands over my ears because the guitar is so screechy and annoying.  OK, I get it, you can't always do things the same way artistically or you become a caricature of yourself.  And aesthetics are so debatable - what is beautiful?  What sounds beautiful?  And yes, a lot of that is in the eyes and ears of the beholder.  Additionally, artists have the unalienable right to experiment with their work, and if they want to do something differently, then so they should, even if the result isn't enjoyable to the majority of people.  Heck, much of the music I listen to is alternative, and I tend not to like music that the majority likes, and to like the least, out of The Cure's catalogue, the songs that were popular hits for them (people gotta eat, musicians actually and audiences have different tastes which it is right to cater for).

And having said that, onto the next song.


You've got what I want

Oh yeah!
It's only for the night
And I will give it back tomorrow I swear
She can barely breathe
Don't stare
I know the dress is tight
But it was all I had to wear
Give me what I need
Please share
You know it's only right
And I would never lie to you
I wouldn't dare

I made a promise to myself
I wouldn't start with anyone else but
You know how it is with these promises
Made in the heat of the moment

They're made to be broken in two
Sometimes the only thing to do

Oh no!
It's all coming back
How I came to in a sticky three-day hole
Didn't see the sign
Go slow
Too busy tuning static on the radio
She hissed it in a song
Don't go
It always fades to black
But that's why I love the trip
It's so inevitable

I made a promise to myself
I wouldn't start with anyone else but
You know how it is with these promises
Made in the heat of the moment

They're made to be less than they seem
Whenever you've got what I need

And you've got what I need
For service with a smile
I have to walk in on my hands
And roll for free
You say it's all the same
You're not the real snow white
The real snow white is on my knee
I didn't need to get ID
It's simply minimum height
And getting all dressed up
In seven ways to please

I made a promise to myself
I wouldn't start with anyone else but
You know how it is with these promises
Made in the heat of the moment

They're made to be broken one day
If there's no time to get away

She wasn't made to shine
She was really only ever made to glow
I left her in the dark
No show
Quiet svcking on a line
It was a tricky gun to load
And I didn't get to fire
She's off to work for time
I should have finished out with higher
Up than low

I made a promise to myself
I wouldn't start with anyone else but
You know how it is with these promises
Made in the heat of the moment

They're made before right becomes wrong
Whenever you've got what I want

And you've got what I want
Oh yeah!
It's only for the night
And I will give it back tomorrow
I swear

As I mentioned at the end of the last post, I have a feeling this song caricatures and exposes an attitude about relationships, and holds it up for critique.  If that's the case, it's certainly effective, because the long descriptive parts in the song especially repel me to the point of physical nausea.  This is a universe I have thankfully never visited, although I saw portals to it all around me, and this way of doing things has always personally deeply repelled me.  If that's what other people want to do, fine, but not with me (and various people did want to do that with me, unsuccessfully I might add, and it made me want to throw up).

That stuff is the complete opposite of what I actually have in my life, and what I treasure above anything.  I do have difficulty understanding what draws some people to apparently prefer a modus operandi of disposable relationships, using other people and throwing them away, running from thrill to thrill, saying whatever they need to say to get what they want (and this to me is the especially disgusting part - because that is then no longer an informed and mutually consenting transaction, but a way of deceiving another person).  It's not even as if the sex is going to be any better (and there's statistics to back this up, e.g. listen here); but I suppose some people get their kicks out of feeling powerful, and bigger and more important than another person, and/or they think that the more people they bed, the more desirable it proves they are, and they prefer operating on that shallow level to the idea of real intimacy with another human being.  Or maybe, those people are just simple stimulus-response machines without much central processing capacity.  Search me.  I'm a child of the 80s and my leaving yearbook was filled with professed aims in life like:

- To go to Paris and get laid as much as possible
- To be rich by age 25 and never have to work another day
- To drive a Ferrari and marry a supermodel

...and all the me-me-me of it all made me want to throw up; as indeed does all the me-me-me in contemporary Australian society - most recently demonstrated with the hoarding of toilet paper - congratulations, people, you now have enough toilet paper for a year, while old Mrs Jones down the road is wiping her backside with rags, are you proud of that?  ...and also amply demonstrated, during the course of "normal" Australian times, by road rage, pushing into queues, people throwing rubbish out of their car windows, scammers emailing us on a daily basis, and no longer being able to answer our telephone to unknown numbers because we're assailed by telemarketers and answering such calls only encourages them - to give but a few examples - and none of this is necessary - if only people had respect for each other, themselves and the biosphere that supports us.

So yeah, I hope The Real Snow White is intended as a critique, and I think it probably is.  Why does this song strike me as a caricature, when Sirensong didn't particularly?  Well, in part because it's even more preposterous, and because Robert Smith is definitely hamming all this up vocally, whereas the tone of Sirensong didn't seem to suggest a caricature, at least to me.  If you don't know a person from a bar of soap, it can be difficult to tell whether they're serious or being the devil's advocate.

I personally think there's clues even in the opening, which really goes like this:

You've got what I want
YOU've got what I want
You've GOT what I want
You've got WHAT I want
You've got what *I* want
You've got what I WANT

...and the whole It's only for the night / And I will give it back tomorrow, I swear is just completely ridiculous, although I have to say, it's not as if some people don't believe completely ridiculous things like this - but these follow-up lines just tip it over the edge for me:  Give me what I need / Please share / You know it's only right / And I would never lie to you / I wouldn't dare.

Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal is often used in senior high school classrooms to introduce the idea of satire.  Students generally get it without having to be spoonfed - that the author doesn't actually mean what he's saying, he's using it to caricature other people's attitudes he's objecting to.  In part it might be the familiarity of many with Gulliver's Travels that helps this recognition - and in part it's because it's just so over-the-top to suggest cannibalism as a means of solving a social problem.

But here's an example that used to be easily recognised by young people as satire, and now, not so much:

For quite a while after Live Aid back in 1984, young people were aware who Bob Geldof was and what his real feelings on social injustice were, so the majority of my students picked this song up as tongue-in-cheek immediately.  But, fast-forward to 2005, and I had my first class of 16-year-olds who sat like stunned mullets listening to this song, getting progressively more outraged by the perceived flippancy and nonchalance of the nasty piece of work singing it.  And then I had to calm them down and tell them something about Bob Geldof.

I was initially thinking, "Wow, was something in the water the year these people were conceived?  Not a single person wondered if this might be satire."  But, irrespective of this, I do think that if you're not familiar with the context of a piece, or with an author's actual views, then it can be very difficult to pick something as satire or not, especially since so many outrageous suggestions are made on a daily basis these days that people do actually fully mean.

So you might say to me, "Sue, the author of this Cure song has been married for umpteen years to someone he met back in high school and he seems to worship the ground she treads upon, I can cite you so many songs, so why can't you obviously pick it as satire?"

It's because I don't actually know this person, and because the subject of people's love relationships is really complicated.  You can't assume, even if someone has been married 50 years, that they actually respect their partner (and I know examples of couples like this who really, really do not), even if they actually appear to, and everyone thinks they do; or that they're monogamous (and a heck of a lot of marriages are actually not).  Some people have flings on the side and are always accepted back, some people have open marriages where it's OK with both of them, at least at the outset, that you don't always dine at home, and they never actually promised each other sexual exclusivity, but had a different arrangement, and yet if you ask them, they say they really love each other, and this might actually be the case.  And I personally don't know how that works, and how that might get compartmentalised, so therefore I can't simply infer that any song that's obviously not about monogamy but written by a married person is therefore necessarily satire.

When I was doing my final teaching practicum for my Dip.Ed. I was hosted by a Science department which was unbelievably good fun.  By pure chance, my supervising teacher turned out to be the same teacher who had taught me Biology when I was a high school student, and he introduced me to his classes rather comically as, "This is the best student above and beyond that I have ever taught in my life, and I not infrequently changed answer keys because she picked up mistakes in them, and you would do well to attend to her if you'd like the chance to achieve a fraction of what she did."  But unless you knew me, or him, you wouldn't know if that was true or not, because it sounded like such a ham.  Anyway, most of us in that department got on great; these teachers were not only science geeks, but most of them really cared about their students, and this is not always the case.

And after about a week, we all started mock insulting each other. We would say the most outrageous things to each other's faces, like, "Yeah, what would a geriatric like you know about that?" or, "It is such a misery to be forced to work with a colleague like you!" or, "OMG, are you doing this answer key?  In that case I'll have to spend hours fixing it later!" or, "I pity your poor traumatised students!"  It was super hilarious because we actually respected each other very deeply.  So the male staff would make misogynistic jokes a lot around me, and one day I just looked at them, went over to the guillotine, lifted the blade, and then slowly, pointedly lowered it down, with a meaningful look around the room, and they all crossed their legs.  I was just laughing all the time.  It's a great anti-stress strategy, if you have the right kinds of colleagues.

One day we were all in full flight like this during recess, when unbeknownst to us, a new librarian entered the room, and when we noticed her, her jaw was basically on the ground.  She thought we meant these things!  :lol:  It really can be so hard to tell, if you don't know the people - and yet so obvious, when you do.

So there you go, satire and how to tell (or not).

The Hungry Ghost next time - and discussion on any or all of this is always incredibly welcome, so long as we all play nicely!  :)
SueC is time travelling