The Cure - Wild Mood Swings (1996)

Part 1 of “Was that album really that bad?”

Wild Mood Swings by The Cure is pretty universally abhorred. It is a pop album that actually managed to sell less than the preceding gothic dirge of Wish. While Robert Smith has verbally defended the album- actions speak louder than words, and only about two songs from this one seem to ever get played live (and rarely, at that).

One of these songs that Cure fans graciously accept into the canon is opener “Want”- it sounds a lot like the bile-spewing slow-burners like “End” and “Open” that characterised Wish. It’s really not a great track, having fairly obvious lyrics and little to distinguish itself musically. Overall, it is a comfortable song for The Cure to play, and a comforting song for listeners wanting more of the same.

The second track, also not hated by Cure fans, is much more interesting. On “Club America”, Smith whips out an unnaturally low sounding growl as he tackles the American clubbing scene. Over a borrowed Bowie riff (“The Man Who Sold the World”) he denounces those who “So carefully couldn’t care less/You’re really trying very hard to impress”. The conviction is there, and it’s an interesting twist for a band band that could have easily stuck to a very successful formula.

The album is at its best when it sticks to its edgy pop concept- “The 13th” (with more strange singing from Smith) and “Strange Attraction” are great pop tunes written with an almost Ray Davies-esque dedication to the craft. “Jupiter Crash” is a gorgeous adolescent sex ballad with interesting astrological analogies throughout and appropriately spacey production.

There are a lot of songs in the vein of 1992 hit “Friday I’m in Love”, but they all present an interesting enough twist of the formula to justify their existence. All of them, that is, except the actual lead single “Mint Car”- its somewhat forced-sounding happiness grates after about 30 seconds.

There are no true duds here, but some of the fat (notably "Want", “Return” and “Round & Round & Round”) could have been trimmed. Minor issues aside though; it’s hard to see, in retrospect, what’s so bad about this album- it is much less wearying (and more interesting) than the overly-comfortable Wish.

If an attempt to make a great pop album fails to chart then it is a conceptual failure. Just ignore that technicality, because Wild Mood Swings is a truly rewarding listen, both for sugary pop hits and for some interesting lyrics and textures that you won’t hear on any other Cure album. Because, sadly, thanks to the backlash against this record, Smith has never been as daring or vital since- all the albums since this one have been absolutely fine, but he hasn't truly been able to escape the dreaded curse of second-guessing.


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