There is no other band in pop or rock who is able to master the balance between gloom and radiance quite like The Cure. And when it was released on May 2, 1989, no other album in their canon reflected both the darkness and light of their sound like Disintegration.
At its root, the band’s eighth LP was intended to be a return to the more oblique, gothic undertones of their landmark 1982 LP Pornography. The epic, synth-heavy pastiche of opening track “Plainsong,” “Closedown” and the nine-minute “The Same Deep Water As You” all remain beacons of beautiful sorrow that seemed miles away from the pop vibrancy of such mid-80s faves as The Head On The Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.
Disintegration — and this particular classic lineup of The Cure, comprised of fearless leader and vastly underrated guitar hero Robert Smith; longtime bassist Simon Gallup; guitarist Pearl Thompson; drummer Boris Williams; keyboardist Roger O’Donnell; and original drummer Lol Tolhurst, who didn’t play but provided the basis for the song “Homesick” — managed to channel the pop maneuvering of songs like “The Love Cats,” “Close To Me” and “Just Like Heaven” into a dark wave of black romance throughout the record’s 72 minutes.
Each of the four singles Disintegration provided more momentum for The Cure’s visibility and success on charts across the globe. And while songs like “Fascination Street,” “Lullaby” and “Pictures of You” did, in fact, make an impact on the Billboard charts (“Fascination” peaked at No. 1 on the Alternative Songs chart), it was the album’s most pop-positive moment, “Lovesong,” that skyrocketed them to the No. 2 position on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as largely universal acclaim to music listeners beyond the goth crowd. (For example, Nebraska skate-metal bros 311 covered the song for the soundtrack to the 2004 Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore romcom 50 First Dates, while Adele tackled the tune on her second album 21.)
“Despite making challenging music that deals with the biggest themes, their impact has been gigantic,” proclaimed Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails in his speech inducting The Cure into the 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “They’ve sold the best part of who gives a shit how many million records and been an essential touchstone in the genres of post-punk, new wave, goth, alternative, shoegaze and post-rock. They’ve been in and out of fashion so many times in the last four decades that they ended up transcending fashion itself. Though they might be a hip name to drop in 2019, this wasn’t always the case. Their dedication to pushing sonic and artistic boundaries while making music for the ages wasn’t always rewarded with glowing reviews in the press. But they never failed to attract a passionate, intelligent and loyal fanbase who always knew the truth: The Cure are one of the most unique, most brilliant, most heartbreakingly excellent rock bands the world has ever known.”
Billboard had the pleasure to speak with several artists (and WWE color commentator Corey Graves) from across the sonic divide to get the impression left by Disintegration on their creative ears. It’s hard to believe an album like this that floats along in such an ageless atmosphere is 30 years old, but here we are. And here’s what they had to say.
Disintegration is mood music done right. Never goes against itself. A lot of moody records forget to write great songs. This one has it all. – Todd Fink, The Faint
Disintegration landed on me at just the right time. We’d just finished making our first record, and though I should have felt on top of the world, I felt unsettled and unsure. A lot of bands I’d loved growing up in the ’80s, like the Cure, were breaking up or changing their sound. But when I heard Disintegration, I knew that all was right in the world. Or maybe indeed all was wrong in the world. “Pictures of You” in particular captured all I’d always loved about the Cure and where I was at. A darkly comforting record. – David Schelzel, The Ocean Blue
I’m such a sucker for a melody with an emotional delivery, and that’s every song on this record. I remember being a kid and hearing “Lovesong” for the first time on the radio — the simple, repetitive melody line that almost sounds like a depressing nursery rhyme coupled with Robert Smith’s beautiful quivering voice just pulled on all my heart strings. It makes the song feel super familiar even when you haven’t heard it in a long time. – Rebecca Haviland, Rebecca Haviland & Whiskey Heart
I dug Disintegration and its slight return to a darker sound – even though “Lovesong” and “Pictures of You” are great pop songs too of course. I was a huge Seventeen Seconds fan. Seemed like there was a bit of a resurgence for them around that time, not least due to Dinosaur Jr.’s cover of “Just Like Heaven” that had come out not long before.
We went into a studio somewhere around this time and there were DATs lying around which had ‘The Cure’ written on them! They can’t have been for this album I don’t think but I think they were different mixes of songs with working titles. We respectfully left them alone I hasten to add! In fact I think the rest of Swervedriver met the rest of The Cure there, minus Robert, so perhaps they had swung by to collect them.
I did meet Robert a year later in an office because we shared a sleeve designer in Andy Vella. Andy introduced us and I just thought it was Andy’s biker mate Robert because this guy had long hair down to his shoulders, a bit of a beard and wore a beaten up denim jacket. It took a couple of seconds to twig it was Mr. Smith! I reckon he can walk down Oxford Street unmolested because people wouldn’t recognize him without the smudged lipstick, eyeliner and backcombed hair, which is quite clever really. I hope I haven’t blown his cover there! – Adam Franklin, Swervedriver
In 1989, I was 18 years old and madly in love for the first time. Like virtually all first loves, mine was very intense, very serious, and very, very doomed. During this time, Disintegration came out. It was almost as if Smith & Co. had written the soundtrack to that last summer I would spend at home with my girlfriend before leaving for college, and we listened to it constantly. To this day, I cannot listen to any track on it without being transported back to those languid summer days, and recalling the crushing weight of those new and unfamiliar emotions on my youthful shoulders — Disintegration evokes the most delicious echoes of sadness within me. Now, listening to the album with far more mature ears, I know I was extremely lucky to have it during that time of my life — the album is immaculate, and holds up to this day in every aspect. I could be stuck with some atrocious top 40 pop pablum to remember my first love by, a regrettable aural history I would have to brush off as the collateral damage of inexperience and teenage angst. Instead, I have a sonically huge and thematically deft masterpiece to bookmark that unique time in my life. You only fall in love for the first time once, and there is only one Disintegration. I was lucky to have both at the same time, and one of them is still in heavy rotation in my life. – D. Randall Blythe, Lamb of God vocalist
There was a radio station in New York called WLIR that I would listen to all the time. They played a lot of music from overseas, so this was when I started hearing bands like Depeche Mode, The Smiths and The Cure. I always liked certain things about The Cure – they had a song called “Let’s Go To Bed,” one called “The Walk,” “Boys Don’t Cry.” I always liked them but I wasn’t really a big fan. It wasn’t until 1984/85 that I heard The Head on the Door that I became a really big fan. That record changed things for me and I was hooked. But Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me solidified that I was a 100% a fan of The Cure. That record was so awesome, the single “Just Like Heaven” was a perfect song from start to finish, it was just beautiful. The record that came next was Disintegration, and it was the complete opposite sound and record than Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was. Kiss Me had a lot of pop-type songs while Disintegration had a lot of dark songs on it. I always felt that Disintegration sounded the best when it was raining outside. I remember one time sitting in my bunk while on tour, listening to that record in the dark and it was just perfect. “Plainsong,” “Fascination Street” and “Lovesong” were on that record; and of course “Pictures of You.” I loved everything about that song. The Cure was writing songs that were dark, but yet the melodies that were being created were just beautiful. I saw The Cure last night on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and out of all of the bands on there, they were the best. They sounded and looked like The Cure, as they always do. – Charlie Benante, Anthrax
I got into The Cure backwards. I was working at a record store in high school; I think I was in 9th or 10th grade. And one of the managers would always play Galore, which was the greatest hits album that came out at the time. I knew of The Cure back then, but I never heard them properly. So back in the days of the six-disc CD changer, Galore would always be in rotation on my shifts, and I began thinking, ‘Man, this Galore album is incredible.’ So I then started going backwards into their catalog, and then I realized that about half of Galore was actually Disintegration. I just listened to it again for the first time in a while, and wow, what an incredible record from start to finish. – Corey Graves, WWE color commentator
For the opening song on [the new Cranberries album] In The End, I used “Pictures of You” as the influence with the long intro. They’re completely different songs, but I got the inspiration from that long run on the guitar Robert Smith does on that track. The first time I got to see The Cure in concert was on the Prayer tour in 1989. They came to Dublin, where I saw them. And the biggest thing I remember from the show was how those intros would go on for ages. The combination of Robert’s guitar playing and the synths that were used so prominently on Disintegration, really brought the whole experience of seeing them to another level in concert. I know the lineup has changed over the years, but the good thing with the change is that a different element would come in and would bring in a new flair to what Robert Smith was doing at the time. But the way the band came together in 1989 with the guitars and the synths really took it to a whole new stratosphere. – Noel Hogan, The Cranberries
The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the title Disintegration is sitting in a hotel courtyard after our show in Athens drinking some sort of Greek vin blanc until dawn with Robert. At some point I asked him if 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia was still his favorite record and he said he couldn’t even listen to it anymore because he broke up with his girlfriend, (whatever, big wuss). And then he said “Courtney, this record is making your band huge and it’s going to be the worst time of your life.”
“Listen. When we released Disintegration, we went back out on tour, but this time we were playing stadiums. I would walk out onstage every night and on the part of the crowd directly before me, I would see hundreds of white baseball caps… and most of them not on frontwards! It was the most depressing time of my life.”
Well, turns out he was right. Seems that for any real artist, fame takes all the fun out of getting rich. Fuckin’ Disintegration. – Courtney Taylor-Taylor, The Dandy Warhols
My parents had introduced me to The Cure when I was younger, and I remember I quickly became obsessed. I spent a whole weekend going through their entire catalog. Of all the albums, Disintegration became the first Cure album I ever truly fell in love with. Nobody does love and heartbreak quite like Robert Smith. “Pictures of You,” in particular, became my all-time favorite Cure song. Few lyricists have the gift of writing something timeless that pulls at your heart no matter what your age or sex. Disintegration pulled me out of some of the biggest emotional chasms I’ve ever fallen down, by pushing me through them. Sometimes you need to allow yourself the luxury of feeling the lows in life… And know that you aren’t the only one that feels them. – Emily Lazar, September Mourning
Disintegration is the quintessential Cure record for me. I can’t help but feel a joyous sorrow and hopeful despair, adrift in a dark sea of emotion, when I play these songs. It’s like being buoyed up by a love song that is deeper than the sea itself. The songs, the production, that bass line on “Fascination Street” are a defining statement in music that I still go back to. “Lovesong” lives in my heart, always. – Greg Norton, Husker Du/Porcupine
As a kid I remember being heart broken by a girl at elementary school and I used to play “Pictures Of You” of The Cure and just cry my eyes out. Now I look back at those times and think how great it was to have their music be part of my personal soundtrack.” – Vega De La Rocha, Metalachi
The main influence that The Cure’s Disintegration had on me, at about the time when I was just starting to work with Nine Inch Nails, was the album’s sheer focus of will to completely envelope the listener in the mood that Robert Smith envisioned. I had loved the previous albums The Head on the Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me for their breadth of landscape, how each song touched on different moods and energies yet maintained this great pop thread that was still always purely The Cure. Disintegration, however, was like a hammer to the head reminder that no one could plunge you into a Gothic abyss like Robert Smith and company, and not let you come up for air until the record was done. It reminded you that you could still be totally consumed by any emotion as if you were 15 and in love for the first time, and in pain for the first time, and alone for the first time, and free for the first time. Pure genius. Still jealous. – Sean Beavan, 8MM
One of my favorite Cure albums was Pornography, when it came out, and I had thought that was untouchable until the Cure came out with Disintegration—which made me crazy about them all over again.
Disintegration, such a beautifully dark album…not a pop album like its predecessor (Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me). Sure songs like, “Pictures of You,” and “Lovesong,” were hella popular on alternative radio, but that didn’t mean those tracks were poppy happy tunes. On the contrary, those songs were really sad in a love-lost way. When I hear “Lovesong,” “Fascination Street,” “Last Dance,” and ESPECIALLY the song “Lullaby,” I have the most melancholy feelings stir inside me…I’m captivated and in love with the gloominess of it all. Heavy emotions! This album makes me think of an ex-girlfriend I had as well, vividly, and morosely. But I actually love those feelings, and therein lies the brilliance of this album because it makes one embrace the cheerless-yet-catchy nature of this entire album. And I’m not the only one who feels this way as Disintegration has gone on to Gold and multi-Platinum status worldwide. Disintegration, one of the greatest albums of the ’80s, nothing like it, ever…an album that has had a profound effect on me to this day.… — Jeremy Wagner, Broken Hope guitarist & best-selling author of Rabid Heart
Disintegration was the first album that spoke – in its entirely – to the very core of my heart. I wasn’t exactly sure what Robert Smith was actually talking about most of the time, but I knew he MEANT IT. My first big concert experience without my parents was a pilgrimage to the Worcester Centrum Enormodome to see the Disintegration tour, and the moment when the opening chords of “Plainsong” exploded through that space changed me fundamentally: it was the first time I understood the massive spiritual potential of live music. There’s also something about the production on that record – the specific sounds of those synthesizer patches – that captures a moment in time for me. I still get goosebumps listening to those opening chords of “Plainsong”…there’s never been a more luscious and bittersweet sound on earth than those two major chords, exploding back and forth. What’s so incredible about The Cure and Robert Smith’s songwriting is their ability to exist in the dark while emanating light: it’s their signature paradox and the secret of their genius. If you look at the album as a whole, it kicks off with THREE songs in major (read: “happy”) keys: “Plainsong,” “Pictures of You” and “Closedown.” Then they head for the dark jugular and the following EIGHT songs are in minor keys – the brooding minor-synth sounds people had come to expect from The Cure. Then “Untitled” closes the album in a major key again. It’s a dark minor-key sandwich in major-key bread. And none of that would have been an accident: Robert Smith has said himself that he got very clever at making their darkness palatable to a wider audience by design. If I look at my latest album as an example, I can see the lineage and influence clearly: Robert Smith has been one of my greatest songwriting teachers. He taught me how to suck people in with hooks and major keys in order to feed them the medicinal dark that actually does a better job at nourishing their souls. Once a goth, always a goth, even if I’m writing in a major key. – Amanda Palmer
I vividly recall standing in my aunt and uncle’s kitchen the summer before my freshman year when my cousin discovered that a new Cure record had been released. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was the first music I’d owned by the fascinating band and anticipation for the new music was high. After much begging and a trip to Tower Records in her folks’ Volvo, we sat in her room, her in Guess jeans, me in an ill-fitting, splattered Kiss Me tee, and listened. We couldn’t believe what we’d heard. It was otherworldly, beautiful, and transcendent. I burned through my dub of Disintegration during first year of high school. The next summer, my first love would put on the CD during our secret make-out sessions in the hills. Thirty years later, after countless nights of twirling to “Fascination Street” in the clubs, I still listen in awe and appreciation of one of the best records of all time. – Davey Havok, AFI
In high school in the mid-80s I was always hearing about older friends of mine attending a Cure concert an hour or two away and I was always feeling like I was missing out on something. I loved a few of their singles like “Lovecats” and “Just Like Heaven.” Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was on heavy rotation in my bedroom. By the time that was out I was out of school and haunting the streets of late-80s L.A., so things get blurry as far as release schedules and song titles. I was too busy scratching and surviving to notice when Disintegration came out. But it contains some fine music for sure. “Lovesong is a brilliant pop single and definitely one of the finest of the decade. – Luther Russell
Disintegration is one of those albums that bridged so many gaps…emotionally, musical genre, and even socially. The songwriting was lightning in a bottle on that album and hold a sincerity that will last forever. I remember being a young metalhead and hearing interviews with people like Jonathan Davis from Korn and Chino Moreno from the Deftones talk about the Disintegration album and saving up my allowance to go buy the CD and I was totally blown away by what I heard. There are lots of elements in what I’m writing for Brave the Royals that are inspired by Disintegration. – Brian Vodinh, 10 Years/Brave the Royals
Disintegration was the first record that I remember really hearing how negative space really made the songs work. The absence of notes is a huge part of what makes those songs vibe. Their choice of what not to play is as important as the notes that are playing. – Colin Brittain, producer (All Time Low, Dashboard Confessional, A Day to Remember, 5 Seconds of Summer, Papa Roach, Avicii)
The Cure was, by far, my favorite band growing up. I was the kid with all the cassettes, all the b-sides, all the books, all the posters you name. I took refuge in the fact The Cure celebrated being totally unique and owned their art and music from album to album, but most especially on Disintegration. I grew with them as they evolved and ultimately they inspired me to find my own voice and path as an artist and musician. They’re still one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen! – David Scotney, JANUS/Music For Good
I remember having a sense of curiosity about who you have to be in order to create such a dense mood and atmosphere. I was young at the time my older brother played Disintegration on repeat. I’d come home from school to this beautiful dark, haunting sound coming from upstairs and think, that is the saddest voice I’ve ever heard. – Imani Coppola
Disintegration demanded my full attention; it’s not an album that I could simply have on in the background, or while driving. It is a brilliant mix of darkness and light, and to me, it’s more ethereal and hypnotic than gothic and gloomy. It sounded immensely powerful and different; and in particular, here in the states, where a lot of what was on the radio, and on MTV at the time, was samey and overtly commercial sounding. The bass guitar growl on “Fascination Street” sucked me right in. This record was a game changer, and it has stood the test of time. I think it’s their benchmark album. – Jenn Vix
The Cure is easily one of, if not my favorite band of all time. One of the few people I don’t actually want to meet is Robert Smith, as his songs have been a companion of mine since I was a kid, and in a strange, selfish way I’d kind of like to actually keep it that way. I’ll never forget picking up Staring At The Sea: The Singles at my local used record store and the vast world of imagination that opened up to me. In a sense, the songs of The Cure really helped shaped areas of my life. The pop sensibilities were a guiding light for me in my teenage years, while learning to write my own songs. As I began delving more deeply into the catalog, Disintegration and its sonic concoction of deeply affected, yet still very human sounds using the bass vi, the Solina string ensemble, cavernous drums, and occasional reverberant wind chimes took me to a different place that I still find myself often wanting to revisit more often than other albums within the (Cure’s) discography. The dark nature of Disintegration mixed with its elements of gold songwriting prowess I always liken to a glass of dry Merlot with its deeply smoky yet still sweet inherent characteristics. Several years ago I wrote a lyric in a song that says “the Cars and the Pixies and the Cure ain’t gonna fix me,” however as time goes by, they seem to kind of do just that. — Bryce Avary, The Rocket Summer