I’m not a fan of The Cure, particularly. I am not nor have I ever been a Goth, and I laugh cruelly at Emos given the opportunity. I think Robert Smith looks ridiculous. But Mixed Up, a 1990 set of remixes and retakes (I own none of the original versions), which was poorly reviewed and sank like a stone on the charts, well, it’s just outstandingly great music. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.)
The Context · What the hell, I’m no expert. Go read the Wikipedia entries and you’ll know more about Mr. Smith and his hair and makeup and band-mates and context than I do. I was kind of ignoring English Rock at this point in history, I seem to remember. So I have no idea as to the Why or Where.
After I realized I was listening to this disk about as much as any other electric music in the inventory, and had been for a few years, I thought that maybe I’d actually like the Cure, but I bought a couple of records and didn’t really. Go figure.
The Music · I was in a record store in 1991 when the totally-hip clerk put on Fascination Street, and I realized I was standing still with my eyes closed listening to the instrumental breaks. So I bought it and took it home and put it on my own high-end system and found my mind expanding rapidly. Which is to say, this is a triumph of tasteful overproduction. There is very little electric music that sounds as good, turned up real loud, as this, and what there is, is Canadian-minimalist, as in the Cowboy Junkies or Neil Young. No minimalism here, the stack of layered textures is very deep; and yet, still lots of room between the notes. The “Produced by...” and “Remixed by...” credits are (barely) readable if you enlarge the scan above, and they’re very complex; but damn, whoever did it, it sounds wonderful.
But I have lots of audiophile showpieces that I never listen to; it’s music that keeps you coming back. There are eleven tracks here, seventy-plus minutes of music; some of it’s divine and the parts that are only OK still sound wonderful. Here are a few track highlights. The songs that don’t appear here aren’t losers, every second of this is fun to listen to. But here are the stand-outs:
Lullaby (Extended Mix): sets the mood; a cool, spacious, extended, rhythmically-witty funk workout.
Fascination Street (Extended Mix): Oh my goodness, the opening is heroic and symphonic and danceable all at once; spires of sound topple into shifting textures of tone and resolve into mainstream guitar-and-drums rock flourishes. Amazing. Then the vocals, well yeah, they’re whiny all right (and i'm begging to drag you down with me to kick the last nail in), but he’s not holding anything back, and he’s in the groove and on the beat; there’s genuine rock-&-roll desperation in the lyrics and it ends up soulful. Then the big instrumental freight train comes back, with the drums and guitars and synth bouncing off each other, fast and loud and still with lots of room between the notes. Oh, those drums-and-voice interludes.
The Walk (Everything Mix): Fast sliding rhythms run ahead of the beat, you
can’t hold still. The syntho fills are kinda generic, but well-placed.
Visiting time is over and so we walk away
we both play dead then cry out loud.
I kissed you in the water
and made your dry lips sing...
I called you after midnight
then ran until my heart broke.
I passed the howling woman
who stood outside your door.
I kissed you in the water...
Lovesong (Extended Mix): That’s what it is, a nice little sentimental love song with big sound, well-sung. Gosh, I feel all Emo, maybe I should grow my hair over one eye. Oops, don’t have it any more.
Pictures of You (Extended Dub Mix): I gather this was kind of a hit in its day. On this version, while the arrangement is more than lush, the instrumentals and orchestrations get out of the way and let the singing stand or fall. For my money, it stands. And the bass-line is super.
Never Enough: Oh, yes! To use the parlance of another era: Maximum Rock And Roll. Hard guitars, surging bass, desperate vocals. Well, maybe a little whiny. But that’s not unprecedented at the R&R pinnacle, you know (“no satisfaction”, “People try to put us down”, “How does it feel to be on your own” and so on).
Sampling It · Just go buy it. It’s cheap, $12.97 on Amazon when I checked just now. The sound is too good for MP3 and in terms of minutes of great music per dollar invested, you just can’t beat it.