The “faith” that defines and challenges the genre of The Cure 40 years later
Fiction (UK) / A&M (original US version) | Elektra (American reissue)
April 14, 1981
One of the most powerful post-punk albums in history was released 40 years ago last April. This album, Faith, by The Cure, not only helped shape post-punk sound, but he also deeply influenced popular music in ways that were both nuanced and obvious. At the same time, it is an album that defies easy classification, sculpting a singular soundscape and inhabiting its own claustrophobic universe.
The most salient, Faith is the album that cemented The Cure as a formative musical force, though the band’s most widely marketed albums, such as Kiss me kiss me kiss me (1987) and Disintegration (1989) are better known. Faith was the second in a trilogy that was inaugurated with the solemn celestial Seventeen seconds (1980) and culminated in the punitive nihilism of the 1982s Pornography.
In the mid-1980s, when I first discovered The Cure and feverishly bought all of their albums, Faith was not the one that stood out. It seemed I was unable to capture all of the album’s cosmic glory until my musical tastes matured, decades later. Today i find Faithbewitching glacial minimalism.
Faith, in a sense, could be considered a concept album. It focuses on the motif of faith as both a religious and a personal construct. All the songs openly or secretly address the subject. The eight songs on the compact Faith are marked by the haunting dirge, “The Holy Hour” and the more contemplative title song.
“The Holy Hour” is a musically sinister song and darkly introspective in terms of lyrics. Here, 22-year-old Robert Smith reflects on his agnostic inclinations – he attends a church service to explore his capacity for religious belief, only to find that he fiercely questions such a belief. In fact, the ecclesial environment ends up being an oppressive environment for him.
As well as exploring interesting themes, the lyrics present an interesting structure: each verse is syntactically similar to the previous one, and also reaches a climax in which the singer and lyricist desperately declares his inability to nurture a religious conviction:
I kneel down and wait in silence
like one by one people slip away
in the night
silent and empty bodies
kiss the ground before praying
and slip away …
I sit and listen without dreaming
a promise of salvation makes me stay
then look at your face
and feel my heart sink
as all around the children are playing
the games they got tired of yesterday
I get up and I hear my voice
a silent cry to ancient power
it crashes against the stone
I let you cry gently …
I can’t hold back what you devour
the sacrifice of penance
at holy hour
The Holy Hour of the Curé
These words resonate intensely with atheistic ideologies about the near futility of religion. The brooding music draws the listener into a transcendent trance. Smith had not fully developed his voice during the Faith recordings, and yet his ghostly voice has a strange influence, apparently emanating from an otherworldly cathedral.
“Faith”, the song has a captivating and dark beauty. It’s a fitting ending to an incredibly subtle album, and it expands on the ideas first hinted at in “The Holy Hour”, claiming that all that’s left is faith. Not a corrosive faith in supernatural gods, notice, but a more vibrant faith in mankind. The song nicely envelops the emotions of anger and anguish, and even the wonder and joy of being alive.
“Primary” is the second song on Faith and is the most optimistic number of an otherwise overcast album with dark skies. That’s not to say it’s a happy song, but it’s vigorously driven by upbeat bass guitars that purely embody post-punk ethics. Thematically, the song is a subject that Smith forever obsesses over “the inexorable decadence of youth as we move through life.”
“Other Voices”, the third track, is sublime for its cavernous and echoing vocal effects, and a bass line that betrays a vaguely funky beat. The poetic and dreamy “All Cats Are Gray” and the deliciously dark and somewhat cheesy “Funeral Party” further imbue the album with murky colors and a stark impressionistic feel.
“Doubt” is the song some fans claim to be the weakest on the album, a song that unsettles the album’s moody vibe with its frenzied punk aesthetic. But “Doubt” is an essential piece to move the album forward. Its vitriol offers a strange respite in such a catastrophic atmosphere; Sometimes melancholy is too much of an emotion and we need the exuberance of anger to help us refocus our energies.
“Drowning Man”, the penultimate song, is perhaps Faith’s centerpiece and the dark glue that holds it all together. The song was inspired by literary fantasy Gormenghast novels Peak Mervyne. In the story, Fuschia’s character ends up accidentally drowning due to grief. The song covers this aspect of the story. Musically, he embodies the icy sting of post-punk and captivates the senses with his drum pad and “claptrap” effects. It hypnotically captures the suffocating feeling of being washed away by a flood.
Faith comes from a haunted and solipsistic place. Every Cure album is full of merits, but Faith seems to be the one that arouses the most obsession. He seduces you into his tormented world, and try as best you can, you cannot escape it. You are drawn over and over again into the faith dark poetic soundscape.
To note: Celebrate Faith’40th anniversary, the album is pressed onto a picture disc for the first time. The new pressing was available exclusively as part of Record Store Day 2021.