This four-piece edition of The Robert Smith Band pulls off a tight performance in front of a festival crowd, but the mix that was released on the CD sometimes, like Best Buy, just doesn’t deliver. A few of the songs on the first disc come off as a little dry. The drums, especially, though well-played by Jason Cooper, sound a bit like dry cardboard. Smith’s approach is to present the sound as raw and live as it was recorded, but I would have forgiven him for sweetening the sound of some of the tracks with a little reverb.
Disc Two starts off strong, but as it hits the more complex tracks from later albums, the pared down line-up and the dry mix again shows signs of weakness. Roger O’Donnell, returned to the line-up (a plus), saves the day a few times with nice layers of ambient synth over the sparse, repetitive guitars and it all eventually comes together again with Lullaby, from their recently remastered and reissued album Disintegration.
Besides the main Isle of Wight show recorded on 9/10/11, the show features a generous twelve songs between two encores. On the first encore, Smith & Co. pull out the more clownish, pop selections with Lovecats, Caterpillar and Hot! Hot! Hot!, to the crowd’s delight – 50,000 singing along. The foursome enter jazz combo territory at one point, a testament to their musical prowess. Throughout the two disc set, the group alternates fluidly from sheer goth drone to happy-go-lucky pop to minimalist modern rock with impressive ease. Close To Me, particularly comes off as a gem, with Smith throwing in an improv guitar solo. Clearly, Smith has a good time at this show.
Other Show Highlights: The Walk, A Forest, Primary, Head on the Door, 10:15 Saturday Night, and especially The Hungry Ghost, which initially appeared on their last studio album, 4:13 Dream and was never released as a single but is presented here in what I now consider its definitive form.
Not So Great: Plainsong, Inbetween Days, End, Why Can’t I Be You… again, it’s more mixing than the performance but there is also some songs that simply lack the instrumentation for a full-on performance… the loss of second guitar player Lol Tolhurst is felt especially in the latter two songs. Smith is a more than competent guitar player but it’s tough to weave a double-stitch with just one thread (whatever the hell that means – but you get the idea).
Pet Peeve: Smith changes the lyrics and title of “Killing An Arab” to “Killing Another”. I guess no matter how many times it’s explained that the song is a reference to Albert Camus’ absurdist novel ‘The Stranger’, people will still take the song at face value. Shame. It’s censorship. I guess, though, if it was called “Killing A Jew” or any other Western ethnicity the song would have never been released, so I guess some would see the change as a sign of progress towards better understanding across the spectrum of belief systems. (Though, if he had called it “Killing An Atheist,” apparently to a lot of people that would be just fine.)
Summary: It’s been three years since the last new Cure release and although there are no new songs, as a career retrospective the two discs do manage to breathe new life into their pop classics as well as long-time fan favorites while providing a fresh take on their newer material. Initially there was to be a follow-up, ‘darker’ album of songs recorded during the 4:13 sessions, but that project seems scrapped, so Cure fans take what you can get. Plus, all profits benefit the Isle of Wight Youth Trust, so it’s not just the usual rock ‘n roll cash grab. For more info. on that charity, check out http://www.iowyouthtrust.co.uk/.
Note: I have taken the liberty of ‘remastering’ the first track of this collection, Plainsong, to fix what I think are the major problems in the mix and final results. Contact me at thesilencebureau at gmail.com if you are interested in listening to something like what should have been released.