THE CURE Bloodflowers (Fiction)

Pre-release publicity suggested that Robert Smith regarded "Bloodflowers", the eleventh studio album to be struck by the ever-shifting Cure collective, as the closing chapter in the trilogy begun by "Pornography" and filled out by "Disintegration", i.e. a welcome return to gloomier territory after a decade spent gradually sinking in the swampland of self-parody (have you heard "Mint Car"?!) Which, partially at least, "Bloodflowers", is.

There are moments here that encompass some of the most beautiful and resonant music The Cure have yet recorded. Woven loosely into a concept work about loss and the passing of time, "Bloodflowers" packs the same sort of quietly remarkable emotional weight that sustained Bob Dylan's "Time Out Of Mind", the kind of work musicians produce when confronting the demons of their advancing years. Opener "Out Of This World" possesses the album's good calling cards in spades: Smith's voice is lazy, sleepily luxuriant, like Bagpuss yawning, lyrics all fleeting, disconnected images of time passing - "When we look back on it all as I know we will" and "One last time before it's time to go again", the music is tinkling Goth-lite ambrosia, "Disintegration" on a diet. "39" is a rather more shocking exploration of the same theme that takes its title from Smith's age when he wrote it - "So the fire is almost out and there's nothing left to burn/I've run right out of thoughts and I've run right out of words" - pretty chilling stuff from a man who seems to have spent his adult life cultivating a public persona that views real life from the wrong end of the kaleidoscope. There are maybe three or four moments like this that justify the price of admission entirely.

Unfortunately "Bloodflowers" also contains a deal of laboured, amateurish, painful music. The absolute worst offender is the eleven minutes of "Watching Me Fall", a howling, tuneless nightmare that sounds like it could have been rejected from the "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" album for being just that little bit too dark. The abysmally poor quality of the British vinyl pressing also conspires against entertainment, sounding horribly distorted and undynamic, although it does boast (if that's the right word) and extra track in the form of "Coming Up", which is inessential but thanks all the same. Even the cover art looks rather slapdash, which is surprising for an album that its creator clearly regards as one of his more significant artistic statements.

Nevertheless, there is enough, rather than a lot of, good music on "Bloodflowers" to make it the best Cure album since "Disintegration" (which, as every "South Park" fan knows, is the best album ever!). And I'm sure there's some small significance in and hope to be gleaned from the fact that it's probably the first major release in years to be issued on vinyl but not cassette.

THE CURE Three Imaginary Boys (Anfon)

This oddity, turfed up by Diverse, is a Russian pressing of The Cure's debut long-player, which arrived in what has to be the shoddiest sleeve I've ever laid digits on, made of card as thin as colour supplement paper and considerably less glossy, with a badly scanned or photocopied travesty of the original cover photograph on the front. Happily the vinyl inside ranks infinitely higher on the quality scale, being pressed on sweet and crunchy sounding plastic that lags little in comparison to that produced by British reissue specialists such as Simply Vinyl.

Musically, "Three Imaginary Boys" captures the earliest incarnation of The Cure seconds before their sharp, almost Jam-like new wave became smudged by the first misapplied lipstick of what we now recognise as goth -in fact, you can almost hear the fog rolling in on the final, title track, which sounds like a musical premonition of the cover photograph of R.E.M.'s "Murmur". But mostly what we have here is short, sharp, sub-three minute shocks, not dissimilar to early Joy Division. There's also a frankly bizarre cover of Hendrix's "Foxy Lady", which ties with Siouxsie & The Banshees' demolition job on "Helter Skelter" in terms of hero desecration. Quaint though it might sound today, "Three Imaginary Boys" is nevertheless an important document of the roots of one of our most enduring pantomime pop acts.

THE CURE Faith (Elektra)

There are not infrequent points when the discographies of The Cure and the Joy Division/New Order axis seem to intertwine. Consider the short, sharp post-punk guitar precision of “Three Imaginary Boys” and “Unknown Pleasures”, for example, or the way both bands rapidly coddled their sound with emerging synthesiser technologies. Heck, if I recall correctly, even Peter Hook’s mum thought The Cure had ripped off her son’s distinctive, low-slung Viking bass style on “In Between Days”. So, perhaps it’s not a great surprise to discover that the first Cure album to be released following Joy Division’s harrowing final chapter “Closer” and Ian Curtis’ subsequent suicide should inhabit a similar soundworld. “Faith” is the musical equivalent of a long, fog-shrouded death by drowning or suffocation, the sound of life seeping and ebbing away.

Where its predecessor “Seventeen Seconds” retained at least a measure of the crisp, spiky pop sensibility of the band’s debut album, “Faith”’s grim resignation is pretty much unrelenting – check out the synthesised tolling bells that close “The Holy Hour”, for example, a sound unheard on record since “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band”. If there are exceptions, they lie in the motorik gallop of big single “Primary”, another moment on which the band’s output swerved unnervingly close to contemporary New Order, and “Other Voices”’ appearance as an extra track on the CD version of singles retrospective “Staring At The Sea” posits it as one of the lighter moments here.

“All Cats Are Grey” is the album’s biggest surprise, a cosseting blanket of a song that, overemphatic percussion and Robert Smith’s distant whine apart, could have leaked out of the Eno or Aphex Twin back catalogues. The closing title track attempts to ratchet up the tension to breaking point, though its seven hammering minutes come across as a poor relation to Joy Division’s rather more shockingly for real “Decades”. But such comparisons seem a little unfair, and prompt the suspicion that had Robert Smith committed suicide shortly before the album’s release we might be reading a whole other significance into these songs. What perhaps hampers this album retrospectively is the knowledge that he would plunge even further into the abyss with 1982’s “Pornography”, which leaves much of “Faith” sounding like a tentative, uncertain first step off the edge.