The Cure - advocates of pop music as a malleable form - have razed the hard-and-fast rules, and in turn have raised the hackles of perplexed scribes trying to ascertain what they are "about." The band has chosen the path of greatest resistance, turning standard guitar/bass/drums/keyboard functions inside out and creating jarringly stark tone poems that proceed to make certain concessions.
Foremost among these is to accept the dissolution of traditional pop structures. Chord progressions, predictable instrumental and vocal interplay are tossed out the window; the Cure imposes an order that at first seems contrary to the basic preconceptions of rock ‘n’ roll. For them, lyrics are everything. Instruments may set the scene, but they seldom stray from merely creating atmosphere.
Pornography continues this approach, but adds a few new wrinkles. Changes in dynamic levels and tempos are in contrast to previous efforts. Guitarist Robert Smith’s lyrics are bleak (when not harrowing), though there are some gradations in intensity. "Cold", with the ominous scraping of Simon Gallup’s bowed bass joined by grandiose minor-mode organ swells, gets the full gothic treatment. Lol Tolhurst’s drums band too loud and too long; they destroy the mood. Yet on the next track, the title tune, he eases up and flows with the logic of mixing muffled, treated voices with Smith’s impassioned wail decrying his sickening lust for carnage. In "The Hanging Garden" (nice double entendre) the Cure revs up but has nowhere to go, and the arrangement falls flat. Their customary excruciatingly slow pace would have worked much better.
They use the studio and their own pop instincts effectively to underscore some of the lyrics. "A Short Term Effect" stresses ephemeralness with Smith’s echo-laden voice decelerating at the end of each phrase. The song closest to basic pop, "A Strange Day," has overdubbed backing vocals plus a delineated verse and chorus wrapped in some strangely consonant guitar figures.
Pornography is a ponderous work, hammered somewhat by the turgid pop noir thematiciscm. It is also uncompromising and challenging, as Smith’s imagery exposes but doesn’t explain his existential dilemmas. Collectively, the Cure say much by what they leave unsaid.