As years for memorable albums go, few can compare to 1992.
Annie Lennox flew solo for the first time with Diva (read more here), while Tori Amos, Mary J. Blige, and TLC served up game-changing debuts (Little Earthquakes, What’s The 411?, and Ooooooohhh… On The TLC Tip). Madonna and R.E.M. delivered two of their best-ever sets (the maligned-at-the-time Erotica, the immediately critically adored Automatic For The People). Girl group En Vogue came of age on Funky Divas, while Whitney Houston rocketed to the stratosphere with the white-hot supernova soundtrack to The Bodyguard. Other artists offering spinworthy discs in 1992 include 10,000 Maniacs, Neneh Cherry, Curve, Peter Gabriel, Jesus And Mary Chain, The Sugarcubes, The Sundays, and Suzanne Vega.
Processing that all of the LPs mentioned above are now (or will turn) 20 years old this year is mind-warping, and I’ve left one off the list that resonated greatly with me then and still does today: The Cure’s Wish.
While I’d flirted with the band’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, it was Disintegration that made me a true blue fan. Their 1989 moody masterpiece was a perfectly timed soundtrack for my own teen angst. Thus Wish‘s arrival three years later was highly anticipated. As was my Tuesday routine in college, I’d make the rounds of the record stores in town as soon as my class schedule allowed and comb through the week’s new releases. If memory serves, Wish was pushed back a week. Arriving with the expectation of leaving with The Cure’s new album, I interrogated clerks at two different stores, wondering where Wish was.
Having to endure another seven days’ wait, I retreated to my dorm room and listened several more times to the maxi-single of “High,” the album’s first single released a month earlier.
Once I had Wish in my hands though — on April 21, 1992 — the album took up regular residence in my CD boombox. “Friday I’m In Love” became a fast favorite (vintage Friday Flashback here), but I was also enthralled by Wish‘s darker corners, like the crushing heartbreak at the center of “Apart.” Wallow along in classic Cure melancholy that, while over six minutes long, never drags on:
Framed by psychedlic wah-wah guitar, the itchy, restless “Wendy Time” can be read as The Cure’s response to the Madchester sound that had come up around the time they’d released Disintegration. The way Robert Smith attacks the song’s lyrics is fantastic — “Like ‘feel’ or ‘follow,’ or ‘fuck,’ she said” — and also listen closely for some gorgeous strings that recall R.E.M.’s contemporaneously expanded palette.
To my ears, the contemplative “A Letter To Elise” is the companion piece to The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” that just happened to take five years to arrive. The back-to-reality crash that inevitably follows a heady sugar buzz, “A Letter To Elise” presents a broken, resigned Robert Smith at his most beautiful. The third and final single from Wish secured The Cure a #2 hit on the Billboard Modern Rock chart (“High” and “Friday I’m In Love” both spent four weeks at #1).
The album’s penultimate track, “To Wish Impossible Things,” is abject despair of the prettiest kind. If you’re ever in need of a good cry, have a box of tissues at the ready and press play.
Wish was everything I wanted at the time from The Cure and more.
Deluxe editions of The Cure’s albums through 1989′s Disintegration are available, and while it’s been a couple of years since the last package appeared, I hope Wish receives similar treatment before too long. There were rumors of a release timed to the album’s 20th anniversary, but we’re well past April now, with just a few more months left in 2012.