Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Austin City Limits Festival 2013, Weekend 2, Day 3

Day three was canceled due to inclement weather, as you may know. Many of the affected bands scheduled last-minute tickets-at-the-door shows across town, but I'd checked out for the day and missed my chance. I did hear that Atoms for Peace would be playing late that night at Moody Theatre, home of Austin City Limits TV, and although the $10 tickets sold out practically instantly, the whole concert was webcasted lived. I tuned in and it was great. You can now watch the footage at will on youtube here. Note that the band hit the stage about a half-hour late, so skip that.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Austin City Limits Festival 2013, Weekend 2, Day 2

Event: Austin City Limits Festival 2013, Weekend 2, Day 2
Venue: Zilker Park
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 12 October 2013

Introduction: Day Two! I got to the festival a little earlier and this time I saw the complete sets of four bands, part of another, and a glimpse of two others. It was fairly hot and very humid and of course it rained for the last half hour of the Cure's set.

Junip: I'd heard of José González through my former bandmates, but I didn't know he was also in a band until last week. Perhaps it goes without saying that if I liked his solo work I'd like his band as well, but it is certainly worth noting that the two are quite different. Solo, González is a singer-songwriter rooted in folk music with a good dash of indie rock. As a band, Junip is an indie rock outfit with a dash of folk music. They are more atmospheric than your average indie band, using three keyboardists in concert to make quite a mesh of high-end spacey sounds. It's quite pleasant, and González's solid melodies keep it anchored. He strummed an acoustic guitar the whole time, but it was mixed fairly low. The sound was great, even if I couldn't understand the lyrics, although that probably has more to do with annunciation and accent than anything else. I liked them enough to buy their album.

Silversun Pickups: I saw these guys last year and I have their first full-length. The internet has kindly provided me their setlist:

01. Skin Graph
02. The Royal We
03. Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)
04. Substitution
05. Future Foe Scenarios
06. Kissing Families
07. The Pit
08. Panic Switch
09. Dots and Dashes (Enough Already)
10. Lazy Eye

For the most part, the Pickups followed the same tracks they'd laid when I saw them last year. Only three songs were performed this go around that weren't done at that show: "Substitution", "Future Foe Scenarios", and "Kissing Families". They claimed they hadn't performed "Future Foe" in over a year; the audience was quite appreciative. And just like last time, when they closed with "Lazy Eye", the audience went into a frenzy. Clearly, that song is a hit.

The thing is, while I like "Lazy Eye" quite a bit, it does reveal something to me about the band. The song builds and builds and builds, but in the end, the payoff is brief and not quite as grand as one might hope for. The song is rather long (about six minutes) and in the end it just sort of peters out. And to some extent, that's how I feel about the band. They clearly put some work into their music, and it isn't vapid or hollow, but it does feel like the end result isn't quite what I was hoping for. I like it, but I almost feel guilty for liking it, because it seems like there is some sort of higher essence that they come so close to but never actually attain.

Anyway, to come off my high horse, they did perform well. While I can't help but find Brian Aubert's vocals just a bit annoying, he does sing well. It also helped that bassist Nikki Monninger has returned to the stage after birthing twins, as I found her to be a much better performer than her replacement was (hardly a surprise, I suppose). Her vocals were great but too often buried in the mix. Joe Lester's keyboard work was also hidden a little more than I might've liked, but in contrast, drummer Chris Guanlao was perhaps even more energetic and impressive than ever.

I can't deny they played well. The audience seemed pleased, and for the most part I was too, but I just couldn't help feel like I wanted just a little more out of them. I don't mean in terms of time; they filled their hour-long slot well (even if I would have appreciated a slightly longer appearance). What I mean is that they seem to offer something but they never get around to revealing it in full. You are left wanting more, but I don't think they're ever going to deliver on it.

While walking from one side of the park to the other, I caught a few notes from The Joy Formidable. I was intrigued but didn't catch enough to make an honest judgment.

Little Green Cars: This was another new one for me, but I was seriously impressed by the couple tracks I'd heard in advance, so I made it a priority to book it to their stage after Silversun Pickups to catch the end of their set. It was well worth it, and I almost think I should have left the Pickups early to see more of these guys. They are a new act out of Ireland boasting an indie rock background with incredible harmonies. I only caught about ten minutes of them, including their closer "The John Wayne", which is quite an infectious bit of pop. There were six people on stage, of which five were singing. I couldn't believe how good the vocals were. I was left with a good enough impression that I bought their album.

Wilco: Thanks again to the internet for this setlist:

01. Misunderstood
02. Give Back the Key to My Heart (Doug Sahm cover)
03. Forget the Flowers
04. California Stars
05. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
06. Art of Almost
07. Hummingbird
08. Dawned on Me
09. Via Chicago
10. Impossible Germany
11. Heavy Metal Drummer
12. I'm the Man Who Loves You
13. A Shot in the Arm

I was surprised that Wilco was only given a second-tier billing with just an hour's allotment. I suppose their heyday may have been ten years ago, but I also suppose that their popularity has never quite matched their critical appraisal. To be fair, although I've listened to them via my father and several friends, I've never gotten in to them as much as I've wanted to. Even though I like their music, I don't know much about it. I'll do my best to write something intelligent nonetheless, but I probably can't dig in as deep as I'd truly like to.

The first four songs felt like a decided statement of alt-country mastery. The songs were a touch mellow but retained an edge, as if there was energy in the band waiting for be released. I recognized "California Stars", which originates from the great Mermaid Avenue project, in which Wilco and Billy Bragg wrote and performed music to accompany unheard lyrics by Woody Guthrie. The musicianship on these songs was quite good but not particularly unexpected, with two exceptions. First was Nels Cline, who ripped up several country/bluegrass guitar solos and occasionally unleashed some abstract noise. Second was fiddle player Richard Bowden, who joined the band for these four songs and took solos in each, which of course only pushed the band further in the country direction.

There was a bit of an abrupt change in atmosphere when Bowden left the stage and the band started into a bit of an odd jam that revealed itself to be "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart". That's the song that first drew me to the band, and this performance was no disappointment. The band revealed their rock side, but Nels's warped guitar work and Glenn Kotche's wild drumming mixed with some sort of electric bells played practically simultaneously showed the experimental and progressive side of the band even clearer. To say the least, that song's performance was amazing.

The rest of the set stayed more on the rock side of things, but traces of country and hints of deeper experimentation were still to be found. "Via Chicago" featured occasional thrash drumming as a counterpoint to the soft flow of the rest of the instrumentation. Several songs featured bits of noise and abstraction that didn't seem abrasive or disruptive but rather right in line with their mood and flow.

Another standout for me was "Heavy Metal Drummer", in which singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy makes fun of the awful metal bands that play in the touristy Laclede's Landing area in St. Louis, the second hometown of both Wilco and myself. It's nice to feel like someone else out there understands your background and perspective.

The star of the show was probably Nels Cline, who kept blowing away my expectations. Practically every single song saw him mastering some sort of guitar technique that I can only dream of. After the bluegrassery of the first songs, a few later songs saw him wielding some sort of presumably magnetic metal bar to generate a noise collage. "Impossible Germany" featured a rather long guitar solo that somehow never got boring or clichéd (although it helped that Tweedy and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone were also playing cool riffs). For "Dawned on Me", Nels brought out a double-neck guitar (apparently 12-string and baritone). Never overly showy, he somehow managed to be consistently highly impressive and inventive.

Their performance served as yet another reminder that I really should be paying attention to this band. They put on a great show and I wished it could've gone on much longer. (One can, however, view a 90-minute set with a similar but longer setlist from Bonnaroo here. The version of "I Am Trying..." from that concert is good, but the one I saw was even better.)

I had an hour after Wilco before the Cure hit the stage, but wanting a good spot, I moved as fast as I could across the park. I made two brief detours. First, I stopped to hear a few minutes of Bright Light Social Hour. They are a local Austin band, and I was fairly intrigued by what I'd heard before. The little I heard was darkly toned, yet with a big sound that actually ended up being rather pretty. I wish I'd caught more. Second, I stopped at the Waterloo Records tent. I came away with CDs from Junip, Little Green Cars, and Hundred Waters, an electronic/indie/folk band that I didn't get to see but was quite curious about. So far, I like all three albums.

The Cure: I wrote down this setlist myself, even after it started raining. Of course, you have no reason to believe me, since the someone beat me to posting it online.

01. Open
02. A Night Like This
03. The End of the World
04. Lovesong
05. Just Like Heaven
06. From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea
07. Fascination Street
08. Pictures of You
09. Lullaby
10. High
11. The Lovecats
12. Close to Me
13. Hot Hot Hot!!!
14. The Caterpillar
15. The Walk
16. Stop Dead
17. Push
18. Inbetween Days
19. Friday I'm in Love
20. Doing the Unstuck
21. Want
22. The Hungry Ghost
23. Wrong Number
24. One Hundred Years
25. Give Me It
26. End
27. Boys Don't Cry

When I saw the Cure five years ago in Kansas City, Robert Smith was sick and could hardly sing. The band played a slightly abbreviated set, they were touring without a keyboardist (!), and the mix was horrible. I was really excited about the chance to see them again, hopeful that they would make amends for a thoroughly disappointing show from the last time around.

Oddly, the Cure do not have a new release to promote. They haven't released a new studio album since 2008. However, their lineup has changed a few times since then, which I suppose is par for the course for them. Thankfully, keyboardist Roger O'Donnell is back in the fold, but I was disappointed that long-time on-again, off-again lead guitarist Porl Thompson has departed, recently replaced by Reeves Gabrels. Gabrels is a bit of a surprise, even if he had once guested on the Cure's non-album 1997 single "Wrong Number". I know him best as David Bowie's guitarist through the 90s, most notably on the wonderful and strange Outside album. He seems like a bit of an odd choice for the Cure, since the band is known far more for mood and texture than instrumental virtuosity. I almost fear that Gabrel's talents are not being used to the best of his abilities – but who am I to judge how he spends his time?

Most of the Cure's set matched expectations. They mostly stuck to their favorite singles and their standard favorite album cuts ("Open", "A Night Like This", "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea", "Push", "One Hundred Years", etc.), but thankfully they took a few unexpected turns. The most interesting choice was "Stop Dead", the 12" extra b-side to "Close to Me". It was a good performance, and beforehand, Smith oddly remarked, "Right, I still think this was a single". I also appreciated the two weird pop singles once collected on Japanese Whispers ("The Lovecats", "The Walk") and two cuts from the highly strange The Top ("The Caterpillar", "Give Me It").

Of the many singles the band did perform, some were certainly better than others. I've always found "Hot Hot Hot!!!" (despite the infectious funk riffs), "Wrong Number", "Doing the Unstuck", and the latter-day "The End of the World" to be fairly uninspired, and the live performances of these songs offer little improvement. "The Hungry Ghost" was the only offering from their most recent album, 4:13 Dream, and it fares better live than on record, but I blame much of that on bad production. "Just Like Heaven" and "Friday I'm in Love", much as I love them, are fairly cheesy and their live performances are nothing special, no matter how much the audience eats it up.

On the other hand, every song from the stadium-size Disintegration album ("Lovesong", "Fascination Street", "Pictures of You" in particular, "Lullaby") is always a treat. I don't what it is with that album and those songs, but they truly shine and glow with something special when performed live. I know it's a cliché, but I still think that album is the band's pinnacle, the album they were born to make, even if they've made plenty of other great music.

"Boys Don't Cry" was of course a great closer, although it did sharply reveal the Cure's greatest flaw in the 21st century: Robert's voice just ain't what it used to be. It's not bad, but he's lost some of his grace and range, and as a result he relies on amelodic yelps and artificial inflections more than ever. (See my recent review of The Glove's Blue Sunshine reissue for more complaints in that vein.) Instrumentally, though, the band is still sharp. Robert plays a mean 6-string bass (and I was close enough to notice that he uses it as a lead instrument on far more songs than I'd previously guessed), and Simon Gallup remains the most active member of the band, dancing enthusiastically while playing his excellent trademark bass riffs. Drummer Jason Cooper might not do anything particularly special, but he holds things down well enough. And while Gabrels is clearly talented, he was usually mixed too low and I could hardly make sense of his lead guitar work.

The one sad part of the show was that it started to rain fairly heavily for the last half-hour. A few people left, but most stayed for the long haul – I certainly did. The Cure were supposed to finish at 10pm, and after "Boys Don't Cry" extended just a couple minutes past that, their sound suddenly got cut from the main speakers, leaving only the amplifiers on stage to finish out the song. I suspect the concert promoters wanted to force things to a close due to the weather, but it was rather unceremonious for the Cure, who couldn't even properly thank the audience or say anything whatsoever into their microphones for a closing word.

Junip: B+
Silversun Pickups: B-
Little Green Cars: A-
Wilco: A
The Cure: B+
Overall: A

Final Thoughts: I did not see enough of The Joy Formidable or Bright Light Social Club to be able to score them; I think that would be unfair. Honestly, my judgment of Little Green Cars may be similarly unwarranted, but I think I saw just enough to make an evaluation, and anyway I was quite impressed by the little I did see.

For the bands I did see, I was generally impressed and pleased all around. Only Silversun Pickups left me somewhat dissatisfied, but I can't even try to complain that they didn't perform well. I was also generally very impressed by the sound: almost every band I saw (on both days) had a really good, clear mix.

And lastly, a note on day three of the festival: as you may have heard, it has been canceled due to inclement weather (i.e. thunderstorming and flooding). I'm quite disappointed but that's just how it goes. My plan was to see Franz Ferdinand, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, The National, Tame Impala, and Atoms for Peace. I may need to buy a few of their records to make up for it. I was originally also curious about Foxygen, but they'd already canceled their appearance this weekend after acting completely insane last weekend, so I'm kind of over them already. But regarding the rest, if only I'd gone the first weekend instead...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Austin City Limits Festival 2013, Weekend 2, Day 1

Event: Austin City Limits Festival 2013, Weekend 2, Day 1
Venue: Zilker Park
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 11 October 2013

Introduction: I moved to Austin about five months ago and I immediately bought a ticket for this festival. I just couldn't resist. Too many good bands! Anyway, due to work and other responsibilities I did not get in until about 5:30pm, but I saw portions of three sets from bands I barely knew previously in addition to the entirety of Depeche Mode's headlining set. I have no idea what the setlists were except for Depeche Mode's, and that's the only one that's already been posted to so far. (Why do I even bother writing my favorite bands' setlists down during the show when there's always someone even more obsessive out there?)

So for today I'm going to list each band I saw and write up a short summary of my thoughts. Depeche Mode will get special treatment with the setlist and a more complete analysis, since I have a better idea of what I'm talking about with them.

Okkervil River: I saw the last 30 minutes of their hour-long set. I'd heard good things about them in the past, but before last week, I'd thought they were a country-folk type band. Obviously, I was wrong. They are far poppier than I would have guessed (especially for being named after an obscure Russian short story!), but that's no problem for me. They use a lot of acoustic guitar and keyboard, but they also use electric guitars and brass and harmonies and they end up filling up quite a big sound, but not in a heavy, thick, bloated way. Amazingly, the sound at their stage was really good and I could pick out each part fairly well. (Actually, the sound was great for all the bands I saw, which was honestly quite a welcome surprise.) The lead singer and the general style owe a lot to Bright Eyes, but to be honest Okkervil frontperson Will Sheff's voice doesn't grate on me the way Conor Oberst's sometimes does. (Sorry!) Anyway, I liked their set fairly well. Maybe I'll even buy a record.

The Black Angels: I again saw the last 30 minutes of their hour-long set. I'd never heard of them before last week but they are a local Austin band (as are Okkervil River, apparently) and I guess they've been making records for several years. They play a slightly dark blend of psychedelic rock, drone, and trance noise. It was like the Jesus & Mary Chain with a bigger debt to Pink Floyd and hints of Psychic TV and their comrades. They relied on a lot of vocal effects and atmospherics to make a kind of spacey high-end, while the low-end was mostly fuzz bass or otherwise rather heavy. They reached some good spaces, but admittedly little stood out from it all.

Wild Belle: I saw most of their hour-long set, but I missed the start. They were also new to me and I guess they are new to the world; they just released their first album. The band is really just a brother and sister, and they are backed by a few extra musicians. I have no idea what their album must sound like, because on stage they jumped from style to style with wild abandon and yet graceful ease. One song stood out for it's nice synthpop tones. A few were standard rock or pop structures. A later song was a disco homage. They truly shone when they took a chance and reached further out of the box than most bands bother to. I liked that they could wrap themselves in a given style, but own it and make it theirs instead of becoming swallowed up in someone else's ideas. That said, the songs that were more conventional or predictable didn't do much for me.

Depeche Mode: Depeche Mode!

01. Welcome to My World
02. Angel
03. Walking in My Shoes
04. Precious
05. Behind the Wheel
06. World in My Eyes
07. But Not Tonight
08. A Pain That I'm Used To
09. A Question of Time
10. Enjoy the Silence
11. Personal Jesus

12. Shake the Disease
13. Just Can't Get Enough
14. I Feel You
15. Never Let Me Down Again

Woah! Now, as you may know, DM is just a three-piece these days, but they are augmented by keyboardist Peter Gordeno and drummer Christian Eigner. Honestly, the two bonus musicians did most of the instrumental work. As per the running joke, Andrew Fletcher hardly touched his keyboards. Meanwhile, lead singer Dave Gahan apparently never touches an instrument, and songwriter Martin Gore mostly preferred to play guitar, a shocking turnabout from their early days. I suspect that many songs were grounded in backing tapes, but Gordeno clearly did perform most of the complicated keyboard work once handled by former member Alan Wilder, and Gore and Gahan have their signature contributions as well.

The setlist was pretty amazing for only comprising fifteen songs and only lasting 95 minutes. "But Not Tonight" and "Shake the Disease" were definitely unexpected for me, and not only that, both were performed in stripped-down versions with just vocals by Gore and piano by Gordeno. They were great performances and in both cases, the arrangements were new to me.

Actually, most of the back-catalog songs were altered in their arrangements in some way. In some cases, it was just more guitar from Gore; "Personal Jesus" in particular began in a slow tempo focused on Gore's guitar, and he even took a guitar solo in the extended outro! In others, it was Gahan demanding the audience sing along to countless repetitions of the chorus, such as at the end of "But Not Tonight" and in the middle of "A Question of Time" and "Enjoy the Silence". And in yet others, the songs were extended substantially, often incorporating elements from 12" remixes or other versions. This was particularly evident in "Enjoy the Silence", "I Feel You", and "Never Let Me Down Again".

Now, if you know me well from reading this blog long enough, you will know that I am quite fond of such live rearrangements. The band could have played the songs just like they are on the albums or even just sequenced all the parts and just hit play while dancing. (Well, I suppose they did hire someone to play those parts, and Gahan does spend a lot of time dancing with unmatched energy, but still!) Instead, they chose to spice things up a bit, change things around, and make the whole experience far more interesting and engaging for their devoted fans. I appreciate that greatly.

The audience was quite enthusiastic and it's hard to say if certain songs got more fan response than others – with one exception. I was surprised that "Just Can't Get Enough", the earliest song the band still performs, appeared to garner the most adulation. The song is older than I am, but perhaps even new fans are strangely drawn to it. I mean, I guess I am guilty of that myself, but I still like their mid-period albums best.

The weirdest part of the night: "Precious" was accompanied by a video featuring almost-still shots of dogs in front of a brick wall. Huh. (Second weirdest: Gordeno played a high-fretted riff on a bass guitar during "A Pain That I'm Used To". Who would have guessed?)

Okkervil River: B+
The Black Angels: C+
Wild Belle: B-
Depeche Mode: A
Overall: B+

Final Thoughts: I had fun and I'm quite excited for the next two days. I only got rained on for about 20 minutes and no one stole my bike, so I can hardly complain. And remember, a C truly means "average" to me, and B is honestly "good". The only reason Depeche Mode didn't get an A+ is because they didn't play longer. (Most of the major headliners are booked for two hours.)

[Edit 2013.10.13:] P.S. The Black Angels' setlist has been uploaded here:

01. Telephone
02. Broken Soldier
03. Bad Vibrations
04. The Prodigal Sun
05. Young Men Dead
06. I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia)
07. Indigo Meadow
08. You on the Run
09. Twisted Light
10. Don't Play with Guns
11. Bloodhounds on My Trail
12. Yellow Elevator #2
13. Always Maybe
14. Evil Things

[Edit 2014.10.04: I recently found a bootleg recording of the video webcast of the Black Angels' set, and I've got to say, it was better than I remembered. Probably still somewhere in the B range, but definitely better than C+.]

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Glove - Blue Sunshine reissue (1983/2006)

You can imagine that any fan (such as I) of both The Cure and Siouxsie & the Banshees would be immediately attracted to the Glove, a one-off collaboration between The Cure's main man Robert Smith and the Banshees' bassist/songwriter Steven Severin. You can also imagine that such a fan was very excited about the prospect of a remastered, expanded release of their lone album.

Artist: The Glove
Album: Blue Sunshine
Release Date: 23 August 1983, reissued 8 August 2006
Label: Wonderland/Polydor (original), Wonderland/Rhino (reissue)
Producer: Merlin Griffiths, Robert Smith, Steven Severin

Disc 1 (first ten tracks comprise original album):
01. Like an Animal
02. Looking Glass Girl
03. Sex-Eye-Make-Up
04. Mr. Alphabet Says
05. A Blues in Drag
06. Punish Me with Kisses
07. This Green City
08. Orgy
09. Perfect Murder
10. Relax
11. The Man from Nowhere [Original Instrumental Mix]
12. Mouth to Mouth [Like an Animal b-side, 1983]
13. Punish Me with Kisses [Mike Hedges Mix; Single, 1983]
14. The Tightrope [Punish Me with Kisses b-side, 1983]
15. Like an Animal [Club? What Club? Mix, 12" single, 1983]

Disc 2 (previously unreleased demos with vocals by Robert Smith except where stated):
01. Like an Animal
02. Looking Glass Girl
03. Sex-Eye-Make-Up
04. Mr. Alphabet Says
05. A Blues in Drag
06. Punish Me with Kisses
07. This Green City
08. Orgy
09. Perfect Murder
10. Relax
11. The Man from Nowhere [Alternate Instrumental Mix]
12. Mouth to Mouth
13. Opened the Box (A Waltz)
14. The Tightrope (Almost Time)
15. And All Around Us the Mermaids Sang (AKA Torment)
16. Holiday 80 [Original Instrumental Mix]

You might remember a time in the mid-00s when suddenly every once-popular, nearly-forgotten 80s band was brought back to the light of day with glorious reissue campaigns, restoring the music with nuanced remastering, bountiful bonus tracks, well-written liner notes, and archival photography. This occurred right about the same time that record companies realized that the CD was a format in decline, so the contrast between 2- and 3-disc reissues of 20-30 year old material and a shrinking market for physical releases was put sharply into focus. (The loudness war wasn't helping, either.)

Siouxsie & the Banshees made it as far as their sixth album, 1986's Tinderbox, before lackluster sales halted their reissue project in 2009. (This didn't stop a 3CD/1DVD box set At the BBC in the same year, though.) The Cure marched ahead with double-disc reissues, steadily making it to their seventh album, 1987's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, reissued in 2006. It wasn't until 2010 that Disintegration (1989) was finally reissued in a 3CD set, and rumors still fly about a potential reissue of Wish (1992). [Edit 2017.09.17: The remaining Banshees albums were reissued in 2014.] [Edit 2022.11.30: The Wish reissue finally came out last week (!) and in the meantime there was also Mixed Up in 2018.]

The strangest part of all this reissue confusion was The Glove's Blue Sunshine. Seeming to follow more in line with the Cure reissues than the Banshees', it is a double-disc affair with a large host of previously unreleased demos. The most amazing part is that these demos feature Robert Smith's vocals – the original album infamously only featured his vocals on two songs due to contractual restrictions, resulting in the hiring of Jeanette Landray to sing most of the rest. Robert's previously unheard vocal versions were thus the primary reason that this reissue was notable as anything more than a simple remastering. But of course, the story only gets more complicated once you actually listen to the discs.

The original album is a ten-track affair of psychedelia in the utmost degree. With a band name inspired by the notoriously trippy Yellow Submarine movie and an album name derived from a horror movie about LSD, nobody should be surprised. The songs feature odd rhythms, unlikely combinations of instruments, surreal lyrics, and of course the occasional creepy sample. Despite the supreme weirdness of it all, it does fit in alongside the primary members' other recordings of the era: the experimental, weird pop singles later collected on Japanese Whispers; the dark psychedelia of The Top; the strangely arranged and textured pop of A Kiss in the Dreamhouse; and the swirly, deliberately psychedelic homage of "Dear Prudence", recorded during Smith's second tenure in the Banshees. The Glove released two singles, "Like an Animal" and "Punish Me with Kisses", and while both are solid numbers, neither is half as good as "Mr. Alphabet Says", a wonderfully arranged song graced with Smith's vocals even on the original release.

The b-sides of the original singles yield a couple additional songs, and the second disc of the 2006 reissue offers a few more. While these songs are reasonably good, they are still far overshadowed by the prospect of Smith singing all the original album tracks. However, when listening to the second disc, one cannot help but notice a few odd characteristics. First, these tracks are stated to be demos, which is easy to believe if one only listens to the instrumentation. The recordings sound a bit dull, weak, thin, whatever. But then Robert's voice sounds full, clear, and pristine. The vocals sound like they were recorded with professional equipment and then preserved carefully, whereas the instrumentation sounds archival at best. Second, Robert's voice is stretched and stringy, overly maudlin and almost artificially playful. Any serious fan of The Cure will have noted that Robert's voice has changed over his 35+ years of singing, and a quick comparison of his vocals from the Japanese Whispers singles (1982-1983) or The Top (1984) against those from more recent albums such as The Cure (2004) or 4:13 Dream (2008) reveals quite a difference. The vocals on disc two do not use the same inflections or styling as those found on disc one or the contemporaneous singles and albums. They do, however, sound very similar to Smith's latest recorded output.

I am not the only fan to believe that these vocals were not archival performances but rather new recordings. For example, if you want to dig through some fora, see here and here. Amazingly, Steven Severin was approached in November 2012 by a fan and asked about this issue, and he confirmed it (mostly), claiming that some vocals were original and others were new recordings done because Smith wanted to sing them after not having had the chance before. If you follow that last link, you may notice that the commenters cast doubt upon any of the demo vocals being "authentic", and I must agree. All the vocals on disc two sound to my ear like new recordings.

There is naturally room to debate the merits and downsides of these recordings. Certainly, it is nice for Robert to finally have a chance to sing these songs. But one can't say he did a proper job of it, considering that he sang over the demo tracks instead of the final versions, and even worse, at no point did he state or admit that these vocals were recorded in the 2000s, not in 1983. Instead of a "real" album of just Smith and Severin, we are left with muddy demos with misplaced vocals that can't help but sound out of place and artificial. And I still can't get past the deceit: I'd be much happier if Smith had just stated the truth. Of course, maybe the reissue wouldn't have sold as well, but I don't appreciate the deliberate lie.

Sadly, this trend of Smith re-recording vocal parts is not exclusive to the Blue Sunshine reissue. When I purchased the Disintegration reissue, I was immediately struck by both the awful remastering of the live material originally from Entreat and the obviously re-recorded vocals of the "studio alt mixes" found on the second disc. I went back and listened to the Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me reissue and became suspicious of a few of the songs on that release's bonus disc as well. While I am completely convinced that the Glove and Disintegration vocals were rerecorded, I'm not fully confident that the Kiss Me vocals were, but I think it is more likely than not. However, after careful consideration, I'm fairly sure that everything from the previous reissues is authentic. So as best as I can tell, the following Cure songs feature rerecorded vocals:

"A Thousand Hours" (Kiss Me guide vocal/rough mix)
"Icing Sugar" (Kiss Me guide vocal/rough mix)
"One More Time" (Kiss Me guide vocal/rough mix)
"Plainsong" (Disintegration rough take/guide vocal)
"Last Dance" (Disintegration rough take/guide vocal)
"Lullaby" (Disintegration rough take/guide vocal)
"Out of Mind" (Disintegration rough take/guide vocal)
"Delirious Night" (Disintegration rough mix)

At least part of the internet-enabled fanbase of The Cure seems to agree with my assessment (reply #16 is particularly damning). In addition to these vocals, somewhere I've heard a rumor that the above-mentioned "Out of Mind" features an overdubbed guitar part. Also, the work-in-progress mix of "Lovesong" from the online Alternate Rarities: 1988-1989 album seems to feature an overdubbed vocal harmony part, but I believe the low part is original.

Have I missed any other fake vocals? Drop a word if you suspect other songs not yet listed.

Original album: B
2006 reissue, blissfully ignorant of the artificial nature of the demos: B+
2006 reissue, with full knowledge of the deceit: C-