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The Cure

Bloodflowers (Elektra)

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Bloodflowers is rumored to be the closing chapter to The Cure's 24-year, 13-studio-album career, and as this record is filled with more subtle kiss-off lines than any release since In Utero (I used to feed the fire/But the fire is almost out/And there's nothing left to burn, singer Robert Smith wails on one tune), it's probably safe to believe the hype. The godfathers of Goth offer their following an appropriately melancholy farewell but also provide the mascara masses with ample reason to celebrate by delivering their best album in more than a decade.

Intended to serve as the final part of a trilogy that includes 1982's Pornography and 1989's Disintegration, Bloodflowers sees The Cure distancing itself from its poppier offerings of recent years. Most of the songs build slowly for up to two minutes before Smith delivers his first word and drone on long after he belts out his last. The only track to start promptly and carry a running time of less than five minutes, "There Is No If . . . ," is still far from radio-friendly, with its sparse accompaniment and morbid lyrics. "Out of this World," which opens with acoustic guitar and builds to an orchestral crescendo before bowing out with a perfect downbeat ending, features the album's strongest melodies and structure, but it's doubtful that this masterful seven-minute song could become a single.

Unfortunately, not all the time tacked on to these tunes is used wisely. While intriguing guitar lines and subtle keyboard accents keep even the 11-minute "Watching Me Fall" interesting, "39" and the title track are weighed down by hazy feedback and fake payoffs that promise a chorus but deliver only more tedious solos. Smith's vocals are passionate and engaging, but they occupy a relatively small portion of the songs, and his absence leaves an emotional void that the band can't fill by stepping into jam mode.

Still, each of these nine baroque tracks contains a flash of the group's genius, and Smith, both lyrically and as a singer, is at his best. Bloodflowers isn't a return to the group's vintage form, nor does it hold listeners spellbound, but it is the type of ornate musical wallpaper that should provide the ideal backdrop for Cure funerals hosted by even-sadder-than-usual fans.

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