On The Cure and Letting a Song Breathe
Many current rock, indie, and pop (among other genres) artists today cite The Cure as a critical influence on their sound and style. Robert Smith successfully navigated a diverse range of sounds, cutting pop hits next to tracks that inspired the industrial genre. Most of all, Smith did so without ever sacrificing an ounce of his distinctive style.
Smith's proficiency in genres in part is derived from his understanding of how a piece of music can consume a listener without them realizing it has done so. While lyrics and vocals produce a more distinctive and active reaction within the listener, instrumental segments of songs normally do not. In the absence of vocals the music becomes musing, posing it to the listener to reflect on what they think the song is saying and the emotions it is communicating. If given adequate time, the listener is provided with the perfect space to relate to the song. Letting a song breathe simply gives it the listener the opportunity to connect with it on a deeper level. Most of the time the listener is even unaware this is happening as it's so natural to process lyrics and emotions after their presentation.
The Cure's Disintegration is a masterclass on this simple idea. For nearly every song on the record, Smith's vocals do no enter until after ninety or more seconds of instrumental. Most songs also have multiple one to two minute instrumental breaks after a run of verses and choruses. Moreover, these instrumentals are kept simple: no instrument solos, no significant change in dynamics, and only subtle changes in chord progressions. Smith keeping the instrumentals straightforward ensures that the listener is provided with the quality space to reflect and runs counter to the idea that impressive solos and dynamics are needed for great music. And when Smith's vocals do come back in, they pick up right where they left off, creating a perfectly smooth transition for the listener back into the lyrics while not distracting them from any lingering thoughts. It's genius. A gift to the listener that they're unaware of.
My favorite examples of this on Disintegration can be found on the tracks "Pictures of You", "Fascination Street", "Prayers For Rain", and "Homesick".