As the sessions went on, there were no rumors that this would be The Cure’s final album, no dangerous drug use or health scares, no interpersonal conflict to seep into the lyrics. Smith, who married high school sweetheart Mary Poole a few years earlier, turned 33 on the day To wish was released on April 21, 1992. In the preceding months, the most outrageous story to emerge in the British tabloids was that Smith – whose harsh employment of backcombing and Aqua Net had recently inspired the film Edward Scissorhands– had actually gotten a Haircut.
If there is a quality that distinguishes To wish of the rest of their catalog, it’s the dense, buzzing sound – the work of five people in a studio, as opposed to the vision of one person made painfully alive. An immediate side effect was a creative process that tended to drift everywhere. First, it was going to be a couple of albums: a title Upper and an atmospheric companion called music for dreams. Then it was going to be called Inflate. On the cover, you’ll find a prominent design meant to depict a song called “The Big Hand,” an early session favorite that was cut from the track listing. These may seem like minor footnotes, but for a group whose leader designed their work with one-manic purpose, they represented a proud embrace of directionlessness.
Although it scattered the vision for the record, the full band approach led to some fantastic performances. Bassist Simon Gallup is irreplaceable, adding latent hooks to even the most abstract moments, a melodic undercurrent that connects singles like “High” to gothic comebacks like “Trust.” Drummer Boris Williams plays with the energy of the arena, which makes their continued rise inevitable. Between the rhythm section, you can hear guitarists Pearl Thompson – whose electric and legendary tracks would soon result in a concert accompanying Jimmy Page and Robert Plant – and Perry Bamonte, a former roadie who added a touch of levity to their dynamic. There are records of The Cure that sound like full body experiences – music that asks you to come in to fully enjoy them – but To wish glides, floats, goes with the flow.
It’s not like Smith has lost his edge – and to prove it, he paraphrases Sylvia Plath in the very first song. But listen carefully and notice what brings it down. “Open” appears to be narrated by the saddest attendee of an industry party, the kind of dark, obligatory event that requires massive amounts of booze to get you through the night: “Hands on my shoulders n ‘have no names/And they won’t go,” Smith sings over Williams’ beating drums, thwarted by boring conversations and fake smiles. These aren’t the laments of a hopeless young romantic looking for of love and meaning in a loveless and meaningless world, but rather the private anxieties of someone who lived long enough to see their dreams come true and realized they solved nothing.