Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. In celebration of its 30th anniversary this year, today’s Vinyl Corner is dedicated to The Cure’s 1989 triumph ‘Disintegration’.
It’s rare that a band’s finest achievements arrives eight albums and thirteen years into their career. Rarer still is an album which so perfectly encapsulates a band’s ethos that it renders their lesser effort practically obsolete. ‘Disintegration’ is both of these things. It’s a record that finally and fully delivers upon the promises of each of their previous albums. The group had taken a number of divergent paths during the preceding decade, and ‘Disintegration’ can easily be seen as the culmination of this exploration. It bears the gloom of ‘Pornography’, the eclecticism and ambition of ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’, the experimentation of ‘The Top’ and the pop smarts of ‘Chinese Whispers’. It is, of course, a dour record but it’s also strangely uplifting in its own bizarre way. Simply put, it is the essence of The Cure distilled over 70-something minutes. The deeply melodic guitar lines, the driving bass, the sighing synthesizers, the laconic vocals – they’re all there, and never before had they been rendered together quite so seamlessly. Some might argue that the album is indulgent; fair enough, perhaps, considering that it’s over an hour of wall-to-wall misery. ‘Disintegration’ manages to succeed not simply because of its deeply human vulnerability but also because, deceptively simple as they may sound, arrangements here are complex in their beautifully layered intricacy. Variety in both mood and tempo isn’t hard to find either, unlike certain other of the group’s outings. Whereas, say, ‘Pornography’ gained its impact through the innate nihilism of 40-odd minutes of utterly dread-filled dirges, ‘Disintegration’s power comes from the very opposite – it has a sense of energy. Yes, songs such as the 10-minute ‘Same Deep Water As You’ might be light on hope, but the raw anger of the title track and the drive of ‘Fascination Street’ ultimately lend more gravitas to the darkest moments of the album by virtue of their juxtaposition. ‘Disintegration’ is an intense artistic statement and a record rightly regarded by many as the group’s finest moment.
To do justice to the album’s 30th anniversary, we thought it would be fitting to do another one of our patented Vinyl Corner Shootouts. We’ll be stacking a really clean UK original pressing against the most recent repressing of the 2010 double LP reissue and seeing which comes out on top. Normally we wouldn’t be comparing playback quality between these two in regards to surface noise due to the age difference between the pressings, but in this case we’re making an exception. With the benefit of hindsight, the original vinyl release of ‘Disintegration’ is often looked back upon as something of a missed opportunity. Likely due to waning vinyl sales at the end of the ’80s, the CD version of the album was promoted as the “definitive” edition, with the vinyl version falling by the wayside. The CD clocked in at 70 minutes and boasted 12 songs but the vinyl version missed out on two of the tracks and was ultimately 15 minutes shorter. Not only that, but the entirety of the 55 minute-odd album was confined to the grooves of just one LP. With sides lasting the best part of half an hour each, it’s no surprise that the original vinyl issue came with a myriad of problems.
The most grievous of these issues is actually a rather surprising one: the cleanliness of playback. Original pressings of the album are well known for problems with crackle and pop; just a cursory glance at the relevant discogs pages demonstrates just how widespread the problem was. Of course, noise problems will vary from copy to copy – it is 30 years old after all, so some noise is likely be down to wear and tear from play – but it seems as though finding an original copy free of significant crackling is an exercise in frustration. True to that, our pressing is plagued with surface noise despite appearing barely played. This alone is enough to make the original release more appropriate as a collector’s item than an audiophile’s muse, but there is another point to discuss: the sonics and mastering.
Anyone who’s heard an overly long LP will attest to the problem of inner groove distortion; it’s a big issue and one that can easily affect any record with sides that go beyond the 20 – 22 minute mark. Remarkably, there are no issues as such here and, in fact, the mastering is surprisingly excellent. The soundscape is clear, defined and detailed. The drum parts are impactful and nuanced, with a lot of subtlety in the hi-hat parts and just as much punch in the snare. The bass and synth parts are vital to The Cure’s idiosyncratic form of gloomy magic and they’re fortunately very impressive here, as are those delicately soaring guitar parts. Having said that, the length of the sides does impact the sonics a little. The volume of the music is lower than it would be on an LP of normal length, which results in surface noise being more audible than on most noisy pressings. Other than that, however, it’s a surprisingly solid showing from the original release, at least bearing in mind the caveat of a noisy pressing.
Digitally remastered in 2010, the double LP reissue has gone through a few pressings at this point. The Americans have had a version pressed by the inconsistent and frequently underwhelming Rainbo Records, while the first European edition came from the generally solid but sometimes patchy GZ Media. We’re looking at a 2018 repress of that reissue, manufactured by France’s MPO. They’re a pressing plant who almost always put out a great quality product. True to that, this is a top-drawer pressing in every respect; both LPs are sturdy, flat and heavyweight. They boast really quiet, clean playback and with loudly cut music. The reissue reinstates the two songs missing from the original vinyl version and, by spreading the now 70 minute album over four sides, ensures that the sonics are even fuller than the original issue.
For the sake of fairness, it should be made clear that the the mastering isn’t a cut-and-dry case of superiority over the original. There are, in all honesty, some things that the original master does better than this 2010 digital remaster. There’s a little loss of detail in the soundscape on the 2010 edition; the minute clarity of the hi-hat parts is diminished here and the bass is slightly less defined. Despite being a digital remaster, the sound is fuller and warmer than on the original release, although the trade off comes in the form of slightly diminished clarity. In comparison to the remaster, the original release sounds slightly sterile but also a little punchier; ultimately there’s little between the two and favouritism would be mostly preferential. We slightly prefer the fuller sound of the remaster, but both are sonically excellent.
Despite the close-call on mastering, the reissue is still clearly superior to the original in every other respect. The pressing is vastly better and the addition of the two songs not found on the 1st pressing make the reissue the clear winner here.
Packaging and presentation differs greatly between the original and the reissue, although that’s hardly surprising considering the expanded double LP format of the rerelease. The original release is presented much as you would expect any major label title from the late ’80s to be. It’s a lightweight slab of wax housed in a printed inner sleeve and standard-width non-gatefold jacket. In that respect, presentation is nothing to write home about with the original release, but it’s certainly competent. The printed inner is actually nice quality and, like the main jacket, boasts sharp print quality and rich colours. The lyrics to the full album are included on one side of the insert, whilst credits and artwork appear on the other. That’s all well and good in itself but the text is so tiny that the attempt to fit every lyric onto just one side results in the text being minuscule and needlessly difficult to read. The cover presents the artwork in excellent definition, with the colouring really impressing in particular. There’s more nuance to the album cover than a cursory glance would reveal, and the original release does an great job of articulating that.
The reissue boasts far sturdier packaging, with a thick gatefold sleeve replacing the thin original jacket. The spine has naturally been widened, and the card used on this reissue is heavier stock than that of the original release. The presentation itself remains very faithful to the original, whilst still expanding on it. The art direction is accurate to the original vision, with labels still faithful to those on the original release. In regards to build quality, then, the reissue is obviously and indisputably superior to the original release. However, there is one aspect in which the reissue actually loses points: the clarity of the front cover. The colours are more muted on the reissue, ultimately resulting in a loss of visual fidelity and definition. Much of the subtle detail has been lost to blackness and, especially when compared side by side, the original artwork looks notably better. Other than that, however, the reissue is an improvement in every way. There are, of course, two printed inner sleeves rather than just one and lyrics are spread over both of them, meaning that the font is much larger and easier to read then on original. The cardstock used on the inner sleeves is also extremely sturdy and much better than the already solid original inner sleeve, so big points there.
Were it not for the loss of definition in the cover art, then the reissue would surpass the original pressing’s packaging in every way. As it is, however, even with that flaw in mind the reissue comfortably improves upon the original release in terms of presentation and aesthetics.
Out of all the Vinyl Corner Shootouts we’ve conducted, few have been quite as conclusive as this. Make no doubt about it, the 2018 reissue significantly betters the original release in nearly every way. The pressing is very clean, packaging is mostly exemplary and the sonics are impressive as well. The original release certainly has worth as a collector’s piece but, for those who are purely interested in owning the best sounding version of the album, you won’t get better than the most recent reissue.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!