Replicas is the handle we use to write about reissues and archival releases, offering some thoughts on the original material, and whatever additional goodies or format shifts may have been appended. This week, the reissue campaign of a band needing no introduction resumes in decadent fashion…
Mixed Up / Torn Down
Rhino / Fiction
What is it?
Writing about the reissue of a release like Mixed Up by a band like The Cure is a bit tricky for me. Not only do I still identify The Cure as my favourite band, period, but writing about reissues often depends upon communicating context, and Mixed Up has always been something of a dog’s breakfast in terms of The Cure’s history. Coming in 1990, smack between the commercial peaks of Disintegration and Wish, it not only collected relatively recent extended 12″ mixes of singles, but also radically reworked far older tracks whose extended mixes hadn’t moved the needle much, and added a couple of new-from-scratch reconstructions of earlier hits.
As fractured and ad-hoc a collection as that might be, it served to highlight the contradictions inherent in the band’s success at the end of the 80s: either championed or maligned as having brought gothic self-evisceration to stadium-rock horizons, while simultaneously indulging in under-sea hi-jinks too twee for children’s television.
Hopefully signalling the resumption of the band’s reissue campaign (things sputtered out for a while after the Disintegration reissue eight years back), Mixed Up is offered up here in a plethora of formats, including a 3CD, 217 minute (!) set featuring one bonus CD of extant rarities and another of wholly new remixes, Torn Down.
What’s on it?
The presentation of the original suite of remixes in this reissue is offered plainly enough. While I’m not going to the ends of comparing wavforms, the remastering job on the new version perhaps squeezes some mid-range out for the sake of extra bass. This isn’t ideal, but is frankly less bothersome than the flattening of Disintegration years back, especially considering that these were remixes to begin with. The second disc is packed with a suite of oddities, from earlier extended mixes to Mixed Up outtakes which didn’t make the cut: Chuck New’s tabla take on “Just Like Heaven” oddly presages Wish‘s dreamier moments, while the thinly compressed guitar which mucks up “Primary” was better left forgotten. As for the earlier fare, many of the mixes feel rote (“Inbetween Days”) in comparison to the new life lent them on the Mixed Up versions, while others are downright puzzling: the extended mix of “Pictures Of You” seems to have taken the single mix as its source material…and only ends up forty seconds longer than the already lengthy album version (and a third as dynamic). It’s really the third disc of tracks spanning the bands forty years and remixed by Smith himself which demands attention.
On the whole Smith plays things cautiously and tastefully on Torn Down. That it focuses far more on deep cuts and fan favourites rather than singles which had gone relatively unmodified since their release (“Like Cockatoos” gets the nod over “Catch”, “A Strange Day” over “The Hanging Garden”) is perhaps the first clue to the thinking behind Torn Down. Despite the sense of chaos its title points to, it’s much more of a retelling or curating of the band’s legacy as envisioned by its primary author, a track by track trek through the LPs plus Japanese Whispers, “Cut Here”, and a retread of “Never Enough” (which contradicts its own title, thanks). It’s an effort mirrored by the chronologically “there and back again” set the band just performed as part of their anniversary festivities.
With a couple of exceptions (the sweeps and backmasking of drums on “Shake Dog Shake” diminish the original’s rhythmic fury, and “Plainsong” is fuzzed and tripped out to sound like a Wild Mood Swings B-side) Smith doesn’t stray far from the core strengths which makes this selection of tunes a solid representation of their non-single catalog. The symbolist mystery of “Like Cockatoos” is retained via the whirling refrain of the song’s name, and the contrast between the processional piano of “The Drowning Man” and the smeared layers of vocals Smith weaves in nicely reprise the original’s despair. The martial drumming set beneath “Want” seems to connote the power the song has gained as a live staple since the release of the unfairly maligned Wild Mood Swings: signalling the difference between a properly epic tour date and an easy-going festival set, it signals The Cure going to war.
In the liner notes Smith recalls his desire for the original Mixed Up to sound “contemporary without being dated” and avoid banking on trends. The first record more or less accomplished that, as does its predecessor. While their are nods to modern production, namely in dusty and restrained drum programming, there’s no current-day equivalent of the jolly house excesses of the 1990 “Inbetween Days” mix, at least to today’s ears.
Who should buy it?
Cure die-hards have obviously already nabbed the whole mess up in multiple formats, but for the casual fan things are a bit trickier. The second disc certainly helps to collate some relatively obscure pieces – if I don’t miss my guess this is the first time the 12″ version of “A Japanese Dream” has officially appeared on CD in over thirty years, and the first time that the still-controversial ’86 version of “Boys Don’t Cry” has gone digital – but those are likely to be of little interest to most punters. Torn Down, as mentioned above, does a nice job of putting a specific editorial spin on back catalog deep cuts, but the alternate history it tells only really tracks once you’re well versed in the canonical story and are looking for a fresh perspective.
It seems fitting that this version of Mixed Up should be the compilation to contain more of The Cure’s hits than any of their compilations (including 2001’s perfunctory Greatest Hits) but in forms far removed from their familiar guises, whether they were first encountered on goth club floors or summer vacation radio. For all of the post-punk/new wave/goth/psych triangulation one might care to make, The Cure are nothing if not a pop band. A very messy and excessive pop band. And Mixed Up, both in 1990 and 2018, is nothing if not a messy and excessive pop record.