The Cure has been called many funny things in its time, but the funniest by far was a 1990 description of its singer, Robert Smith (quoted in Elektra Records' biography of the group), that called him a ''generational spokesman.'' This is, after all, a man who often speaks to his era's constituents dressed in a fuzzy bunny rabbit suit.
Despite Smith's video antics, however, the Cure's music doesn't contain many jokes, indulging instead in dirgelike tempos and depressing lyrics about pain, apathy, and fatigue. This may be why as the band releases Wish, its 12th and, for lack of a better word, happiest album to date the Cure's generation has yet to take the band's message completely to heart. Or at least not to the extent that all fans emulate Smith's penchant for bizarre clothing, smeared lipstick, and the trademark hairdo of a fried electric cat. But the Cure's international popularity its last album of all-original songs, 1989's Disintegration, sold 3 million copies worldwide does indicate that the band's often bleak, sometimes absurd, and always super-arty stance has struck a chord with a significant portion of today's youth.
And now the Cure seems to have lightened up more than ever before. This is not to say that Wish is downright cheery; that would be expecting too much from a group that almost single-handedly invented gothic rock (a.k.a. Gloom and Doom). Their music continues to lope along at its patented snail's pace, transforming a few minor-key guitar chords into a convoluted, melodious, nonlinear, pulsating groove. Smith's yowly voice has a perpetual catch in it, and he retains a strong belief in the futility of love: On the first track, ''Open,'' he's busy ''looking at the floor'' and ''feel[s] so tired''; finally he concludes, ''I should have gone to bed tonight.'' But what can you expect from a guy who claims he can fall in love only on Fridays because the other days of the week are too depressing?
Still, Smith does exhibit a subtle sense of emotional development: For one thing, not since 1987's ironic and charming double LP Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me has the band sounded this solidly rollicking. Although songs like ''End'' (which finishes the new album with Smith's morbid instructions to listeners to ''please stop loving me,'' repeated a zillion times, with conviction) are still lengthy downers, others are not nearly as grim. Particularly swift-moving and sweet are the single ''High,'' the R.E.M. like jangle of ''Friday I'm in Love'' the first Cure song for which you could imagine sitting down and strumming on a guitar without having first to borrow your neighbor's smoke machine and the jaunty ''Doing the Unstuck,'' which ends with the un-Curelike injunction ''Let's get happy!'' Smith still hasn't come to the entirely adult conclusion that before he achieves inner peace he'll have to take some responsibility for his own actions. But, here and there on Wish, he apparently has lifted his eyes from his navel and seen, if not exactly sunshine, at least a break in the clouds. B