25 years ago, The Cure's 'Disintegration' changed history

Korina Lopez

Robert Smith's hair and makeup aren't the only things that have withstood the test of time. The Cure's legacy has, too.

Although the band's been through several member changes, and despite intermittent retirement announcements, Smith's leadership remains constant. The unmistakable sound of The Cure's gloomy post-punk pop gave rise to goth rock, but it was Smith's masterful orchestration that balanced his punk roots with pop sensibilities and tipped the band into the mainstream, making it one of the most important bands to come out of — and survive — the '80s. In 1989, the group released its seminal album Disintegration, considered one of its important, if not its most important, albums. Earlier this year, Smith announced he and his bandmates will release their 14th and 15th studio albums, called 4:14 Scream and 4:26 Dream. Maybe they'll top Disintegration? We'll see.

In homage to the 25th anniversary of that album, USA TODAY invited readers to share their memories.

I remember my mom driving me to kindergarten (1989), and we were listening to The Cure's Disintegration on cassette, and at some point, my mom hit the rewind button to point out a particular awesome part of Lullaby (those syncopated plucky strings). It was the first time I remember having a conversation about a certain part of a song — until then, music just washed over me like the sun or the breeze, just another uncontrollable part of the world — and I remember being fascinated with the power of the listener to intervene in the music. That REWIND button! So much power. In a lot of ways, it planted the seed of me eventually becoming a DJ, that active interventionist attitude to recordings. — Canyon Cody, Los Angeles

I didn't get to see them live until the Wish tour. But I remember buying Disintegration on tape and bringing it home. I put it into my stereo and cranked the volume. Wind chimes before the beginning booms of Plainsong for the first time had me shivering! My father came into my room about halfway through the song, presumably because the music was too loud, and asked, "What's going on in here?" Thirteen-year-old me responded, "THIS MUSIC IS CHANGING MY LIFE FOREVER!" — Kellianne Benson, Berkeley, Calif.

I was obsessed with Robert Smith. I even wore a floating heart necklace like the one he and his wife, Mary, wore. Senior year in high school, I dated a guy who played bass and looked just like him. That he turned out to be a raging alcoholic was secondary to his resemblance to my teenage music obsession. — Vanessa LaFaso Stolarski, Harper's Ferry, W.Va.

I wore a scarlet brocade mandarin jacket I swiped from a costume shop fire sale, and got black hair dye all over it. I remember doing all of our makeup before a show. At my grandma's house! — Leanne Gonzalez Singer, New York City

I bought myself a boom box with a CD player for my 17th birthday (November '89) and could only afford two CDs with it. One of them was Disintegration. I was determined only to buy classic albums while I switched over my collection from vinyl and tapes. I went home and cranked it up. Boom box still works, although it randomly cranks up the volume on its own sometimes. I think there's a New Wave ghost in the machine. — Cathleen Corrie, Portland, Ore.

Disintegration was my favorite album when I was a preteen/high school student. I have memories of playing it (the whole thing) on the jukebox at the pizza place, squealing for joy when it got a shout-out on an early episode of South Park, and feeling like my life was complete when I got a copy on vinyl for a winter holiday gift. Not to mention the party where one dancer played the hook to Love Song on xylophone, or the college friend who played Lullaby on repeat just to annoy his roommate. One of the most significant creative works in my life. — Charlotte Stewart, Charlotte

I was 12 years old when Disintegration came out. The girl next door, who frequently came over to babysit us when my mother was going out overnight, brought the tape over to listen to after my younger brother fell asleep. I had only the vaguest idea about alternative rock and had never even heard of The Cure when she pushed play on our stereo. The big sound of the opening of Plainsong absorbed the churn of emotion that I'd been experiencing but couldn't quite express.

Robert Smith, lead singer of The Cure, circa 1999.

At the time, my mother had been going through a harrowing divorce from her second husband, a marriage that made the movie The Night of the Hunter look like a documentary. My classmates hated me for a raft of reasons (I was the new kid, I talked back to the boys who bothered me, there were rumors that I'd attacked a teacher the year prior), and I couldn't pick a side between boy bands and hair metal. I felt deeply cynical about love and romance, both from watching my mother's marriage disintegrate and from the way the boys at my school treated the girls. The lyrics on Disintegration matched up with the violence of love that I'd seen at home and on the playground, but that gorgeous, larger-than-life sound — the lush melodies and full arrangements — fed into my burgeoning romantic emotions. — Chelsea Spear, Medford, Mass.

My dad used to play The Cure's Disintegration in the car for me and my sister all the time growing up. My parents are divorced, and they'd meet each other halfway every other weekend. Disintegration was one of the albums he played for us all the time, and whenever I hear it, it takes me back to the '90s: falling asleep in the back of my dad's Geo Prism, sunshine pouring in through the window while we're on the way to Charlotte, N.C., for the weekend. — Liz Stewart, Seattle

When this album came out in 1989, it was the first by The Cure that I purchased for myself. It was only a year or two prior that I was introduced to the band by a new friend who moved into my neighborhood. Up to that point in 1989, I had copies of the cassettes that my friend owned. I was extremely excited to buy and listen to Disintegration, not only because it was new music by my now-favorite band, but it meant a tour was imminent as well, and I could see them live for the first time (which I did). And though the band already had made a deep impression on me through their catalog up to 1989, this particular album went deeper.

Though I probably couldn't express or define then why this album meant so much to me, it is clear now. I was a 15-year-old kid who had only recently moved to Augusta, Ga. (My father was in the Army.) So I was in a new school — high school, nonetheless — and it was the largest school I had ever attended. Additionally, moving to Augusta was the first time I had ever attended a public school. Up to that point, all of my schools were on military bases. Needless to say, this was quite a shock. As if that weren't enough for a kid to handle, my mother had recently passed away from cancer, so life was kind of tough on me in my early teens.

I must say, though, that my grades never suffered. My ambition never suffered. And I never let myself get too sad about life. I pushed through and thrived, actually. And while it may simply be a fact of my personality that I held it together, I also attribute my fanaticism with The Cure in those days — and particularly Disintegration — to helping me cope. Robert Smith's brilliantly written songs about love, loss, rejection, death, etc., spoke to me. While some people dismissed the band as just goths playing depressing music, I saw the poetry in the words and the beauty in the music. It was uplifting to me. And the music helped me to understand that loss, rejection, etc., were part of life, but there also was love. I knew I wasn't alone. My feelings weren't unique. My grief wasn't unique.

This album — this band — left an indelible mark. Today, I still listen to their music. Hell, I own pretty much everything they've recorded. I still consider The Cure my favorite band. And I still consider Disintegration their finest work. The band's distinct perspective on the world opened up my perspective on the world, and I will be forever grateful to them for that.— Cory Sekine-Pettite, Smyrna, Ga.