Bloodflowers

Face it: british goth-popsters the Cure have been running on fumes for ten years. Still, that's less than half of their life span, not bad for a band that was part of the late-Seventies post-punk fallout. The mere fact that the Cure have managed to provide the soundtrack for almost two generations of the paint-it-black set suggests that Robert Smith's formula is a winner: cracked operatic vocals, shameless pop melodies and shimmering, melancholy arrangements with buried, echoey drums.

Even when the Cure were scoring Top Ten album sales, fans knew to treat them as a dance band and singles outfit. Smith is incapable of writing five bad songs in a row; even hopeless records (1992's Wish) sport some saving grace ("Friday I'm in Love"). But he can write four bad songs in a row, and Cure albums tend to leak filler like an attic spilling insulation. The latest, Bloodflowers, is half dismissible droning, an unforgivable ratio considering it's only nine tracks long.

Bloodflowers continually looks to the band's past. The opening number, "Out of This World," threatens to retread 1989's "Pictures of You" as a spacey farewell. But unlike its predecessor, "Out of This World" is passionless and without direction, and the Billy Joel-ish piano plinking around the corners is distracting. "Watching Me Fall" features some of Smith's best lyrical fatalism ("The night is always young," he bays) and tense cymbal work, but its multilayered arrangement sounds dated. The album's soft, chewy center, five songs' worth, never varies in rhythm or pace and depends mostly on hard strumming for propulsion. "Where the Birds Always Sing" has no tune at all, just traces of one you've heard before (in "Why Can't I Be You"). Only "39" has the incendiary grandness of the old Cure, with berserk guitar lines and drumbeats resounding from a bottomless pit. But Smith sings his own epitaph in his haunted voice: "The fire is almost out."