In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking our favorite unlikely collaborations.
The now-defunct Canadian electropunk duo Crystal Castles took its name from an old She-Ra toy commercial, which declared “the fate of the world safe in Crystal Castle.” Band members Alice Glass and Ethan Kath are no Masters Of The Universe, but their work together was a way for the two to guardedly air their fears and frustrations. They buried their emotions deep within a fortress of synths and sounds that produced three brash, catchy, pulsating albums. On its sophomore effort, 2010’s Crystal Castles (II), the band began to let some cracks show, and the wounded humans beneath the electronica were never more apparent than on “Not In Love,” a brooding dance-floor hit that employed the voice of The Cure’s Robert Smith.
Though there’s a traceable musical lineage from Crystal Castles back to The Cure, no one anticipated the collaboration between the enigmatic Smith and the young musicians. The track (a cover of Platinum Blonde’s 1983 single) originally featured distant, distorted vocals from Kath, which gave a ghostly atmosphere to lines like “Won’t give you my heart / No one lives there anymore.” But when “Not In Love” was released as a single after the album came out, Crystal Castles surprised fans with a Smith-aided remix. The new cut placed the vocals front and center and beefed up the throbbing beat. Smith’s emotive crooning intensifies the turmoil of the bridge’s plea: “When are you coming home?” As the chorus hits, the already propulsive synths become unavoidably sweeping, and Smith’s repeated declaration of “I’m not in love” sounds shakier each time he says it, as it becomes harder and harder to convince himself otherwise. With The Cure, Smith always wore his heart on his sleeve and, here, his emotional vulnerability can’t help but uncover some of the tender longing beneath Crystal Castles’ cool, icy facade.