It takes a singular mind to sustain a personal vision through nineteen years. A mind that is, perhaps, a mass of contradictions, but one that is certainly fueled by endless determination. Robert Smith, creator of the strange, delirious world of The Cure, has kept true to the 14 year-old boy who wore velvet dresses to school and was expelled for being a malignant influence, who wished to dream and scream through an ever-evolving music that will forever be teetering on the edge of a cliff – and laughing.
Smith, together with a revolving line-up of comrades who have the habit of coming and going as the rigors of touring demand, has gone from the Crawley schoolyard beginnings to a man who has sold over 24 million albums and can cause widespread panic on MTV simply by cutting his hair. The mind behind the spider black mop and blood red lips remains focused on what he has always held dear, while his persona stays shrouded in mystery. Whether you have traveled the entire length of Robert Smith’s brilliant maverick vision, or have stepped on board on the way, you know what kind of magic is in store – star filled skies, deep black lakes, crimson kisses and above all … the unexpected.
With a line-up that now includes new drummer Jason Cooper, returning keyboards player Roger O’Donnell (1987-90), bassist Simon Gallup and guitarist Perry Bamonte, who has been roadie with to the band, The Cure re-take center stage with the new singles compilation Galore — a stunning condensation of 10 years of music into a 73 minute disc.
Smith’s journey began in Blackpool on 21st April 1959, but his family migrated to Crawley while he was still in infancy, so that his singular ideas germinated within the heart of suburbia. At six he was learning guitar chords from his elder brother Richard, at 16 he had formed Easy Cure with his schoolmates Lol Tolhurst (drums) and Michael Dempsey (bass). Their first demos included a song based upon Albert Camus’ ‘The Outsider’ entitled ‘Killing An Arab’ which fell into the hands of the then Polydor A&R man Chris Parry. So taken was he by the song that he licensed a limited edition single to indie label Small Wonder. It was released December 1978. When Parry left Polydor to set up Fiction Records, he took The Cure with him and they have been together ever since.
In February 1979 Fiction re-released ‘Killing An Arab’ and the band began to tour in earnest; their angular, brooding, atmospheric music cutting a dissonant chord against the frantic speed rush of punk, a marked difference which would sustain Smith long after safety pins and mohawks became novelty items. They recorded their first of many John Peel Sessions and, in May 1979, unveiled Three Imaginary Boys, and album which began it’s challenge on it’s front cover – a still life of a lamp, a refrigerator and a vacuum cleaner. The revenge on suburbia had begun.
Robert Smith has his work cut out in 1979, through touring extensively to promote the album and returning to the studio for two further recording sessions for the singles “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Jumping Someone Else’s Train.” However, when The Cure commenced touring with kindred spirits Siouxsie and The Banshees, Robert found himself playing two sets a night, stepping into the breach for departed guitarist John McKay. Further collaborations with The Banshees, as guitarist and songwriter, and with bassist Steve Severin (with whom he made the Blue Sunshine LP in 1983 under the pseudonym The glove) would continue for many years. The Cure’s personnel also began shifting by the end of 1979, when Michael Dempsey left to be replaced by Simon Gallup, and Matthieu Hartley was added to play keyboards.
The Cure’s second album Seventeen Seconds expanded The Cure’s immersion in studio experimentation and locked into a darker seam of songwriting that produced the classic single ‘A Forest’; a cinematic foray into noir imagery that gained the band their first UK hit single and a Top Of The Pops appearance. The Cure’s first world tour followed, while Seventeen Seconds climbed to Number 20 in the UK album charts. Following a lengthy Australasian tour Matthieu Hartley left and The Cure were a three piece once more.
The band worked on an instrumental soundtrack for the film Carnage Visors and plunged deeper into the world of potent dissolution and fear which would hallmark their next two LP’s.
Faith was released in 1981, and its claustrophobic intensity reflected the band’s state of mind. Still more successful than its predecessor, it reached Number 14 in the UK album charts and spawned the single ‘Primary.’ There followed the one-off single, the haunting ‘Charlotte Sometimes.’ Still The Cure had not yet plumbed the depths of their personal hysteria, but 1982’s Pornography, a landmark Eighties album, was regarded by many as a kamikaze shot from which they could never recover. It certainly appeared so at the end of the Pornography Tour in Brussels when Simon Gallup left The Cure and Lol Tolhurst decided to stop playing drums.
But recover they did, and with perverse delight, finished the year with the “Let’s Go To Bed” single, a dementedly upbeat piece of disco that revealed another, more playful side to Robert Smith’s writing. The line-up was still in disarray – the single was recorded with Wreckless Eric drummer Steve Goulding – but another key Cure partnership was forged in the making of the promotional video. Tim Pope directed the first of many fruitful collaborations. “The Cure,” he said, “are one of the stupidest bands you could ever work with, and yet they are also the brightest and the most intelligent.” With the 1983 success of ‘The Walk,’ which hit the UK charts at Number 12, Smith felt vindicated: he had worked through the rage and despair of Pornography and had turned perception of him on their heads with this bold experimental outing.
Smith spent more time in ’83 with The Banshees, playing on their Hyaena studio and Nocturne live Lps when they lost yet another guitarist, John McGeoch. But, more importantly, The Cure rebuilt itself around drummer Andy Anderson and bassist Phil Thornalley. They went on to score their biggest hit to date with the jazz-infected, sublime pop of ‘The Lovecats’ which reached Number 7 in the UK charts and presented the one time “Messiah of Angst” in red polka dots and beads, increasing the scope of his songwriting prowess and the size of his audience.
But, should anyone have forgotten the frightening intensity of which The Cure were capable, then 1984’s The Top was a reminder; a violent rollercoaster ride through obsession, sex and death that reached Number 10 in the UK chart. However, in the midst of the album’s red lights and bleak black rooms lay the fragile sweetness of ‘The Caterpillar’, a single that made Number 14. There were more line-up changes to come, however, when Andy Anderson and Phil Thornalley left the fold, the latter to pursue a solo career. They were replaced by Boris Williams on drums, Porl Thompson on guitar and a returning Simon Gallup on bass.
This incarnation started work on 1985’s Head On The Door; with typical Cure conversity, a concise and simply effective pop record which diffused the mood of The Top and reached Number 7 in the UK and 59 in the US Billboard charts. Another brilliant Tim Pop collaboration was the video of the single ‘Close To Me’ which featured the band jostling around in a wardrobe on the cliffs of infamous suicide drop, Beachey Head.
The Head On The Door had paved the way for The Cure’s seduction of America, but it was the singles compilation Standing On A Beach, released in May 1986, which heralded the onslaught of success. The US media were fascinated with the Robert Smith enigma, bizzarely referring to him as “the male Kate Bush,” and getting mightily upset when he lopped off his spidery locks for a close crop. Come 1987, the line-up had expanded to take in keyboards player Roger O’Donnell, and their Ten Imaginary Years were catalogued and celebrated in book form. The Cure had sold eight million records in their decade of existence.
The next LP, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, was a vast double album of extraordinary invention and moodscaping; never had The Cure sounded quite so extreme, whether in anguish or in bliss. Four singles were forthcoming; ‘Why Can’t I Be You?,’ ‘Catch,’ ‘Hot Hot Hot!!!’ and ‘Just Like Heaven.’ Already a favorite of programmers at the burgeoning alternative radio stations in the US, The Cure suddenly found themselves ushered up from the theater circuit in America and onto arena and stadium stages throughout America on the strength of the ‘Kiss Me’ record.
Early in 1989, the band’s relationship with Lol Tolhurst had turned very sour, leading to Tolhurst’s departure that year. It was the only acrimonious departure The Cure had ever sustained.
Perhaps appropriately, the next album was titled Disintegration, a work of unearthly, beautiful melancholy, highlighted by the singles ‘Fascination Street’ (US only), ‘Lullaby,’ ‘Pictures Of You’ and ‘Love Song’ which achieved Number 2 in the US Billboard chart. The Cure crossed the Atlantic aboard the QE2 to tour American, avoiding Smith’s much-loathed air travel. Roger O’Donnell left after the long-haul of touring, to be replaced on keyboards by Cure roadie, Perry Bamonte.
In 1990 The Cure, yet again ahead of their time, released Mixed Up, a collection of remixes, spawning the hit singles ‘Never Enough’ and the classic Paul Oakenfold remix of ‘Close To Me.’ The band went on to win Best British Group at The Brit Awards in February 1991.
The 1992 result of their endeavors, the wondrous Wish was hailed by many critics as “…their best album.” A long, evocative journey through the multi-faceted Cure psyche; from the delightful ‘Friday I’m In Love’ to the swelling headrush of the closing ‘End,’ the album expanded and built upon Smith’s and The Cure’s work and dreams. “The longer we go on,” he acknowledged, “the less similarities there are between what we’re doing and what anyone else has ever done.” Wish went to Number 1 in the UK charts in Many, Number 2 in the US, and delivered the hit singles ‘High,’ ‘Friday I’m In Love’ and ‘A Letter To Elise.’ The band began a massive world tour in its wake.
Porl Thompson left the band in 1993, a year in which the band headlined the Great Xpectations Show in London’s Finsbury Park on behalf of XFM, and released the film and album Show; a live documentary of the Detroit show of the ‘Wish’ tour. Another live LP, Paris, containing many cure rarities, followed, with donations going to the International Red Cross. By now, The Cure had sold in excess of 23 million albums worldwide.
1994 proved to be a difficult year for The Cure. A long running and distracting legal battle instigated by Tolhurst was finally settled in the autumn by High Court judgment in favor of the defendant, Robert Smith and Fiction Records. Then, on the eve of the commencement of recording, Boris Williams announced his decision to quit. Bruised but undeterred, The Cure placed ads in a UK music paper which simple read — ‘…famous group requires drummer – no metal heads…’ and duly went into recording with no less than seven different drummers! By spring 1995 things had settled down, with Jason Cooper becoming the official drummer, and Roger O’Donnell being welcomed back on keyboards.
The Cure took time out from the studio after recording 23 new songs to play eleven European summer festivals, including a headline performance at the biggest ever Glastonbury. The recordings were completed in February ’96, and resulted in Wild Mood Swings as aptly titled a collection of songs as you could hope for.
Where 1992’s Wish pulled together the disparate threads that have inspired their music into one dazzling whole, Wild Mood Swings pushed forward into bold new territory, while retaining the integral obsessions of desire and dismay. As its title suggests, Wild Mood Swings invited the listener into a vast film set of the imagination, where the rooms can turn from sumptuous to stark; danger and pleasure swirl from stairway to basement. New singles ;The 13th,’ ‘Mint Car,’ ‘Strange Attraction’ and ‘Gone’ were greeted with enthusiasm by fans and critics after the group’s four-year recording hiatus.
Following the successful “Swing” tour of the US, UK and Europe in 1996, and their first-ever performances on American network television (Saturday Night Live, Late Show With David Letterman and Late Night With Conan O’Brien) the band took a short break during which they released a five-track, limited edition EP of live recordings called Five Swing Live exclusively through their website (www.thecure.com) — a medium in which the entire band has become increasingly involved. Selling out instantly to their devoted fans, Five Swing Live is already regarded as a collector’s item.
In January of ’97, Smith was one of the artists personally invited to perform with David Bowie (along with Lou Reed, Frank Black, Foo Fighters and Billy Corgan) at the legendary rocker’s pay-per-view 50th Birthday bash at Madison Square Garden. Receiving high praise from Bowie, high marks from critics and one of the loudest cheers of the evening, Smith dueted with Bowie on a memorable acoustic version of the ’70s classic “Quicksand.” The band was honored once again when director Mike Leigh virtually constructed his film Career Girls around the lives of two college-age Cure fans in the late ’80s. Career Girls featured six Cure tracks including ‘The Caterpillar,’ ‘The Lovecats,’ ‘The Walk’ and ‘The Upstairs Room.’ The film was released in America in late summer to rave reviews.
Summer of ’97 brought The Cure back to America for a headlining appearance at perhaps the most important US radio festival, The KROQ Weenie Roast in Los Angeles, where they were top of the bill over such hitmakers as Oasis, Blur, Foo Fighters and Offspring. Robert Smith used the limelight to announce Galore, a much-anticipated compilation of Cure singles released from 1987 to the present and natural follow-up to 1986 critically-acclaimed Standing On A Beach — an LP recently cited by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the “best albums ever made.”
Documenting their rise from underground cult act to stadium headliners, the 18-song Galore includes many of the group’s best-known and best-charting tracks. Galore also includes the new single ‘Wrong Number,’ recorded in London last summer and featuring a guest performance by ex-Tin Machine guitarist and David Bowie collaborator Reeves Gabrels. ‘Wrong Number’ also marks the first video collaboration between The Cure and Tim Pope for nearly four years.
Nearly twenty years and twenty-five million albums into their estimable career, The Cure continue to be a force in the hearts of their many fans throughout the world. As pioneers of the so-called ‘alternative’ music format, they have been cited as an influence by contemporary artists as diverse as the Smashing Pumpkins and The Cardigans. Like all of the greatest and most durable rock bands, The Cure have shown the rare ability to effortlessly define their era through their music, providing a soundtrack to the lives of a generation.