Robert Smith gets happy
After 18 years, the Cure's leader discovers fun
By Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, 11/28/97
Robert Smith spends the beginning or end of almost every Cure tour
fretting and moaning that this is it. Over.
Finis. History. Thanks for the memories.
End-of-the-Cure fatalism is a long, rich tradition, and the 38-year-old
band leader is given to making his musings
Not at the end of last year's tour, however. ''First time I didn't
think that,'' says Smith, with a laugh at his own
expense. Smith is the black-clad, ruby-red-lipped guy at the core of the 18-year-old Cure, its
singer-songwriter-guitarist, its Face. The man whose band, along with Joy Division, helped guide early English
post-punk music toward atmospheric mood pieces, toward a fertile ground of despair and futility. Last year, he
found himself having, well, fun.
''Last year's tour of America was the most fun I've ever had on a
tour,'' says Smith. ''I don't think we could do it
again, 'cause it was very cavalier, a this-is-it sort of attitude.'' Maybe they couldn't do it quite that way again, but
at least the unit is in working order. The band - bassist Simon Gallup, keyboardist Roger O'Donnell, guitarist
Perry Bamonte, and new drummer Jason Cooper - is more than halfway through making an as-yet-untitled new
album. They hope to complete it in February and get it out by June. Following the World Cup championship (June
1-July 12) - Smith's a rabid soccer fan and the English are favorites - they'll begin a major tour.
As it is, the Cure, which just played club dates in New York and
Los Angeles, is winding up a week of rehearsals in
its London studio, readying for a quick return to the States for nine radio station-sponsored Christmas events
including WBCN-FM's ''Xmas Rave'' Tuesday. It headlines a sold-out Orpheum show with Tanya Donelly and
Smith likes these multiple band events. ''People in bands come up
and are very nice to us,'' he says. ''If you turn up
and watch other bands, there is a real sense of community. There's no kind of competition. You always want to be
the best band, but you're really pleased if other bands are playing really well because it means the audience is up
and everyone's having a good evening.''
The album the band is supporting, ''Galore,'' is another compilation,
the group's third ''singles'' collection. How do
you support a hits package? In New York and Los Angeles, the Cure played the hits, 12 from ''Galore,'' eight from
the previous best-of, 1986's ''Standing on a Beach.'' ''I think it was a concept concert,'' says Smith, of this
give-the-people-what-they-want gambit. In town Tuesday, Smith hints at something darker, and, typically, somewhat
perverse. ''The set we've put together is the heaviest set we've ever played in America. It's wall-to-wall guitars and
noise, including three or four old songs we've never played in America before, `Shake Dog Shake' and `100 Years.'
It's a chance for us to go out and play our old stuff without worrying what people think, or whether it will sell
records. It's just something to enjoy.''
Enjoy. Ponder that little word for a moment. Do you find it odd when
used in the context of a man who wrote a song
called ''Fun eral Party'' and began another with ''It doesn't matter if we all die?'' The proto-Goth Cure has always
appealed to, as Details so eloquently put it, ''those picked last for basketball. The Beatles meet Sylvia Plath.''
Smith had a chance to look back at what he's created and his public
image when he viewed Mike Leigh's film
''Career Girls,'' released last summer. It's about two women who reunite six years after college and still deeply
connect with the Cure, and each other, through the Cure. Six Cure songs are featured.
In the film, says Smith, he's seen as ''this iconic figure who doesn't
change. There's a part of the film when they see
a poster [promoting the song] `The 13th' and one of them says, `Is he still doing that?''' (''That'' would be the jet
black, fright-wig hairstyle, the lipstick and eyeliner. An effeminate, bruised look on a guy built like a linebacker.)
''Like I'm an unchanging man in a changing world,'' Smith muses about
the movie. ''It was very weird, because it
was wrapped up in what I represented at the time, which was a kind of disaffected youth, and I was perceived as
being the same now. It's weird, because I know I'm not. I realize it's there, but to see it up there on the screen, to
have it driven home like that. I've never really felt like that, even when I was 17 or 27.''
But Smith understands the process, the identification. ''People empathize
with you as a singer and you can
communicate certain emotions,'' he says. ''People think I'm singing to them and they think I feel that way too.''
Sometimes he does, maybe, but not all of what Smith pens should be heard as the absolute truth. He claims poetic
license - ''I tend to embellish.'' He likes to party; he likes his pints.
Still, Smith admits, as a fan, he's fallen into the same trap as
many of his fans do. Recently, too. He met David
Bowie and sang ''Quicksand'' with him at Madison Square Garden in January for the Bowie tribute show. Meeting
Bowie offstage, Smith says, ''changed my impression of what he was like as a person. I still had an idea of what I
wanted him to be like, but I found him to be different and probably not how I imagined him to be. I thought he'd be
very cold, aloof, distant, and clever. But he's very genuine.''
Actually, Smith has done a pretty good job of countering the mope
image by crafting upbeat songs like ''Friday I'm
in Love,'' ''Hot! Hot! Hot!, and ''Just Like Heaven.'' ''Galore'' emphasizes this side of the Cure. ''Sometimes, I've
got no control over it,'' Smith says, of his creative muse and the contrasts contained within his music. ''Sometimes I
would prefer it to be heavier. ... But I've never done anything with the group that I don't want to do at that time. So,
if we want to do a song like `Friday ...' we just do it and don't worry about the consequences to our future career or
The Cure recorded one new song, ''Wrong Number,'' for ''Galore,''
and it features Boston-based guitarist and
Bowie gunslinger Reeves Gabrels. They met at the Bowie tribute, quaffed beers, hit it off, and Gabrels joined the
Cure in London during a tour break to lay down this track and two others likely to appear on the upcoming album.
''Wrong Number'' has a hard edge and a techno beat, ''a marriage of rock and dance'' says Smith. ''It's something
to do with the makeup of the group as it is at the moment, particularly with Jason on drums. He's still in his 20s and
doesn't have the hangups [of some older drummers]. A different generation feels kind of threatened by machinery.''
The Cure, observes Smith, is the kind of band that wanders in and
out of the mainstream's gaze. ''I think that we've
sort of bridged a gap,'' he says. ''We've been outside; we've been very commercial, whatever that means. I like the
idea of moving between. More often than not, we're way outside, which has an upside and a downside. It allows us
not to worry about being fashionable, being in, being hip because we very rarely are. The downside part of it is that
whenever we do tap into something that is contemporary we get critics who think, `Oh, they're trying to get into the
techno-rock hybrid, ' quite conveniently forgetting the stuff on the ''Mixed Up'' album, which is in the same vein,
and all the remixes we've been doing back to 1982. I mean there was only us, New Order, and Depeche Mode as
rock-pop bands remixed by really good club DJs.''
The Cure's upcoming album will be its last for the labels it is currently
signed to worldwide (Elektra in the United
States). As the Cure remains a hot commodity, Smith expects that its current labels will be going all out to impress
the band and make this disc a hit. ''Normally,'' he says, laughing, ''we just sort of chuck it out there and hope for
the best. I think they're going to try hard and impress us.''
Will the Cure be impressing their fans? Some of them. But they may
not thoroughly captivate the slice of fandom
that's buying ''Galore.'' Smith is viewing the upcoming album almost like ''my invented trilogy, to follow up from
[1989's] `Disintegration,''' which was a semi-continuation of the dense, dark sound of 1982's ''Pornography.'' ''The
writing is heavier than what I've been writing over the past five years,'' Smith says. ''Not gloomier. Just a bit more
powerful. Just taking fewer prisoners.'' Just another chapter in the Cure's book of wild mood swings.
This story ran on page C16 of the Boston Globe on 11/28/97.