The West Magazine
(July 28th, 2007)
The Incurable Goth
Even though he’s approaching 50 the Cure frontman Robert Smith
isn’t ready to put away the hairspray and red lipstick just yet. Pip
After 30 years, 13 studio albums, endless line-up changes and
Olympic-sized drug and alcohol problems, Robert Smith can’t quite bring
himself to put the beast that is the Cure to rest.
The Cure’s bushy-haired lead singer has had a continuing love-hate
relationship with the band he formed as a fresh-faced young teenager
back in 1976.
Over the decades, he has often announced the Cure’s imminent
demise, only to reappear soon after with another album. At the age
of 48, it seems the music industry’s oldest goth-pop hero is having
trouble letting go.
But why should he, you might ask, the Cure’s music continues
to inspire new generations of fans and bands?
With a whole raft of younger bands like the Killers, Interpol
and the Shout Out Louds giving the Cure as a seminal influence, they’ve
acquired a 21st century cachet of cool that has seen them grace the covers
of trend-setting indie magazines and cited them as one of the most important
bands of the past 30 years.
Tim Burton famously based his character Edward Scissorhands on
Smith’s funeral pallor and bird’s nest hair, but perhaps the surest
sign of his relevance for a new wave of unconventional teenagers was
his appearance, in cartoon form, on the equally revered and reviled TV
series South Park.
Almost by accident, Smith has captivated generations of black-clad
outsiders whose obsession with the Cure has made them the biggest “cult”
band to ever sell out a stadium-sized arena.
“I’m genuinely surprised at people’s reactions when we play shows,”
Smith said recently. “It’s really gratifying that people still want the
Cure to exist. We’re an old band who are playing to a young audience.”
In Never Enough: The Story of the Cure, rock biographer Jeff
Apter suggests the Cure’s longevity has much to do with two simple
facts: Smith’s ability to write “killer tunes” and his dogged resistance
to the notion of having to follow musical trends to succeed.
“He’s hard working, solid,” the band’s original bass guitarist
Michael Dempsey has said of Smith. “He has a sense of purpose that’s
gone through fashion and fad. It’s quite rare to see a band do that
Indie rock’s biggest misfits started life as the Easy Cure, a
group of bored teenagers living in the dead-end suburban void of Crawley,
then a longish car ride away from the bright lights and excitement of
Smith, drummer Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst and Dempsey had no grand
plans for fame and fortune. As disaffected youngsters influenced by the
thriving punk scene, they were more concerned with avoiding the monotony
of full-time work than the perks associated with becoming famous.
The bands first effort, 1979’s Three Imaginary Boys, met with
mixed reviews. Sparse, patchy and staccato in sound, it barely hinted
at the band’s future style which was heading away from three-minute post-punk
songs into much bleaker, more atmospheric terrain.
In the early 1980s, the Cure released two albums, Seventeen Seconds
and Faith, so relentlessly downbeat that music critics dubbed them “music
slit your wrists by.”
In 1982, the band traded minimalism for murderous-sounding angst
on Pornography, a wall-of-sound barrage of hallucinatory doom and gloom
that represented the nadir of Smith’s continuing experiment with drugs
The Cure were rapidly gaining a reputation as a band that only
maudlin Goths could love when, in 1983, Smith changed tack and wrote
throwaway pop song called The Lovecats. It took them into mainstream
pop charts and its video (in which an orange polka dot-clad Smith grappled
with a bevy of stuffed cats) marked a continuing collaboration
between the band and quirky director Tim Pope.
Pope went on to direct the much-loved wardrobe-falling-off-a-cliff
video for Close to Me, the biggest selling single from the breakthrough
album Head on the Door, which saw the Cure playing mega-stadiums
like Wembley Arena for the first time.
By 1986, with his pasty visage, smeared lipstick and trademark
teased black hair, Smith had become pop’s most eccentric looking pin-up
gothic man-child whose face peered out of the bedroom posters
of millions of melancholy teenagers around the globe.
Smith was the musical version of a split personality, he could
write hauntingly somber songs with titles like The Funeral Party and
The Drowning Man but just as easily pen something as jaunty and danceable
as The Lovecats.
He drew on his own bouts of depression and his turbulent long-term
relationship with teenage sweetheart Mary Poole (whom he married in
1988) to create songs with a deep streak of haunted romanticism.
It’s this balance of dark and light that has become the Cure’s
calling card over the years. The lyrical darkness of many Cure songs
band as decidedly non-mainstream, while Smith’s melodic pop sensibility
has prevented them from being dismissed as simply a goth band.
“It’s so pitiful when ‘goth’ is still tagged on to the name the
Cure,” Smith has said. “I don’t think we are that categorisable. How
can you describe a band that put out an album like Pornography and also
a Greatest Hits where every single song was top 10 around the world? I
just play Cure music – whatever that is.”
Though “Cure Music” has undergone a positive reassessment in
recent years, by the mid 1990s the band seemed to be losing their relevance.
Despite their commercial profile slide since 1996’s Wild Mood
Swings, however, their status among music aficionados, critics and lovers
intelligent pop seems to be on the rise.
“Wherever a black overcoat and eyeliner is to be found, there
will be a clutch of Cure fans, ever faithful,” writes Apter in Never Enough.
“No-one can lay claim to the same evangelical level of adulation from
their devotees as the Cure.”
Apter adds that “irrespective of the band’s future, Robert Smith
has given one concrete assurance: “I will most certainly not be wearing
black and lipstick in 2011. That’s a guarantee’.” A somewhat ironic
guarantee, given Smith’s reluctance to put the disheveled goth image
to bed despite the fact he is powering towards 50.
Whether Smith holds true to his word remains to be seen. But
for now, he remains pop’s oddest, and unlikeliest, hero.
‘The Cure play Challenge Stadium on August 4.