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 Christmass reports.
 
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 and prosper.”

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 London.

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 to
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 and alcohol.

The Cure were rapidly gaining a reputation as a band that only maudlin Goths could love when, in 1983, Smith changed tack and wrote a jaunty,
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 1985
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 boy, a
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 marks the
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 of
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.

(Thanks Jo)

 

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