October 3, 2007 - San Francisco Bay Guardian (USA)
Now there's a Cure
Conversing with the agile Robert Smith, plus Datarock, Girlstock, Yellow Swans, Alien, and more

Wednesday October 3, 2007

› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Are you for reals? Seriously, dude, when the going continues on its war path, peace-promoting Buddhist monks land in Myanmar jails, and Pamela Anderson grasps at marriage straws once again — with Paris Hilton sex-vid jock Rick Salomon, yet — we can all safely say that reality looks to be drastically overvalued.

How else to explain the fact that the biggest music news in the past week was pranked out as now-it's-true-now-it's-not-now-it's-true-again fiction: the would-be Meg White sex tape starring a black-haired lady who looks absolutely nothing like the besieged drummer — no wonder White's acutely anxious; sometimes they really are out to get you — and a faux Radiohead new-album announcement that shuffled you toward a YouTube page flying a pretty hee-hee-larious music video for furiously hip-swiveling '80s pop star Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up.

" Then hot on Astley's wiggly behind came the real — I think — announcement of Radiohead's Nigel Godrich–produced seventh, In Rainbows; the band's fan service is now taking your order at radiohead.com for the MP3 download (arriving Oct. 10) and blown-out double vinyl and CD "Discbox" including exclusive art and photos, a CD of additional songs, and bundled MP3s, all of which sounds like a way for Radiohead to test the self-release waters à la Prince.

So what's the next reality hack, hoaxsters? An imminent Led Zeppelin reunion spotlighting the reanimated corpse of John Bonham, thanks to Jimmy Page's rumored Aleister Crowley connections? A "Big Girls Don't Cry"–flogging Fergie auditions for the Pussycat Dolls, fronted by Jersey Boys–revived, "Big Girls Don't Cry" flailer Frankie Valli?

Going against the tide of such prankery is UK goth pop vet Robert Smith of The Cure, famous for his singles-chart cri de coeur "Boys Don't Cry." I've never been a rabid Cure fan, but I must admit that the voluble, down-to-earth Smith won me over with his earnest intelligence in a call from his studio outside Brighton, where the band is embroiled in its forthcoming double album. Making further inroads against fakery, Smith told me he's been writing more "socially aware lyrics" than he normally pens. "Obviously I live in the real world, contrary to what a lot of people think," he said. "I get angry about things, and I thought it was time for me to put those things into songs."

"It's just kind of insane," he continued. "The world seems to be reverting almost to the Middle Ages, with the rise of the idiocy of religion. The whole policing of thought and action is anathema to any artist. Any artist has to react!" He described "Us or Them," off the band's last self-titled ...LP (Geffen, 2004), as the closest he's gotten to writing a song protesting "childish, black-and-white portrayals of the world — that isn't a world I want to live in!"

It's just been a matter of fitting the words to the right music; otherwise, Smith said, "it sounds like I'm singing, quite literally, from a different hymn book." The band recorded more than 25 songs two years ago, rerecorded them last year, and is back at work on them, although The Cure will take a brief break to play the Download Festival in the Bay Area despite pushing the rest of their North American tour to next year. "We can postpone 27 shows, but we can't postpone Download Festival," he said. "So we're just doin' it! We're coming over on the Friday, playing that Saturday, and then home on Sunday and going back to the studio. So it's quite a bizarre weekend for us, but good fun."

The return of on-off guitarist Porl Thompson seems to have inspired The Cure's latest surge in creativity, though the shock-headed vocalist's involvement in the band's recent live DVD, The Cure: Festival 2005, interrupted progress on the double album, which Smith said he will mix and Geffen will release at the same price as the single-album version, which someone else will mix.

Smith is wagering most listeners will want to buy the double CD for the price of one. "The difficulty now is to get the digital domain to accede to our wishes and price two songs at the price of one," he said, though ultimately he's not worried. "I'm at the stage now — well, I've always been at the stage — of making music primarily for myself, that I enjoy, and then for Cure fans. So whether or not it's commercial is not a great concern."

The plan so far is to release three singles, he said. "One is a very heavy, dark single, one is an incredibly upbeat, stupid pop single, and one is out-and-out dance, so that shows you the variety of stuff on the record."

Stupid? How can anyone as obviously smart as Smith go for that? "I'm saying that most good pop singles are stupid — otherwise they're not good pop singles," he demurred. "I'm from an age when disposable wasn't necessarily a bad thing." *

Download Festival
Sat/6, 2 p.m., $29.50–$75
Shoreline Amphitheatre
1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View

(Interview link)