December 1986 - Creem (USA)
"the Head On The Cure" REVIEW -SOTB


"The Head On The Cure"

Imagine Being Sent Back Through Time

The Cure's first album comes in 1979. It's called Three Imaginary Boys. The band consists of Robert Smith, who plays guitar, sings and writes the songs, Michael Dempsey, who plays bass and Laurence 'Lol' Tolhurst, who plays drums. All three are from England, as is their album.

Same LP comes out in the States a little later, minus Hendrix's Foxy Lady and three other tracks. It's called Boys Don't Cry, it features that song, a few more new ones, and Killing an Arab, their debut single based on The Stranger, by zany humorist Albert Camus. Song's protagonist is on a beach, standing over an Arab. Should we kill him? Key line: whichever I choose it amounts to the same, absolutely nothing. Anyway, he kills him.

It's their last American album for some time.

Next up are Seventeen Seconds and Faith. The Cure's personnel has changed. The band used to be abrasive; here, they become silky smooth. Smith used to almost sneer his lyrics; now, they're occasionally inaudible, purposely subliminal. There are keyboards. Prior dabblings in kiddie existentialism finally result in cheery tunes, the likes of At Night, The Final Sound, The Drowning Man and The Funeral Party. Yee-Hah!

A nice single called Charlotte Sometimes precedes Pornography, the very odd Cure album of 1982 that begins with the words It doesn't matter if we all die and ends with I must fight this sickness, find a cure. Between both lyrics are unusual songs about creatures kissing in the rain, animals dying, and my two favorite Cure lines: Is it always like this? and I will never be clean again."

It should be understood that around this time, the Cure lose many fans. The Cure seem to disband. Smith plays guitar for Siouxsie & the Banshees (Lord knows why), Tolhurst produces a band called And Also The Trees, Smith collaborates with Banshees Steve Severin (Lord knows why) for a one off band called the Glove, whose major claim to fame is titling their album Blue Sunshine. It is the name of a movie made in 1977 featuring stars the caliber of Zalman King, Mark Goddard (Don in Lost in Space) and Robert Walden (Rossi in Lou Grant!)--and also a bunch of people whose hair falls out 10 years after taking really potent LSD who then become brutal killers. Its great-and available on videotape.

Suddenly an about face. The Cure are back together. And the next bunch of singles are called Let's Go To Bed, The Walk, The Lovecats, and they do not seem the work of the same band. They are poppy, they are peppy, they are catchy, and they do not include lyrics like leave me to die, You won't remember my voice. These same singles end up on several different Sire compilations. Sire also releases The Top in 1984, an album that seems slightly unfocused and surreal.

The Cure sign to Elektra. Elektra opts not to release Concert, the band's live album. Instead they wait for 1985's The Head On The Door. Significantly, an advance cassette of that very album arrives at CREEM the day it folds. The Cure know nothing of this.

Inbetween Days and Close To Me become actual radio hits for the Cure in the States. The Cure are now becoming a big draw, filling large American concert halls.

In 1986, Elektra releases Standing On A Beach - The Singles, a greatest hits album, sort of, and the Cure tour this country and fill more halls than ever.

This month: the Cure hits the cover of CREEM, and entire worlds crumble.

Synopses are great!

Why The Cure Themselves Are Great

Robert Smith Himself, Talking To Me On a Great Hill near Detroit

I mean, I still don't think that much different to how I was before it all sort of started, with Seventeen Seconds. I think I'm sort of balanced - as balanced as I'm ever going to be, I was.

It's just that there was a period for about two or two and a half years when I was - I mean, it would have logically ended in me killing myself. That was very obvious to all the people around me. They, like Simon and Laurence, I think, who were the two closest to me in that period - were very surprised. They thought at one point that one morning they were gonna knock my door and I wasn't gonna answer it. Which surprises me that it was that obvious, because, I mean, I'm sure everybody goes through that, its just that I was in the position where people were expecting it from me, they were looking for me to 'Go on, show us what it's like.' It was very odd, and that's what I wanted to escape from. Because I thought, it's not that much fun living for other people.

And its like lots of people enjoy it who are in groups, they want people to believe they are living on the edge, all that rock n roll cack, and it's nonsense. Because it actually had nothing to do with the group, the group was just like an expression of how we were ALL feeling.

Robert Smith is saying these things perhaps an hour before he's to go on stage and perform many of his songs in front of 15,000 Cure fans that inhabit Detroit. He now has very short hair, if your interested. Why? Paradoxically, because I got fed up with people talking about my haircut. I had it shaved off. It used to be longer, stick out and stuff. I should've done something less drastic.

Smith is talking to me and Bill Holdship. I'm there cuz I want to talk to the guy who actually used the words like I will never be clean again as lyrics; you'll have to ask Bill why he was there. Smith, a few minutes before a photo session, is dealing with America and magazines and people who ask him questions about his mental health.

I don't remember writing a lot of it, particularly Pornography. I don't remember writing much of it at all. I understand it, I know most of the references that are in the songs, but they're so disjointed, it took me a long time to figure out. A lot of it was written when I wasn't really, I wasn't sitting down and writing, I just remember going to the studio and having this big sheaf of words. I was so possessive around that time, of the record. I was very difficult to work with. Simon and Laurence didn't enjoy it at all.

Do you think your normal ? Do you think your a nut ? Do you think your a gloomy guy ?

No. Because I never, I suppose it is a paradox, but because I never did it in public. I never wandered about, going, 'Life - how dare it?" Because its the same for everyone, and everyone meets the same fate. But the paradox being obviously that I did perform it, more publicly than most people do, actually go onstage and sing about it. But that was the only thing that seemed to have any point to it anyway. The performing of those songs. No one really seemed to like them.

Not true, of course. But Smith himself speaks of Pornography almost reverently, as if the album were the turning point between The Cure As Artists and The Cure As Entertainers. There's no denying that things changed afterward.

The reaction against it wasn't really because of how I was feeling personally, it was because I didn't want the Cure to become a caricature of itself. I did not want us to become involved in a style of music which I no longer felt comfortable with. I will vehemently defend anything we did up to Pornography - Pornography is actually my favorite Cure album, because I've never heard a record like it. There are records that have similarities to it, but I never agreed with people who, when we started doing things like Let's Go To Bed and The Walk and Lovecats said 'that's it.'

I don't think anything we have done since has in any way compromised that, because all those records existed at the time, and they mean whatever they mean to you at the time. Obviously, if you were to listen to Pornography after 'The Lovecats,' and imagine its the same group, you'd probably think very differently of it than if you'd actually got it first hand, and seen everything unfold. It's far less difficult to understand if you'd actually heard all the Cure stuff, in the looney sense. Even though it doesn't make that much sense either way you listen to it.

It was because I wanted the group - I didn't want to be 'Robert Smith, ex-Cure,' so the only way I thought to escape that was to keep the vehicle of the Cure moving. I thought the best way to do that was to write the most extreme song, the most anti - Pornography type of song, with the most banal elements, and that was Lets Go To Bed. And once we'd done that, it sort of cracked the whole thing open, and people no longer thought of us as very gloomy.

We're still able to like the Head On The Door album, we still have a couple songs, like Sinking,' and even the lyrical content of Inbetween Days. Even though it's a pop song, it really wasn't pop like Mister Mister pop. And so there is still that, everything's sort of tinged ever so slightly with a more sort of darker side. Everything we do - but then I find it difficult to write without having that sense of fatality sort of like creeping up around the corner.

And I think we have retained quite a high percentage of our original following. I still think that a lot of people, even if they don't like what we do as intensely, they still respect the fact that when we want to make something good, we can. And I think way as well.

Obviously, a lot of the things that we've done in the past few years, I haven't felt as emotional about. But there are certain songs in which I do. I mean, Inbetween Days is one and Kyoto Song is about the closest thing to an old style Cure song - those two and Sinking. But it would have been impossible, I realized, for us to continue like that - because you do parody yourself after awhile, and you're just singing and your songs are all slightly the same.

But the thing was, each year that we did it, it got worse and worse, darker and darker. The only logical conclusion was for it to all just fall apart, and probably end up swinging from something. I wasn't prepared for that. I mean, Ian Curtis was my generation's suicide. I didn't really want to follow in his footsteps."

Why He Won't

Its not for me to say of course, nor you. But I believe that Robert Smith and The Cure will not end up hanging from a rope, swinging in the wind, while fans worldwide point to his recent head shaving as the ultimate sign of total alienation. Because Pornography is an old album now. Because Robert Smith - shall we call him Bob? - is a pop songwriter. Because there is an element of subversion in even the most recent Cure material that shows Robert Smith as an enterprising, highly creative recording artist, with a taste for the unlikely. None of his records sound the same; none of them sound like anybody else's. Inbetween days does not really recall New Order, especially lyrically. If A Night Like This hints at the melodic invention of Boy's Don't Cry fine. They're both great songs.

The stuff that I been writing, say Smith, I mean, we won't record for awhile yet, because the stuff I'm working on is really too diverse. I mean Head On the Door is quite diverse, but there were some similarities between the songs. But a lot of the new stuff is really - some of it's so ludicrous, I don't know. Some of the songs are atonal, like we really haven't done before. And I think if we do something like that, I'm gonna have to be really sure about it. Because we're no longer in the position where we can just, like, throw out a record and expect people to dismiss it without dismissing the whole of our career really.

That's the most amazing thing for me, about what the Cure does. There is nothing in what we have done that i would do differently. If would do it differently if I did it all now, but there's nothing I would change from when it was done at the time.

Seventeen Seconds could be produced a lot better, but it was perfect for how it was. The voice was supposed to be so you could almost barely hear it. I wanted you to have to, like, get around the drum kit to hear what I was actually singing, because it was that type of record. But if we were in the position we are in now, and to release a record like that, we would have to be so sure - because we'd have to put up with so much more flak, from record companies, from everyone, saying 'This is suicide, doing this'.

I'm not worried about that aspect, if I think that its valid. If I'm sure about it. But it's just that I'm not sure. Because I have got such a reactionary nature, I'm a bit loathe to do something to people - 'Well, this will fuck 'em all up...'

But isn't that exactly the sort of thing that you might do ?

Well I do it if I'm sure about it. But it'd be easy to get some screaming nuns and stuff and say 'All right, this is the new Cure album,' if I thought the screaming nuns were really good, and this was how I felt.

I'm not really sure at the moment. It's very difficult as well, coming to terms with the popularity that we have at the moment, reconciling that to the idea of staying outside the mainstream. Because we're inevitably being drawn more and more towards it.

Dave DiMartino