April 11, 1987 -
Melody Maker (UK)
"Fancy Dress Party"
"I THOUGHT I was destined for great things," says Robert Smith. "And just look at me now. I'm in the scurriest, laziest group in the world, dressed in a bloody animal suit!"
It's true, Robert's at Mary Tyler Moore's TV studio in Bray, Southern Ireland. He's making a video for "Why Can't I Be You?", The Cure's first single in over a year and he's dressed as... a polar bear?
"More like a gay Viking," says Simon. He can talk. He's dressed as a crow or something - black cape, big yellow beak and ball- crusher tights. "I feel like Spiderman," he moans, "when he had on the alien suit and it started attacking him."
"Sorry," Robert apologizes. "Next time we'll do a video somewhere really hot, just strumming... " "Yeah," says Lol, "or in a pub, drinking." It must have seemed a good idea at the time, sitting over local Guinness in a castle retreat, discussing plans to present The Cure in an ever more ludicrous light with Tim Pope, the man behind their other infamous video fiascoes and the extraordinary "Cure In Orange" film, about to go on general release - a live set shot in the Roman amphitheater in Orange, Southern France which gives the duel impression that you're there watching and PLAYING the set simultaneously. Now no-one seems quite so sure what's going on. Boris has rather worryingly taken to his schoolgirl costume, Lol's blacked-up like "Prince's ugly brother" or "Blind Lemon Tolhurst", Porl is alternately a Scotsman and a floosie and even Robert's gone and put a dress on.
"This is it," he shouts, "the grand finale, the climax. Drunken Schoolgirl In Gay Sex Orgy!" It's noted, too late, that, in swapping his crow costume for that of a Morris dancer, Simon is the only one who hasn't gone bi. "Ah ha," he beams. "When the newspapers pick up on this, I'll be like the drummer in The Housemartins, the non-gay one!"
"Oh no, I'm beginning to feel guilty". It's Pope- He's already had Lol inside a Humpty Dumpty with a strobe strapped to his chest and now he's dressed him up as a bumble bee and is about to fly him on wires. Long convinced that all Cure videos are vindictive attacks on poor Lol, Pope's now telling him he has nothing to worry about. "Sure," says Lol. "See you chaps in the next world."
We haven't heard or seen much of The Cure over the post year but what news has reached us has all been good. Apart from the film, the band have resigned through Fiction to Polydor, a deal so lucrative that Robert has been spending his time out of the country on his accountant's advice. While the others have bought homes in England, Robert's been to Compass Point, New York and Brussels with co-producer Dave Allen, mixing "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me", a double album recorded in Mirabelle, Southern France last autumn.
Released in May, it's The Cure's richest, most exotic and most accessible album to date, a veritable treasure trove of experiments boldly attempted and beautifully performed. Not wanting to jump the gun too soon, I'll just say it's so confident, it goes against character and, rather than fleeing past Cure styles for fear of stagnation, it embraces them all AND does some funky stuff too.
There's a drowsy opium sitar anthem, "If Only Tonight We Could Sleep", a scalding woh-wah assault, "The Kiss", some staccato "Hawaii Five-0", "Hey You", and a granite stomp, "Fight". There's over 70 minutes of "Kiss Me", both ends burning, and the single, "Why Can't I Be You?," is a razzmatazz brass quadrille, absurd, joyous and loud.
The Cure are in Ireland just prior to setting off to conquer South America and I wonder whether, like me, they consider they've reached some sort of peak?
"It's funny," says Lol, "I never see us in peaks. I see us in levels all the time. I've yet to find, in my mind, a level where we'd come right to the top. There are more levels yet. Whatever happens, you hove to ride on the crest of the wove and that precipitates the next thing. If you sat there and analyzed it too much, you'd lose what it was that would make the next thing better."
So, with a million in the bank and a song in your hearts, what's the motivation these days?
"I've always maintained that I'm doing it for selfish reasons, and I still do. The main reason I do it is because I enjoy it," says Robert. "I don't give a fuck - I like making records and I like going on stage and singing and there's a part of me, really, that's a show-off, there must be. I always consider it to be really out of character but it can't be really - I wouldn't do it otherwise. I enjoy it... I almost feel guilty about enjoying it, I don't think it's right...
"I don't like the idea of fame, I've never accepted that. I've experienced it to a small degree in France and it's cack, not being able to go out without people coming up and going 'You're Robert Smith'. You become less than human.
"The reason, more and more, that I continue is that it has become important that I see myself from a third person's point of view as someone I can look up towards, that I can respect. "My motivation now is to try to make The Cure not more popular but to harden the whole thing up so we are untouchable almost. That's what I'm hoping this record will do so we won't be able to suffer the more cynical 'Smash Hits' sort of jibes'. And I think we'll achieve it without me having to step into the arena. Next 'time round, some claim, it's 'Wogan' and the dailies for me. Well, I don't accept that. We WILL reach the point of becoming important and yet still be that weird group. We will never be accepted, but we will be important. which is perfect.
"I mean, anyone with a half a brain hates you if you're in the media all the time - the less you're in the public eye, I think, the better off you are. All the people who are gods in their field, like Jack Nicholson or Robert DeNiro, aren't. in the public eye and, when they do something" think it's brilliant they're so good, but they don't waste time building up their public image. I can't think of anyone who's constantly in the news who's any good at all.
"We've got where we are almost by accident in one sense, although it's been designed, not for success but for longevity. One thing doesn't follow the other. If this record bomned I would be surprised, upset in a way, but I wouldn't think it wasn't worth making - that's the difference. Now it's been made and I've heard it, I'm happy. Once it's released, it's gone into a different world, I don't need to justify it, or argue with people who say it's rubbish. I can't be bothered. I think it's really good so it's being released.
"The whole element of competition I still, and always will, find absurd. The horse race. Are we going to be Number One or are Queen? It doesn't matter at all because, if I look at the Top 50, I see there are no records I like so it's a false accolade to be Number One anyway. The album SHOULD be Number One, that's all.
"The more we go on, the more I think we're unique. I don't mean that in a big-headed way but, the longer we go on, the less similarities there are between what we're doing and what anyone else has ever done. The stage we're at the moment is so absurd, the public image of the group and of me is so... well, just reading through American reviews, they say we play 'Compellingly sad music' and, on the same page, there will be a write-up of our latest video, which is mayhem.
"I think we've overcome the dinosaur tag the NME tried to put on us last year. I keep repeating it but I AM horrified by the lack of competition. I wanted some records sent over and was reduced to having to listen to the new Deep Purple album. (He smashed it after two tracks). There are literally only three or four records in the Top 50 that I could even think about listening to and probably only one that I knew I'd enjoy; the Kate Bush singles album!'
"I see it all as a means to an end," says Lol of The Cure's special purpose. "A way to live your the way you want to because, in the end, that's one of the things music offers and reflects. It offers people a way to live their life the way they want to, not tied to things... I mean, there are things that tie us but they're probably less than most people ever have. That's my goal - to be rid, in the end, of all the fetter."
"The most cack thing I ever read was something. The Thompson Twins said," says Simon. "They said, when they released a single, they used to sweat every Tuesday morning , waiting to hear the chart positions and that they hated every other band above them. That's such a cack attitude to take. I mean, we'll probably get in the charts with this single but we joke about it. Like it's true - as soon as we go on Top Of The Pops we go down and it's never worried us at all. If we get in the charts, fine, if we don't, fine too. We're not competing or anything like that and we don't hate the bands above us, we hate all bands in the charts!
"It's good for us to get in among them on Top Of The Pops' though because, if I wasn't in the band, I'd like to see us there. Every other band is so serious about it all but, when we go on, we treat it as a piss-up.
"I can never decide where we fit in. Like, our popularity in France - I think we deserve it but, for the kind of adulation we get, we're not the right stereotypes. We don't go 'Oh shit, I'm worried cos I had a lot of beers last night and now I look cock!' When people rush to us, I think they MUST think we look dreadful. It's really odd - I really honestly have no idea how or where we fit in."
To some, The Cure are still Shelleyan victims of their own sensitivity, romantics heroically wounded out there in the big, harsh world. In other words, gloriously miserable bastards.
"Oh that never goes away," says Lol. "But what probably distinguishes us from bands who might be our contemporaries is that we reached a point where we realized that you can think about things so much, you end up destroying yourself. Perhaps the way we work now is a bit more ... well, not cynical - cynicism is personified by The Smiths who I hate. We are more... fatalistic. We may seem flippant on the single but I think anybody who liked us for that other, deeper side will still like us. It's still there - you don't really change that way of thinking. Maybe it's an age thing; you say to yourself 'Well, I can be angst- ridden and tortured about it, or I can get on with it and find some humor in it'. I think that's what's happened to us - we don't take ourselves so seriously because there aren't that many things completely serious in the world."
"It still feels the same as it did in the beginning, when we were just playing little clubs," says Porl. "It's bigger now but the fact that we can still go up there and laugh about it is important. I think people feel that, people con UNDERSTAND if you mean it rather than just playing for effect or because you think you're going to sell a lot of records."
"If I was 15 again, says Lol "we'd be my favorite band because we reflect that certain frame of mind you have when you're younger and you suddenly start to think about things in a certain way. We're probably a lot of younger people's older brothers in some way. We still don't hove any reasons or answers 1O years on but at least we can he a bit more lucid about the questions. That's what I was like when I was younger - in my room, listening to music or reading a book and thinking 'I wish I'd written that'.
"Maybe we do that sometimes for people because we've all come through our particular traumas or whatever that have made the songs and now we've come to reflect on it, giving back to other people what we've felt about things and how you can express yourself. Maybe we're a bit more objective. I mean, the album reminds me of when I was 15 and I went to school and then the summer holidays came and I went to France for the first time, and then I came back - it's a catalogue of things like that. When I listen to it, I take it as a little diary of the things I went through in the nine months it took to make it. Sometimes I think a lot of it is us pretending to be younger." I wondered, with the album being so diverse, whether Robert found himself ACTING now, adopting personas to suit each song?
"I definitely adopt a persona for the more up, wayward ones but, when we're doing the slow, quieter ones, I'm much the some as I've always been. I mean, there doesn't have to be any emotion in 'Hot Hot Hot' or 'Why Can't I Be You?' because there's no emotion in the lyrics, but I would never allow us to release a song that had emotion in the words and was interpreted like, soy, Paul Young would... a complete waste of time. If I'm not in the mood, I may as well just hold the song over until, or IF, I ever get round to feeling like that. I mean, obviously I feel less like that the more I go on. I feel less despondent because there's less to feel despondent about, both in the way we're now being appreciated and also in my personal life. I threw away the mantle of professional moaner a long time ago. If there'd been no sad songs on the album, it wouldn't have upset me."
It must be said, after a decode, The Cure is an obscenely HAPPY group, new and old, mature and excited, Smith has gathered a gang around him, a comfy working environment of camaraderie which allows him to relax as the undisputed leader. and he protects it sometimes like it's the most precious thing in his world.
"I'm protective of the group in one sense, as an IDEA," he agrees. "I always have been but that's because I want it continue for as long as I want it to. I resent unfounded criticism but then, at the same time, I've been untouched by it for years because of the alternatives that I'm facing. If there were things that I thought were seriously far better than what I was doing, if I felt inferior to my peers, my contemporaries, I would get bitter, but I don't. I do feel like a dad though, sometimes… well, more like a mother hen I suppose.
"it's a responsibility I've always accepted. I think I should be protective of the others because they put so much trust in me and they're being seen in a light that I mainly dictate. "I take a lot of stick but I get an enormous amount of accolades too. That's the position I'm in and I wouldn't change it. I don't think the others would swap with me either. I'm not hurt by jibes as much as the others are. I'm much thicker skinned, despite what people think. I'm upset by really funny things, not by being fat, for example." Really? What upsets you?
"Vogue things. The first few days I was in the castle, I was upset by taking this year out - y'know, 'What am I doing with it?' It's like having a child - post record depression, thinking 'Well, now we're going back out to play it'. For a time I was thinking we were back again in the inevitable cycle, like we were after 'Head On The Door'." According to Lol: "The reason for The Cure is not a purely musical one, it's more a feeling about WHY you want to do something, WHY you want to make music. It has to be personality- compatible, It's not down to technical musicianship, among the five of us there is a genuine EXCITEMENT about doing things. It started off 10 years ago and it's come around again with Porl and Simon being back. It's fresh without ever needing to think about it." "The Cure has been several groups, says Robert. "It's becoming unique with the re- introduction of people. It's really weird but it's like this particular line-up has been inevitable for years with the exception of Boris but I can't imagine him not being here now. The way he fits in and contributes towards the atmosphere of the group is immeasurable.
"I wrote 'Head On The Door' on my own at home and we interpreted it like an orchestra would but, with this album, I insisted that the others gave me a cassette of music and I got six o.' seven songs from each one. Even Boris mode a tape of interesting drum patterns which I appreciated because I didn't expect to get anything from him and it just showed that EVERYONE wanted to be really involved in it.
"They gave me all the cassettes early last summer when we started doing demos at Beethoven in London. I put all the tapes on and everyone listened to them cold and I didn't say hose was whose and no-one was allowed to comment on their own stuff. We gave each o score out of 20 and commented and, at the end, we'd listened to 60 pieces of music and compared notes. We then took the ones that were most immediately impressive, put them on two cassettes and went into John Costo's studio in Provence. We demo-ed there for two weeks - it was really good fun, they had a football pitch and we played the locals every day - and then we drove across to Mirabelle where we recorded at least a song a day, sometimes two. Most of them were first takes, almost jamming the songs to get the feel right. We spent a couple of hours playing each song so we became familiar with it and then recorded it in one go and it worked! It was a delight to record, a joy."
I don't suppose that's got anything to do with the studio having its own vineyards?
"Oh, that and the fact that I had loads of words. Usually I get really stuck but I had words for 23 songs and I think they're easily the best I've ever written. I astounded myself. I wrote the songs the way I wrote 'The Walk'. I had a mood for each song and I sifted back through what I'd already done and a couple of songs even refer to incidents I've already written songs about but they actually capture the spirit of them far more.
" 'How Beautiful You Are' owes a lot to a Baudelaire one-page short story which had such a good idea in it. It's about how you think you're really close to somebody, that you think the some way and enjoy the same things, but suddenly an incident will happen which makes you realize the person thinks a completely different way about things that you think are really important and yet you can still get on with them really well. " No-one really knows anyone else, or really loves anyone else in the purest sense of the word because it is utterly impossible. If you did, it would just be yourself.
"Those sort of ideas, taking specifics like that and writing songs about them, was far more challenging for me than writing 'I'm not feeling very well' sort of songs. It's the easy way out to write about mood but, once you pin yourself down, it's kind of criticism because you're looking at something really hard to get the essence from it.
"Then again, 'Hot Hot Hot' is almost like a Louis Armstrong record which I would never have tried before. On 'The Top', I started trying to change my voice to give different expressions which I'd have considered sacrilegious before. Most people that you hear in pop change their voices to make them more acceptable, nicer, more American or whatever. Very few singers will try to become more difficult or WORSE. But, again, I thought 'Why not?'."
Boris also felt different about doing "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me" to doing "Head On The Door": "I didn't particularly like the way I played on 'Head', I played parts that were set down whereas, with this album, I really thought out all the parts. It was more of a group effort. It gave me a chance to express my own personality within the group." "I'm a hundred per cent satisfied with the group," says Simon, "and, without putting too much emphasis on it, I think this album now is perfect."
It's well known that Robert has always treated criticisms of self indulgence as accolades, as if there couldn't possibly be any other sane way of going about things, but surely the hacks will have a field day with "Kiss Me" being a double. "The main doubt, a stupid one, was the precedent set by other people's double albums. There ore so few in the history of pop that have worked - on couple of Beatles albums, the Prince album... I think 'Ummagumma' wos worthwhile and Porl maintains that a Led Zeppelin album was too..."
What makes you think this one works?
"Because it's two good single albums for less than the cost of two single albums. Why buy the new Cure album and the new Echo And The Bunnymen album when you can buy two Cure albums for less? It wouldn't have been a double if I thought we couldn't get away with it. But you could play any of these songs on the radio and say it's from the new Cure LP - there's not a weak song on it. A good five songs on Head on The Door' would struggle to get on this album. I'm really pleased with the strength of it all the way through."
"Honestly, I think it's a cracker," Simon insists "It's like a mix between Pornography and Head On The Door' - the best kept elements of both. It works really well because one moment you're elated and the next you're flung into despair.
Perversely enough in direct opposition to the unwritten law which seems to govern the creative careers of most groups, The Cure haven't grown more muso and mystical and lost for direction. On the contrary they've grown more tactile, more huggable, more sexy and more poppy. They've created created their own environment instead of falling foul of fashion and ANY track of "Kiss Me" could conceivably be a single, even the groovy druggy-sounding seven minute wonders.
"There's no rational explanation for it, " according to Robert. "It's just how I want the group to be. I honestly don't think there's anything The Cure couldn't do now."
Hence "Hot Hot Hot", a deliberately and gleeful tacky Chic rip-off, topped off spiffingly by Robert's drunken funk guitar and leering howl or Hey You", a ransacking of 'The Man From UNCLE Theme' bludgeoned by wild sax courtesy of some geezer he found blowing with a cabaret band in a grotty American bar at Compass Point.
"I would never have dreamed of doing something like that a few years ago but I think I was a bit more precious about what we were doing then. Now I think 'If it doesn't work, it doesn't matter' - a much better attitude." "We could if we didn't bother about it, make an album of Cure cliches," says Lol, "and there'd be an audience for it. But you have to remember that anyone who hears or sees you, does so on face be it is a bit confusing sometimes when value. Maybe it's a bit confusing sometimes when we change it around but I think that's more honest, trying to scrape a few raw nerves.
"If we'd done this album three or four years ago, people who were trying to sell records would have moaned because it wasn't capitalizing on an image which we still retain," says Robert.
"In France, there's an inordinate amount of people that arrive at concerts dressed in black with a certain look despite the fact that I never wear black. I've never liked wearing it - I don't think there's ever been a photo of me wearing a black top, so it's a myth that's arisen.
"Not capitalizing on the past would have been seen as being a dumb move but that went by the wayside a long time ago. It's more difficult now trying to escape the quirky corner, like "here comes the Cure, that funny bloke with the hair". That's why I cut it when we went to America, the be far more sullen and aggressive than people expected. It was calculated and crucial because I didn't want to end up in Star Hits. Once I start seeing adjectives like cuddly, I think it's going to fuck what we're going to do the next time around.
"It's not that I ever actually spend real time thinking about it, I never sit and plan what the group is going to do next but, when we're involved in something, I always consider what effect it's going to have on what we do next and what effect it will have on me, the way it will bounce back, the way I'm going to be seen. Ultimately, I'm an easy target and, if I'm hit too many times, the group suffers. It doesn't matter if Lol looks 100 years old, we can still do what we want but, if there are too many photos of me looking fat, we're a fat group. It's horribly unfair but I had to accept it a long time ago.
"It's only since my methods have been proven since we pulled it off, that people will accept it. Now they'll accept anything I say or do in regard to The Cure because they think I'm going to be right, as I generally have been. It comes as no surprise to me as I've always thought the first head on the block is mine. If I fuck it, Polydor aren't going to cry.
"It has always been the intention that I should dictate to the group and myself when it all ends, not that it should happen through mismanagement or me miscalculating."
"You build up some idea of yourself and then knock it all down again," says Lol. "That makes it all the more exciting. If we were looked at by another planet, it would be hilarious. You always think 'I will think about the next year, or the year after that' but music is not like that. Music goes on forever. It makes people feel one way or the other all the time so, if you change and let it be free, then it will always go on."
Lol, as you've gathered, has taken o drink. Simon says; "I think this video will be the best we've ever done - a bit like the album. Everything we've done feels as it it's been leading towards this and, hopefully, by the time we do something else, we'll be feeling the same."
Robert agrees. "I love it: I'll endure any pain to see that gets through. I 'mean, any vestiges of reality that surround the group, any accusations of serious musicianship that could be leveled at us, will be shattered."
Back on the set the band struggle through some cardiac-inducing choreography and Tim Pope's flipping his lid: "This is it! The video I've always wanted to make. The Cure DANCING! I can't believe I'm seeing this. They're FINISHED!" "Nonsense," says Robert. "We were TIGHT! We were... Five Star!"
Interview by Steve Sutherland