Since the release of their ’89 album, Disintegration, THE CURE have become one of the biggest bands on the planet. With a new single and an album ready on the launch-pad, Captain Bob and his mascara men look set to inflict yet more mayhem and melancholy on an unsuspecting public. In the first of a two-part story, THE STUD BROTHERS visited The Manor, where the band were putting the finishing touches to their latest meisterwerk and discovered what makes the band so child-like.
Robert Smith is wearing very little lipstick. His hair is shorter and
considerably less wild than the jet explosion we remember from the videos. His jumper, though suitably shapeless, doesn’t hang dejectedly below his knees. That he’s been able to largely deny himself cosmetics says much about his present state of mind. Cosmetics are an addiction and like all addictions they’re at their most compulsive when you’re at your most vulnerable.
Despite the fact that he’s surrounded by extravagantly, gratuitously comfortable furniture, Robert chooses to kneel in the carpet. He looks at home. Happy. The last six months of recording The Cure’s new album, Wish, he tells us, have been fun.
“The fun thing,” he says, “is something people always miss out on with us. It’s been brilliant making this album, but even as far back as Faith or Pornography we were still having a good crack. People would see me and Simon laughing and drinking ourselves unconscious together and they couldn’t understand how we could be like that and still be in this angst-ridden band. But it’s easy to be like that — it’s what being little, being a child, is all about. When you’re grown up, you can’t do it cos you think about it too much.”
We’re sitting in the halls of The Manor, a rambling but homely Tudor mansion in the Oxfordshire countryside. Some years ago Richard Branson bought the place and converted it into a recording studio. Infinite care must’ve been taken in the conversion. All the state-of-the-art technology’s been hidden away in an adjoining barn, so there’s precious little in evidence to betray its present function.
An atmosphere of pleasant idleness pervades the place, accentuated by the comely open fires and Olde Worlde oak beams. You can’t really imagine doing anything more strenuous here than playing hide and seek. Mild mischief is the more the house demands of you, and there’s more to suggest that The Cure have seceded to that demand.
The huge, gaudy mural that decorates The Manor’s atrium and that Branson commissioned to honour those who helped to forge his empire is no longer what it was six months ago. The mural pictures a youthful, still gender-bending Boy George and a young Mike Oldfield. Several steps back are Jim Kerr and Feargal Sharkey (Sharkey, peering inexplicably from behind a bush, looks even more furtive than usual). All of them are painted in the first flush of their success. Between George and Oldfield is the focal point — Phil Collins, complete with smug, man if the people smile and (six months ago) a full pre-Eighties head of hair. Collins’ smug grin remains. Those luxuriant locks have disappeared and been replaced by the shiny pink pate that’s come to characterise the man.
The Cure decided a little realism was called for so Perry Bamonte, their keyboardist and sometime guitarist, stole down from his bedroom one night and, with the aid of several lagers and a cheap kiddies’ paintbox, sheared the bastard.
Perry’s talent for portraying people in the most unflattering circumstances is manifest. Brutal caricatures of the group, their wives and entourage are plastered around the studio. Interspersed with then are photocopies of Smith’s favorite Emily Dickinson poems and salacious headlines from The Sport and The News Of The World. In the dining-room there is what can only be described as a league of lunacy. Under the inscription, “The Merry Manor Mad Chart”, The Cure, their friends and acquaintances are all pictured, again by Perry’s savage pencil, each in order of insanity. The rules were as follows: each participant was given five votes, the first of which (worth five points) he or she had necessarily to award to themselves — Smith insisting everyone accept there’s a good deal of madness in all of us. The other four votes (worth 4,3, 2 and 1 points) were awarded to whoever the contestant believed to be the craziest of their fellow voters.
The winner by a clear majority was Louise, The Manor’s housekeeper. Since the results were made public, Louise had disappeared. Simon Gallup, The Cure’s bassist, came in at Four, Perry at Five, Robert at a modest but respectable Eight, Porl Thompson , the guitarist, at Nine and the drummer, Boris Williams, at 12.
In The Manor’s kitchen is a notice-board upon which the comparatively sane Boris, known due to his vampiric appearance as The Count, has taken to scrawling insulting messages to visiting journalists. A recent message, directed at a group of American hacks, read “Get a proper job, you lazy bastards” — an extraordinary request given Boris is a drummer in a pop band. Also on the notice-board are the preliminary results of a poll to elect The Cure’s support when they tour America. Currently it’s led by Lush with God Machine in hot pursuit.
Most curious of all though, is a tiny crayon drawing pinned near the console in the studio’s control-room. In unafraid childish strokes the group are seem standing outside a house, presumably The Manor, beneath a beaming yellow sun and scribbled strip of blue sky. It’s signed: “Perry. Aged 31 1/2”.
The Cure, more than any other group we’ve met, have refused to grow up. Of course, all groups in one way or another are able to refute responsibility. That’s not the same thing, though. Most groups are simply brats — egotistical, myopic, plain ruthless — forever declaring their inalienable right to do exactly as they please, but never really knowing quite what they want to do.
The Cure, who’ve quietly become millionaires doing exactly as they please, are remarkable for their intelligence and ardour rather than pigheadedness and excess, for their wide-eyed curiosity rather than blinkered self-obsession, and for the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.
From Three Imaginary Boys through Faith and Pornography to Disintegration and the forthcoming Wish, however quirky, melancholy or desolate they’ve sounded, there’s a part of The Cure that’s remained untouched by the process of ageing and invulnerable to cynicism. A part that’s still perfectly pure. Even Disintegration at its most monstrously bleak railed against the idea that someone or something might or could pollute that last oasis.
Wish, though considerably different from the 1989’s Disintegration still carries that torch. It’s an album of extraordinary depth, ranging from the brilliantly shallow to the devastatingly profound. Open sees Smith as his most appalled and astonished, appearing in the eye of a hurricane of guitars, contemplating his own dipsomania.
The equally metallic From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea, sustained by piercing guitar hooks and Gallup’s weird tenor bass, is as heavy as it is immediate and ought surely to be a single. Trust would be almost melancholic were it not for the cinematic sweep of its melody, played on funereal piano. Instead, it has us thinking of neon lights, wet metropolitan streets and Smith, lovelorn, as the classic traffic island castaway.
High, soon to be released as a single, is a happy-go-lucky skip down Desolation Avenue, the mood considerably buoyed up by the spacey twang of the guitars.
Most amazing of all though is Friday I’m In Love, not because it’s the best song on the album, but because it’s so blissfully and exuberantly carefree — far more so than Lullaby or Lovesong from Disintegration, more so even than LoveCats. It’s difficult to imagine any group of any age anywhere whiting something so wonderfully ingenuous. It’s a brilliant pop song, so brilliant that American executives upon first hearing it declared it a sure-fire Number One.
“They ran around the studio going, ‘Oh Gaaad, oh Gaaad, it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be!” says Robert .
Sitting with The Cure now, half-cut on the lager they’ve persistently proffered us (though The Cure’s hospitality is legendary, we hadn’t expected it to be quite so legendary), we wonder what mood inspired the song.
“There’s another one we’ve done that’s even more jolly,” says Smith, delighted that we not only noticed the song, but liked it. Fans often tend to be infuriated by The Cure when they write an unashamed pop song.
“Yeah,” says Simon . “If we release something poppy over here it normally plummets pretty quick.”
“Over here,” explains Robert, “people have a different idea of what we do, it’s tainted by the idea that we’re doing it as a pisstake rather than being genuinely happy. Which we were when we did Friday.”
It’s curious that some of The Cure’s fans believe the group so incapable of unqualified happiness that they view every pop song they write as an excursion in camp.
“It is odd,” says Perry, seemingly as mystified by this as we are. Perry’s sitting on a sofa across from Robert , beside Porl who’s lying with his head on Simon ‘s lap. Occasionally, Simon strokes Porl ‘s hair, sometimes even kisses it.
“Everyone has good and bad days,” Perry continues “and it seemed all of ours coincided when we did Friday. Plus, of course, Friday guarantees us airplay.”
Also something that worries their fans.
“That was a joke,” says Perry.
“It was,” says Robert. “The airplay thing isn’t something you think about when you’re making an album, it’s just a game you get roped into afterwards. Last Sunday, when the American record company came over to hear some stuff, it was the first time they’d heard Friday. We hadn’t played it to them before cos we knew they’d want it to be the first single and we don’t think it’s the very best introduction to an album like Wish — it’s not a fair reflection cos it’s so lightweight. We’ll probably put it out once people have had the chance to hear the whole album. It’s a funny song and it’ll probably be funnier for non- Cure fans cos they’ll go, “That’s not The Cure’. Not that we did it for that reason. The minute I’d sung it and come back in, knowing everything else was gonna play it, there was a mixture of disbelief and real joy that I’d actually sung something that was as up as the music.”
So why is it people think you’re taking the piss?
“I don’t know,” shrugs Simon. “Thing is, we’re not cos we enjoy dumb pop songs, we really do — if they’re done well, and Friday is done well.”
We hadn’t really considered Friday to be dumb.
“Not dumb as in moronic or throw-away,” says Simon. “More like being drunk or something.”
Simon, by the way, has the unusual habit of couching many of his observations in alcohol-related metaphors.
“Naively dumb,” says Boris.
“Thing is,” says Robert, “I wouldn’t bother something like that if I didn’t genuinely feel like that sometimes. In fact, I feel like that as much as I feel like anything else.”
We’d always wondered whether Cure songs were ingenious conceptualizations of a particular mood or written in the prickly heat of that mood. Was Robert really as dejected as he sounded on Disintegration, or more currently, Trust?
“When we did Disintegration,” he says, “there was an entirely different atmosphere than the one we had doing this new stuff. It was pretty savage compared to this.”
“I remember,” says Simon Deep Water on Disintegration. It was a really sombre night.”
“There were a lot of nights like that,” remembers Robert. “But the way that I’ve done vocals on this album are symptomatic of the whole was of recording. On Disintegration I was much more isolated. I’d come in, do the vocal then disappear again, but now I kind of hang around for a while in the control-room with everyone else.
“I mean, with Disintegration, Lol (Tolhurst, former friend and Cure member)was still acting as an irritant, but I think right from the word go our whole approach was pointing towards doing something really grim. That was the mood, even though there were lighter moments like Lovesong and Lullaby. The overall feeling was more…”
He shakes his head.
“… intense. Actually, that’s probably the wrong word cos the stuff we’ve just done is more intense. I think this album is more of a groupthink whereas Disintegration had more of am imposed atmosphere.”
Imposed by whom?
“By me,” says Robert, surprised that we should even ask.
“It was really unlikely,” Perry explains, “that if Robert was singing a serious vocal that was taking all night, the rest of the band would be in the control-room larking about.”
“I hope that Robert knew that even if we weren’t singing we all felt the same way,” Simon concludes, “I think Robert ‘s mood infected us and our silence reflected back to increase his mood.”
“But here,” says Robert, “I’ve just waited until I felt like doing it, gone in, done it and not thought too much about it. Some of the slower songs still took all night, but really it’s difficult to rationalise it all, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s just that within the group the whole atmosphere’s been better here, its been more fun, more enjoyable, even though some of the songs that’ve come out of it are really rowdy or intense or aggressive.
“The band has just gone in and done these songs whereas before I felt more aware of trying to impose that on everybody, telling them how it should be. With Disintegration, they may’ve felt quite jolly before they went in, but not afterwards. I think the place we recorded it made a difference, too. It was much bigger and we all felt further apart.”
Smith, even kneeling suppliantly before us, is an imposing personality, though not overbearing. We have the distinct impression he’s one of those people whose moods can be contagious.
“Yeah, but everyone in the band’s like that now, that’s the big difference three years on,” he says. “During Disintegration I could switch off from everyone else and I couldn’t do it now, it’d be impossible. It’s like it’s all turned on its head, Now everyone’s involved, not just in the atmosphere, but in contributing to the songs down to the last detail. The four of us have been together since Head On The Door and Perry’s (former Cure guitar roadie) always been here and now everyone feels they can contribute, say anything they want.
“I feel immeasurably more comfortably about it all than I did three years ago, there’s much less pressure. With Disintegration I’d go out the back door cos I couldn’t face anyone if they thought what I’d just dome was bad and I thought it was good. There’d have been a real dilemma there. But now I can walk back in and take any criticism. It’s so much easier to talk to each other.”
Smith’s lyrics suggest he believes his life to be full of internal dramas, instantaneous and sensational. This is something he shares with his fans. Almost anyone who’s ever liked The Cure has used their music to turn petty grievances and minor delights into earthshaking traumas. Everything’s so much more terrible, so much more significant when it happens to Robert Smith, and Smith’s ability to reflect and relate that confirms the generally held belief that each one of us is more important than anyone else.
“I’m only presenting my point of view,” says Smith. “I mean, I don’t think things are more unfair when they happen to me. I don’t think I write more words from a purely selfish point of view, otherwise I think I’d be a really shit writer. I’d be much worse than I am cos I’ve really tried hard over the years to make the songs much more than me just moaning about something.”
We’re not saying you’re moaning.
“Well, that’s what it is,” he says. “It’s my way of moaning, it’s true. Some of it is tantrum-like, but it’s not just me that feels these things.”
It’s very childish, isn’t it, to see yourself as the centre of the universe? Do you think in The Cure there’s a general refusal to grow up?
“Very much so,” says Simon. “There’s no need for us to, there’s no need for anyone to really. It’s only when people think about their age all the time and try to be young that they start looking really old. We don’t really think about it at all.”
“Growing up,” says Robert, “sort of implies responsibility and doing things that you don’t really want to do and in that sense I don’t think any of us will ever grow up. But if growing up means realising what goes on, then we’re more grown up — and have been for years — than most people we meet who’re older or younger than us. Being grown up is like accepting you’ve got so far and then stopping. Refusing to grow up is like refusing to accept your limitations. That’s why I don’t think we’ll ever grow up.”
The thing that perpetually bewilders children is that they can’t have it all, that they can’t have their cake and eat it. The idea that there are natural limitations is anathema to a child, but most children, particularly British children, have it drummed into them.
“I never had that,” says Robert . “It’s really weird but my parents used to tell me I could do anything I wanted to. I used to say, ‘Well, what if I want to be an astronaut and go to the moon?” and my dad used to say, ‘If you really want to you can’. I used to think he was talking absolute rubbish, particularly when I was 21 and he was still saying that. But in a way it really stuck with me cos my dad ended up doing exactly what he wanted to do. To an outside point of view he’s totally conformed, he’s had a family and four kids but he’s only ever done things that made him genuinely happy.
“He jacked in his job cos it made him unhappy and he didn’t want to compromise his entire life just for the sake of carrying it through. It’s very admirable, that quality, and I think it’s very rare in people. Most people feel so conditioned, so oppressed by everything that goes on around them that they just give in. You have to refuse to give in. People might say it’s easy for us, easy to sit around here for six months, but to get here hasn’t been easy. It’s been good fun, but it hasn’t been easy.”
While we have to accept that Smith’s never really suffered from feeling limitations, there is, oddly, a palpable sense of loss to The Cure.
Smith nods again.
“That comes from knowing that real childhood is gone, it’s about loss of time. People always misinterpret that and think I’m worried about getting old but it’s not that, it’s about knowing that you’re running out of time. They’re two different things. It’s about wishing you could have as mush time as you seemed to have when you were really little and things just seemed to stretch out forever. You can’t ever get it back, but you can really struggle. That’s where the genuine sense of loss comes from and it’s why I like the idea of writing , cos writers seem to be of indeterminate age. I was amazed when I found out Patrick White (author of “The Vivisector” and “The Burnt Ones”) was 78, he always seemed so young. I love that.”
He thinks about this.
“I suppose,” he says, “it’s a very selfish thing that goes on with The Cure. I mean, we do things for you own ends and I think the audience that genuinely likes us likes is cos of that fact, that we do things we like doing, regardless of what they want us to do.”
And of course it’s work. By not pandering to expectations, by refusing to believe in limitations, The Cure have become one of biggest bands on the planet. There are a lot of ex-Cure fans, people too old, too involved, too mortgaged to believe in a wealth of possibility and too tired to feel genuinely, savagely angry when those possibilities are denied them. They no longer understand The Cure and probably wonder how they ever did.
But there are also legions of new Cure fans, each of whom believe they’re the most important thing on Earth. There are millions of them.
The Cure. Average age 31 1/2.
Kids’ stuff. Too right.
© Melody Maker