So you thought THE CURE’s first single was Lovecats, . Think again sucker as ANDREW COLLINS tumbles through the 11 years littered with kitchen sink angst, psychiatrist couch wails, spotty shirts and empty lipstick containers that brought them from the spiky stab of Killing An Arab to the whispering hush of Lullaby.
I took a few steps towards the spring. The Arab didn’t move. Even now he was some distance away. Perhaps because of the shadows on his face, he seemed to be laughing. (The Outsider, Albert Camus)
It is poignant, indeed, that Albert Camus’ existential classic The Outsider should inspire a young Robert Smith to write a song called Killing An Arab, the very first installment in the vinyl history of The Cure.
In the book, Camus tackles the indifference of the universe and the alienation that results from subverting a Godless society’s rulebook. If today’s Cure are seen as eccentric ragdoll Pop beacons – the acceptable face of weirdness, kidstuff, even – then it can only be as a result of staring their own self-estrangement in the face and painting a clown’s smile on it.
There are those (our younger viewers) who are secure in the belief that The Cure’s first single was the jelly-and-cream Lovecats, . On the other side of the universe exist those who mourn the death of The(ir) Cure that followed the soul-scraping depths of Pornography. Either way, the story of The Cure is one that spans an entire decade of changes – musical, physical and spiritual.
In effect, whether by design or happy accident, they have turned their ‘outsideness’ to their own advantages, Robert Smith is the Outsider who came in from the cold.
In 1974 Smith lost his virginity to Mary (“the nicest girl in the school”). That the two are today happily married might say something about the man who has escorted his polymorphous Cure from classroom distraction in Crawley through to main attraction all over Europe. His first electric guitar was a Christmas present in 1972, by 1976, a group called Malice were rehearsing odd covers of David Bowie and Alex Harvey songs.
January 1977, Smith was expelled from school, and the band changed their name to Easy Cure. They won an Ariola-Hansa talent competition in May which resulted in no vinyl release but plenty of paid-for equipment and demo time. Hansa dissolved the contract in March ’78, refusing to put out Killing An Arab for fear of offending the Arabs.
Then, with Smith on vocals, school chum Lawrence Tolhurst on drums and Michael Dempsey on bass, and with their name clipped to The Cure, they met Chris Parry, A&R at Polydor, and things began to happen.
With a fair amount of gigs behind them (including slots with UK Subs, Wire and Generation X), December 78 was a crucial month for The Cure. They made their John Peel debut on the 4th, had their first music press interview published on the 16th (with Adrian Thrills for the NME – “I suggest you catch The Cure immediately’) and released their debut 45 Killing An Arab on the 22nd (initially on indie Small Wonder, then through Parry’s new subsidiary Fiction, with whom The Cure have stayed ever since).
Beginning with a silly mock-Arabian retrain, a simple descending bass scale lowers us into a spikey stab of Pop despair. ‘Staring at the sky, Staring at the gun, Whichever I choose It amounts to the same, Absolutely nothing ” moans a seemingly inconsolable Smith over a tight arrangement of locomotive drums, splash cymbals and pounding bass.
The Cure managed to half-capture the intricacies of The Outsider’s pivotal scenario, which is no mean feat for a young, middle-class guitar band. There is none of the arbitrary unpleasantness of newtown punk, just an inspired sense of frustration not normally associated with Pop music.
Fiction put out the band’s first album, Three Imaginary Boys , an evasive title reinforced by no band shots on the sleeve, nor title tracks on the label. This deliberate crypticism was interpreted by some as snot-nosed and conceited, including NME’s Paul Morley who wrote: ‘They garnish their 12 little ditties with unreliable trickery, not content to let ordinary songs die ordinary deaths Fatigue music So transparent. Light and – oh, how it nags.
In truth it is a messy album, flitting from the fastback Pop of Grinding Halt and Fire In Cairo, through kitchen-sink angst (‘10.15 Saturday Night’, ‘So What’) to the shape of things to come, longer, drawn-out meanderings like ‘Three Imaginary Boys and Another Day.
The Cure are often miscast as Pop kids who disappeared up their own navels, but even at this young stage, Smith was never a get-down-and-party lyricist – it was just youthful energy that potted his objections and doubts into raucous three-minute bursts.
‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is still regarded by some as Robert Smith ‘s finest Pop single, Fuelled more by melancholy than malice, it squeezes all the happy – sad emotions of a holiday romance in Blackpool into one magic moment.
The follow up, Jumping Someone Else’s Train is also a perfect, condensed POP jaunt, steeped in you the club cynicism that’s almost belied by it, careful guitar work and jolly train track drums.
If someone were to adhere to a diet of Cure singles they d save themselves a lot of undue worry Even when The Cure play with madness (see Charlotte Sometimes or Hanging Garden) it is in a far more palatable form than some of the excess baggage found at 33 rpm.
Nevertheless. as summarised on the pruned, more rounded US version of The Cure’s first movement ( Boys Don’t Cry – which was Three Imaginary Boys minus the weak link… plus the two singles) the early shape of Robert Smith’s vision was about to undergo its first transition Michael Dempsey left the band feeling alienated by Smith’s more protracted, indulgent musical style. He was replaced by Simon Gallup on bass, and Matthieu Hartley joined on keyboards (a clue in itself).
The sun was beginning to burn my cheeks … it was the same sun as the day of mother’s funeral. (The Outsider).
Prepare to wallow A Forest was a momentous occasion, a turning point, The Cure’s first hit (affording them their TOTP debut) and the sort of song to confine a thousand teenagers to their bedrooms with old diaries and a red light bulb. It is a paranoid masterpiece: a celebratory spiral of symbolism and delicate self-abuse. The forest itself is nature’s own Kafka-esque maze, where Smith’s cry echoes into the trees’ as he searches for the elusive girl.
The LP Seventeen Seconds was heard – a continuation of this existential web, wherein A Forest becomes upbeat (along with Play For Today which might be a refugee from the first LP). In Your House , Seventeen Seconds (‘a measure of life’) and Three set the overall tone recurrent, unflinching essays of confused, almost incurable despondency. The sleeve is, aptly, all grey except for a last smudge of colour (one to which the retrospective reviewer must now say goodbye.)
Following a year of extensive home and away touring (after which Hartley left) The Cure made their most unified bid for psychiatrist’s couch potatoes to date. The LP Faith , dressed totally in grey this time, is a shrine, a monument, and nothing less Tolhurst’s drum patterns are so hypnotically unplayful, Gallup’s bass so encased in the general melee of keyboard atmosphere and blunt-instrument guitar, the listener is either left mesmerised or divorced beyond reconciliation.
There are no inbetweens with these poems of faith and doubt The title track remains The Cure’s most gloriously depressing hour (Five years later, Robert admitted to crying during a rendition at The Albert Hall. “I wish everything I did had such a strong effect on me.”)
A single, Primary, reached No 43 and typically, it was Faith’s most accessible track.
It would be glib to say that The Cure’s grey Period was ‘over’ – never actually remedied, it merely evolved through a new therapeutic approach The single Charlotte Sometimes bridged the gap between “Faith” ‘s luxurious basking and the active exorcism which was to follow. If this all sounds rather serious and foreboding. that’s because it bloody well was.
The Cure has become a love-or-loathe phenomenon Sixth form poetry and ‘Grammar school angst’ were popular handfuls of mud slung at Robert Smith’s medicine show.
‘Charlotte’ sees him lamenting a female Outsider, a “sacred princess The drum sound is curt, the enveloping synth net extends its reach. and the final cut is a frightening, incomplete musical catharsis. Lovely stuff, but not for the lighthearted!
“It doesn’t I matter if we all die” snarls Smith the back-combed vampire clown on Pornography ‘s opening assault, One Hundred Years . An unwritten John Carpenter film soundtrack where the victim is his own killer, and sex is death The colours of Pornography are red and black, filling in the most impenetrable Cure of their career.
This is a scapel-happy beast with no movement in its legs – the guitars lash out like undead tongues, and Smith the protagonist lays bare his restless soul on the rack of erotic imagery.
One more day like today and I’ll kill you, A desire of flesh and real blood, And I’ll watch you drown in the shower, Pushing my life through your open eyes I most fight this sickness, Find a cure ( ‘Pornography’ )
This album hurts “It wasn’t I really violent,” commented Smith, “It was the inability to be violent.” ‘Phil Spector in Hell I,’ said NME s David Quantick.
Ironically, the LP’s wailing singIe, ‘The Hanging Garden’ reached a remarkable No 34 in the charts. Somebody out there was tuning in.
By this time, The Cure were beginning to crack. Robert recorded a new track, Lament for Flexipop magazine, just Steve Severin of The Banshees and himself.
‘Let s Go To Bed’ was a more important turn for the band than their own halfhearted involvement suggested. Gallup had left, so the song was basically a Smith-Tolhurst duet, and if it was borne out of disinterest, it sounds like a fresh start. A jolly, if slightly awkward excursion into dance, it presents The Cure with a huge weight lifted from their chest. It got to No 44.
With The Cure a spent force, a dead duck in the eyes of many following disintegration of the line-up, an Oxford Road Show appearance in which Rob, Lol and Brilliant drummer Andy Anderson faltered through two old Pornography tracks and Smith’s temporary enrollment into old mates Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Walk was the biggest surprise of the year.
A humorous paddling-poolfull of ideas. The Cure’s most carefree song thus far, arid – Smash Hits ahoy – a monster hit, peaking at No 12 The video for The Walk features Smith in as many coloured shirts as there are edits, and (gasp) a glimpse of his whimsical side Off-beam videomaker Tim Pope can be credited for this – his wacky style has complemented the ‘New Cure’ ever since.
And I too felt ready to life my live again. As if this great outburst of anger had purged all my ills. (The Outsider)
With Anderson an official member, complemented by old mucker Porl Thompson on (double) bass, The Cure extended playtime once again, with the kitsch jazz sandwich Lovecats, A real family favourite, all Disney surreality and purring ‘Bob’ Smith scrunching his face up for the kids. Student discos up and down the land did a bastardised Twist and spots were worn on shirts.
Accompanied by a dodgy sit-down TOTP appearance, The Caterpillar was a single that made The Cure’s previous forays into underbelly low-life feel like a bad dream. Light, fluffy and optimistic, it seemed to hint that Smith’s creepy-Crawley skin was shed for good.
However, anyone using it as a yardstick for its parent LP, The Top was in for a punch in the guts. Shake Dog Shake, the opening blow, is a stray from Pornography, a deliberate warning not to relax too much. Elsewhere, the album is a hotch-potch of old and new. NME’s Danny Kelly deemed it “dreadful”, “ambitious”, and a wretched failure”.
Next to the more vicious elements within, The Top ‘s tuneful peaks often appear ill-at-ease and unresolved But we could always put this down to Smith’s self-professed mid-life crisis.
The obligatory live album Concert was released. Andy Anderson, meanwhile, was sacked in Tokyo, and replaced briefly by Psychedelic Furs drummer Vince Ely, then The Thompson Twins Boris Williams
Old bassist Simon Gallup rejoined the band.
Coinciding with Robert Smith’s longest, most ridiculous post-modern moptop ever, Inbetween Days was release and sent to No 15 in the charts, This new, tumbling Pop sound seemed to fit The Cure (now a solid five-piece BAND again) like the custom-made baggy suits they sport in the video – as loose and casual as the jangly acoustic guitar stream that carries the song towards its catherine wheel conclusion.
The album that followed was simply The Cure’s first confident, consolidated Pop menu. With enough loopy bits to prevent it from ever becoming over-safe, “The Head On The Door” is full of childlike bravado and naive maturity. The words are pithy, harmless and cute, and Smith’s voice sings for the first time. “Such innocence should be cherished if not taken very seriously, ” conceded NME’s Mat Snow.
The next single Close To Me was one of the band’s first to fairly and squarely represent the LP from which it was culled. A breath-catchy love song with claustrophobic undertones, brilliantly caricatured by Tim Pope in the video featuring your lovable, shaggy Cure inside a wardrobe teetering an the edge of Beachy Head.
Meanwhile, across the Channel, The Cure had become the biggest thing in France since Toulouse Lautrec.
An odd career decision, considering the band’s burgeoning sense of optimism, Boys Don’t Cry was released, remixed with a newly recorded vocal by Smith. Reaching No 22, it was perceived by The Cure s second generation fans as a brand new song. I’ve liked The Cure ever since they started, ever since Lovecats (a fan outside the Royal Albert Hall gig)
The singles album Standing On A Beach followed (plus compilation video). It proved The Cure to be on a par with Madness and Depeche Mode as one of the most reliable singles bands of the decade.
After another year of touring (mostly abroad, including a 20,000 seater gig at Buenos Aires Footy Stadium) the dangerous double LP Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me hit the racks, emblazoned with an enlargement of Smith’s now legendary smeared lips on the cover.
It’s all over the place (as 1 8-track collections are wont to be) – an extended delight for hard-Cure tans, but perhaps best served by its four splendid singles. ‘Why Can t I Be You?’ is delicious big-band nonsense: Catch, a romantic summer night serenade, ‘Just Like Heaven’, The Cure at their most assured, widely appealing and together, and Hot Hot Hot!!! a disco vacation remixed to irresistibly unnecessary proportions on the 12.
If nothing else, this monstrous catalogue of songs proved The Cure to be more of a united, working, songwriting team than they had ever been before. (Porl wrote three songs on Kiss Me’ and Simon wrote two, which was the first time The Cure had recorded non-Smith compositions
And so to bed’ The Cure have surfaced again this month with a new LP Disintegration and the single Lullaby – a concise swoon-song that heralds their eleventh year as Pop’s Great Antidote Whispering Bob is in fine fettle, vocally scampering across this delicate, soft-centred backbeat, accompanied, funnily enough, by a mock-Arabian synth-line!
I think I must have fallen asleep because I woke up with stars shining on my face. (The Outsider).
-The Party just gets better and better. ( Faith )
© Andrew Collings & New Musical Express