The Cure: Ghouls who refused to die

Back in the Eighties, no one would have believed that goth rock would be thriving 25 years later. As The Cure prepare to play Wembley tonight, Andrew Perry explains their enduring appeal

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On paper, it was not a musical subgenre destined for longevity.

Gothic rock, or “goth”, emerged as an aftershock of punk in the late 1970s, created by young men dressed like zombies, who sang in morbid tones, often about death itself. It is, however, an underdog cult that just keeps on growing.

Tonight, The Cure, who arguably invented the whole goth aesthetic, and are beyond question its most successful exponents, return for their first UK gig in two years at Wembley Arena – a comparatively bijou venue, by the band’s stadium-filling standards.

In recent weeks, a number of their peers have been back in action. Both Siouxsie Sioux, and The Cult, featuring Ian Astbury, followed up excellent new albums with sold-out UK tours. Bauhaus, too, released a spirited reunion album. Meanwhile, last Monday, Nick Cave, who once self-mockingly crowned himself the Black Crow King in a song, referring to his unbidden goth audience, hit the album charts at number four – his highest ever chart position.

If, in 1982, some fool had suggested that this motley gang of doom-mongers would be thriving in the 21st century, he would have been laughed out of court. With their deathly pallor and often narcotic lifestyles, these were not tomorrow’s survivors-in-waiting. All now pushing 50, they each represent an ongoing refusal of the shiny-happy generalities upon which mainstream pop is founded.

Robert Smith, The Cure’s driving force, who is 49 next month, is goth’s chief architect. Raised in Crawley, he was 16 when he first heard punk’s early rumblings and formed a band called Malice, which soon morphed into the Easy Cure and then, simply, The Cure.

Early on, his plan was to match the pop melodies of the Buzzcocks, with the darker sensibilities of Siouxsie and the Banshees, whose singer had elevated her own unique way with make-up and hair to a new art form. The Cure’s debut single, 1978’s Killing an Arab, pitted lyrics based on Albert Camus’s existentialist novel, L’Étranger, against a catchy pop-punk tune, but Smith gradually steered the band’s sound towards more enigmatic and challenging territory.

Inspired by David Bowie’s Low, as well as his own daily consumption of LSD, Smith made the fourth Cure album, Pornography, as if it were his last – a harsh and uncompromising expression of human destructive urges; an act of career suicide. The excruciating, dirge-like song, One Hundred Years, began with the line, “It’s doesn’t matter if we all die,” before doling out images of slaughtered pigs and paternal bereavement. And that was just the opening number.

On its release in 1982, the NME memorably described the album as “Phil Spector in Hell”, but it duly went straight into the Top Ten thanks to the Cure’s gathering fanbase. On their subsequent tour, the band wore white-face on stage, with red eyes, so that, when they sweated under the lights, it appeared as if they were crying blood.

Later that year, Smith came back with a regrouped Cure, putting out a run of singles which at least outwardly shunned the macabre, nihilistic sound of old. [Let’s Go To Bed], [The Walk] and, most alluringly, [The Love Cats] established him as one of the Eighties’s most reliable hit-makers.

Where the likes of Siouxsie, Cave and the Cult often angrily dissociated themselves from their uncool goth audience, Smith embraced it. With his abomination of black hair, sloppily-applied make-up and shapeless black clothes, he became their icon.

Amongst the youth tribes that existed in the wake of punk (skinheads, mods, headbangers, New Romantics, etc), the goths were regarded by all as absolute losers, bereft of style, muscle, intelligence and social ability.

As those cults faded one by one, goth somehow prevailed, its fashions and idea system entirely unchanged. It provided a constant, a comfort – a cocooned, apolitical retreat from the worries of the real world. Its popularity spread worldwide, from Germany to Japan, and its sinister tenets infected other subgenres, such as industrial, heavy metal and emo.

For that reason, and other more personal ones, Smith has resolutely stuck by his vision. I once saw him in Regent Street, as he and his wife, Mary Poole, shopped in the Christmas sales. His hair looked like a fire had wrecked it, the middle of his face was splattered with lipstick, and he sported a gigantic pair of white trainers, as he did in all his videos at the time. He wasn’t exactly sneaking around incognito.

He often confesses that he perseveres with that look, because that’s how his wife loves him. His fans, of course, would be equally horrified if he were to renège, even when he’s seventy. In the quarter-century since [The Love Cats], his records have veered between the opposite poles of [Pornography]-style angst (see 1989’s [Disintegration]), and out-and-out pop (hits like [Friday I’m in Love], [Lullaby], [In Between Days], etc).

And so, despite numerous boozy bust-ups, and personnel crises arising from Smith’s despotic leadership, the Cure still rule, darkly. [Pornography] is now revered as a benchmark of musical extremism.

However, Smith, like all the aforementioned goth-associated performers, has not been content to sit back and milk his past. It’s as if that negating, black-clad energy which drove them all to begin with, was ferocious enough to propel them right through, artistically, into later life.

In the new millennium, as goth fashions invade the catwalks, the Cure’s relevance only seems to multiply. With 2004’s [The Cure] album, Smith teamed up with nu-metal producer, Ross Robinson, and scaled greater commercial heights in America. There, Smith is seen as a demigod of alternative culture.

When I met Arcade Fire’s Win Butler a few years ago, he was wearing an old Cure T-shirt, and enthused for some minutes about Smith. “As a kid,” he said, “he showed me that there was music out there that wasn’t being presented to me through the mainstream”.

Two years ago, I saw Smith’s latest line-up play a humdinger of a Teenage Cancer Trust show at the Albert Hall. It lasted for three hours, taking in both the depths of [Pornography], the highs of [The Love Cats] – all ages of the Cure, from [Killing an Arab] through to a healthy smattering of new material.

Reports from the current European tour suggest that tonight’s show at Wembley will be much the same: a full-blown Last Night of the Proms for the black-eyeliner brigade. No-one with the faintest goth leanings should miss it.

© The Telegraph

How to sound like Robert Smith

The Cure are the great survivors of the punk era. They have been together – albeit with an ever-changing line-up – for nearly 20 years, during which time their mix of gothic, independent, and quirky pop styles has allowed them to transcend the vagaries of fashion and enjoy enormous,  and continuous commercial success.

Robert Smiths ‘s sound is steeped in simplicity.  The key here is good song writing as oppossed to racks of endless equipment. A simple Boss Distortion is all that required here.  The Cure are often identified with the gothic rock subgenre of alternative rock, and are viewed as one of the form’s definitive bands. However, the band has routinely rejected classification, particularly as a gothic rock band. Robert Smith said in 2006, “It’s so pitiful when ‘goth’ is still tagged onto the name The Cure”, and added, “We’re not categorisable.

I suppose we were post-punk when we came out, but in total it’s impossible  I just play Cure music, whatever that is.” Smith has also expressed his distaste for gothic rock, describing it as “incredibly dull and monotonous. A dirge really.”[ While typically viewed as producers of dark and gloomy music, The Cure have also yielded a number of upbeat songs. Spin has said “The Cure have always been an either/or sort of band: either  Robert Smith is wallowing in gothic sadness or he’s licking sticky-sweet cotton-candy pop off his lipstick-stained fingers.”

The Cure’s primary musical traits have been listed as “dominant, melodic bass lines; whiny, strangulated vocals; and a lyric obsession with existential, almost literary despair.”  Most Cure songs start with Smith and Gallup writing the drum parts and basslines. Both record demos at home and then bring them into the studio for fine-tuning. Smith said in 1992, “I think when people talk about the ‘Cure sound,’ they mean songs based on 6-string bass, acoustic guitar, and my voice, plus the string sound from the Solina.

The Solina

The Solina String Ensemble is often thought of as THE String Machine of the late 1970’s disco era. It’s a multi-orchestral machine with violin, viola, trumpet, horn, cello and contrabass. Instead of attack and decay there are crescendo and sustain controls (which sound more orchestral but are the same thing). Apparently this synth really makes a great string sound, but that’s all really… It has gate and trigger outs from the polyphonic keyboard. Completely cased in wood (or wood-like) panels with a clean and discrete layout. It’s old, it’s vintage, and it’s been used by Air, The Eagles, Elton John, Pink Floyd, The Cure, Joy Division, OMD, Josh Wink, STYX, Tangerine Dream, Keane, Japan, and New Order.

“On top of this foundation is laid “towering layers of guitars and synthesizers”. Keyboards have been a component of the band’s sound since Seventeen Seconds, and their importance increased with their extensive use on Disintegration.

As  for Guitar’s Robert  says  “Most of the guitar work has been done on a limited edition Gibson Chet Atkins – a huge guitar with gold all over it.”

Amps

Ampeg VL-503 Combo / 1×12

Guitars

Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman Electric Guitar

Ovation Balladeer 12 String 6751 Acoustic Guitar

Pedals

Boss BF-2 Flanger

Boss CH-1 Super Chorus

Boss DD-3 Digital Delay

Boss DS-1 Distortion

Boss PH-2 Super Phaser

Boss PN-2 Tremolo Pan

Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive

Dunlop Original CryBaby Wah Pedal

ROBERT SMITH (GUITAR, BASS, LEAD VOCALS, KEYBOARDS): AKG C12 mic; Ampeg Combo SVT112; Banjo (5 string); Boss effects pedals; Coral Sitar guitar; Emu Emulator II; Fender 6 string bass; Fender Jazzmaster; Gibson Chet Atkins ltd edition guitar; Gibson SG custom guitar; Gretsch Tennessee Rose guitar; Jen Cry Baby Wah Wah pedal; Marshall Bluesbreaker combo; Mosrite guitar; Ovation 12 string guitar; PHD custom guitar; Sitar; Takamine 12 string acoustic guitar; Takamine 6 string acoustic guitar; Vox AC30 ammp; Yairi Classical guitar & Schecter UltraCure six-string bass

 The following is a year by year exposition of what Robert Smith used meticulously described:
in 1981 : the built-in chorus of a Roland JC-160 amp / the built in phaser of a Peavey Musician Mark III head amp (and that’s still to be checked out a MXR Flanger – he used this one extensively with the Banshees, I still have a doubt about its use with The Cure).
in 1982 : the built in phaser of a Peavey Musician Mark III head amp / a Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man (analog Chorus / Vibrato / Delay).
in 1983 / 1984 : still the Peavey phaser + a Boss CE-2 Chorus + a Boss BF-2 (located at the end of the FX chain).
in 1985 / 1992 : same amp, same phaser + and numerous chorus (CE-2 / CH-1, following the convenience) + Boss BF-2
from 1996 onwards : introduction of a Boss PH-2 (Roberts didn’t use his peavey anymore but Ampeg VL503 or Line6 Flextone instead), Boss BF-2, Boss CE-5.
– in 2006: CE2 or JC-120. He’s been using the CE2 into various amps (Marshalls a lot) live for the last decade, but it might well have been the JC-120 in the studio.But it’s not just the chorus – there’s a lot of compression there and he deliberately tunes his high E string a little flat. Slow rate, full depth.
The lead (descending) riff is a Fender Bass VI into a Boss CE-2 and DD-3 and a Peavy Bass amp. I can’t remember the pedal settings but Robert Smith likes to use “intuitive” symmetrical setings like 12:00 speed 12:00 depth or 10:00 speed and 2:00 depth. In any event the Bass VI is THE KEY to the tone on “Just like heaven”.
Have fun.

© itsstecole & Sebouh Gemdjian

 

 

 

Dream A Little Dream Of Me

Il nuovo lavoro della band viene rimandato più volte: inizialmente previsto come doppio album, 4:13 DREAM esce alla fine nell’autunno 2008. Nel 2010 arriva invece la ristampa di uno dei dischi più amati dell band: DISINTEGRATION, che esce in una deluxe edition di 3 CD, con inediti, live e rarità, a cui se ne aggiungono altre postate in esclusiva sul sito della band.

Immagine

Cureografia – 2008

Immagine

4:13 Dream

Really, The Cure must be the ultimate indie success story. After crawling down a doomy post-punk gutter ending in the apocalyptic ‘Pornography’ (1982/Year Zero for goths), Robert Smith began spinning his dark visions into pop, with singles like ‘The Lovecats’ (1983) and later ‘Just Like Heaven’ (1987) turning his band into serious unit-shifters. Smith repeatedly appeased his unholy gods by releasing Slayer-are-lightweights albums such as ‘Disintegration’ (1989). Since then, he has regularly crept back to the light of the charts and ‘4:13 Dream’ is such an occasion. And one which, given the ’80s revival, is timed to perfection.

We open on a dark night, naturally, with ‘Underneath The Stars’ – its impressionistic wash of guitars and distorted vocals whisking you dreamily away to Cure-land. Once the mist clears, it’s a surprisingly lovely place to be: ‘The Only One’, a breezy sibling of ‘Just Like Heaven’ with beautifully off-kilter lines such as “I love what you do to my head/It’s a mess up there”. The more epic ‘The Reasons Why’ twists the love song further, with Smith blurting, “I don’t want to bring you down about my suicide”. It’s dark and weird, but perfectly apt.

For what is love if not an insane, gothic melodrama? Just a fuck, that’s what. After this classic Cure pop, the album goes to an unexpected place with ‘Freakshow’. A psychedelic funk-rocker, it could easily be from ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, and in its barely restrained mania it exhibits The Cure’s current line-up (Smith, guitarist Porl Thompson, bassist Simon Gallup, drummer Jason Cooper) as both stripped-back and bold. With them ‘The Real Snow White’’s kernel of sound and fury is somehow euphoric. The lyrics of the chorus seem anthemic (“I made a promise to myself/I wouldn’t stay with anyone else”) but Smith menacingly undercuts them with “you got what I want”, suggesting it’s not necessarily a nice sentiment. It comes across like The Cure taking back the sound The Killers borrowed from them and refilling Brandon Flowers’ empty grandeur with smoke and fire.

This album suggests a re-engagement with the popular music scene, if not an act of war. ‘The Hungry Ghost’ is a disturbed political mystery, but fitted up Trojan Horse-style as a drivetime radio hit. The psych-epic ‘Switch’ could be an Arcade Fire song if it didn’t end with the nihilistic sigh, “I’m sick of being lonely by myself/I’m sick of being with anyone else”. Misery guts? Yes, but it makes Smith’s love songs amazing. ‘The Perfect Boy’’s line, “The two of us is all there is/The rest is just a dream” encapsulates his vision: love is part of the darkness, as frightening as it is comforting. Forget the godfather of goth stuff, Smith is a teller of truths.

If you just want a ghost-train ride, though, skip straight to ‘The Scream’. An electro-metal descent into madness, it climaxes with the realisation that “This is not a dream/This is how it is”. ‘The Scream’ is a reminder of the primal horror of consciousness. Cheers for that, Bob, you may say, but in dealing with such terrors, haven’t The Cure always been, well, the cure?

October 24, 2008

© New Musical Express

We open on a dark night, naturally, with ‘Underneath The Stars’ – its impressionistic wash of guitars and distorted vocals whisking you dreamily away to Cure-land. Once the mist clears, it’s a surprisingly lovely place to be: ‘The Only One’, a breezy sibling of ‘Just Like Heaven’ with beautifully off-kilter lines such as “I love what you do to my head/It’s a mess up there”. The more epic ‘The Reasons Why’ twists the love song further, with Smith blurting, “I don’t want to bring you down about my suicide”. It’s dark and weird, but perfectly apt.For what is love if not an insane, gothic melodrama? Just a fuck, that’s what. After this classic Cure pop, the album goes to an unexpected place with ‘Freakshow’. A psychedelic funk-rocker, it could easily be from ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, and in its barely restrained mania it exhibits The Cure’s current line-up (Smith, guitarist Porl Thompson, bassist Simon Gallup, drummer Jason Cooper) as both stripped-back and bold. With them ‘The Real Snow White’’s kernel of sound and fury is somehow euphoric. The lyrics of the chorus seem anthemic (“I made a promise to myself/I wouldn’t stay with anyone else”) but Smith menacingly undercuts them with “you got what I want”, suggesting it’s not necessarily a nice sentiment. It comes across like The Cure taking back the sound The Killers borrowed from them and refilling Brandon Flowers’ empty grandeur with smoke and fire.

This album suggests a re-engagement with the popular music scene, if not an act of war. ‘The Hungry Ghost’ is a disturbed political mystery, but fitted up Trojan Horse-style as a drivetime radio hit. The psych-epic ‘Switch’ could be an Arcade Fire song if it didn’t end with the nihilistic sigh, “I’m sick of being lonely by myself/I’m sick of being with anyone else”. Misery guts? Yes, but it makes Smith’s love songs amazing. ‘The Perfect Boy’’s line, “The two of us is all there is/The rest is just a dream” encapsulates his vision: love is part of the darkness, as frightening as it is comforting. Forget the godfather of goth stuff, Smith is a teller of truths.

If you just want a ghost-train ride, though, skip straight to ‘The Scream’. An electro-metal descent into madness, it climaxes with the realisation that “This is not a dream/This is how it is”. ‘The Scream’ is a reminder of the primal horror of consciousness. Cheers for that, Bob, you may say, but in dealing with such terrors, haven’t The Cure always been, well, the cure?
Read more at http://www.nme.com/reviews/the-cure/9962#KQdhFr7T0OkeWpvK.99