In a 1997 Goth music retrospective in Details Magazine, the Cure’s Robert Smith insisted that the Cure are not, and NEVER were, Goth. This may seem odd coming from the sour-faced singer with the frightwig of dyed-black hair, deathly pale complexion, and perennially-smeared blood-red lipstick, whose band has recorded such songs as “The Funeral Party,” “The Drowning Man,” “Torture,” “Empty World,” “Hanging Garden,” and “Killing An Arab.” Hell, if anything, the Cure–along with Bauhaus, Siouxsie & the Banshees, and others–invented Goth! But Mr. Smith has a point. The Cure have successfully explored so many sundry styles beyond doom-and-gloom that to label them just “Goth” is to ignore much of their illustrious career. We should never forget that the Cure defined “alternative” long before Seattle’s flannel-swathed revolution rendered the term meaningless.
For over 20 years, the Cure’s ever-revolving lineup has served as a vehicle for the prolific genius of Smith, one of the 1980s’ most unlikely yet enduring rock stars, who at age 16 formed the Cure–then called the Easy Cure–with schoolmate Lol Tolhurst in Crawley, England. Their first single, “Killing An Arab,” was released on the indie label Small Wonder in 1978; the song, an homage to the Albert Camus novel The Stranger, would cause a ruckus 10 years later (after the band rose to fame) among the overly-PC set who took the title a bit too literally. In 1979, Fiction Records released the Cure’s clean, lean, and minimal debut, Boys Don’t Cry (issued with different artwork and an altered sequence in the U.K. as Three Imaginary Boys).
However, the sound dramatically changed for the next three albums–Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography–each darker, scarier, and more claustrophobically depressing than the last. Smith’s spidery hair, anguished warble, and talent for penning bleak lyrics (this writer’s favorite snippet, from Pornography’s “100 Years”: “Something small falls out of your mouth/ And we laugh”) also grew along with the music’s sense of overwhelming despair, thus solidifying the Cure, for better or worse, as the kings of Goth–a title they arguably hold to this day. But then the band made another switcharoo, more drastic than any before: they became a (relatively) upbeat synth-disco duo with infectious early-MTV staples like “Let’s Go To Bed,” “The Walk,” and “Love Cats.” Smith took a year off to join Siouxsie & the Banshees–as well as record the superb Blue Sunshine LP with the Glove, his side-project with Banshee Steve Severin–before restucturing the Cure in 1984 as a psychedelic five-piece for the bad-acid-trip album The Top.
One year and many lineup revisions later, the Cure finally went from underground darlings to arena-worthy stars with The Head On The Door, which fused the dark perversions of their earlier works to the frothiness of their dance hits. The greatest-hits package Standing On A Beach: The Singles, accompanying video anthology Staring At The Sea, theatrically-released concert film The Cure In Orange, and sprawling double-LP Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me followed. Still, 1989 turned out to be the most monumental year in Cure history: it not only saw the acrimonious departure of Tolhurst, but the release of one of the Cure’s finest, most exquisite albums ever, Disintegration, which was not only the culmination of all Smith’s stylistic experiments, but the only Cure album to yield a bona fide top 10 hit (“Love Song,” which went all the way to No. 3). Simultaneously gorgeous and raw, melancholy and exuberant, grandiose and intimate, Disintegration was (and is) an instant and eternal classic.
The Cure have traveled a bumpy road since this massive achievement. Amid rumors perpetuated by Smith himself that he would soon retire the band, the Cure released the ill-advised remix album Mixed Up, followed by the long-anticipated, yet ultimately disappointing, Wish LP. Smith also became locked in a court battle with the disgruntled Tolhurst (Smith won). Four years elapsed before the Cure’s next LP, Wild Mood Swings, a marked improvement over Wish but still not up to par with the rest of the Cure discography. (Some only half-jokingly chalk up the Cure’s slow decline to the previously mopey Smith’s increased happiness–he’s older, wiser, and now contentedly married to his childhood sweetheart Mary, for whom he wrote the aforementioned “Love Song” as a wedding gift.) However, in 1997, the release of the Cure’s second best-of disc, Galore-The Singles 1987-1997, reminded everyone who had started to lose interest that the Cure had enjoyed a long, steady, and fruitful career, and no matter what happened to them in the future, their legacy was already well established.
In the year 2000, Smith and company returned with Bloodflowers, which Smith declared the third and final installment in the dark and doomy trilogy that began with Pornography and continued with Disintegration; while Bloodflowers was neither as suicide-inducingly depressing as the former nor as drop-dead (no pun intended) brilliant as the latter, the Cure’s critically acclaimed 12th studio album did sound like classic Cure and was somewhat of an encouraging return to form, proving the band still had passion and intensity. Unfortunately, Smith is once again announcing that this album will be the Cure’s last. He’s cried wolf regarding this retirement issue many times before, so only fans will have to wait to find out if he really means it this time.
In the meantime, the Cure continue to sell out arenas whenever they tour, and their legend is so strong (and deserved) that they are guaranteed to go down in musical history as one of the greatest bands of all time. And when/ if Smith’s threatened band breakup finally occurs, rumor is he has already recorded an acoustic solo album that is probably brilliant….. by bandbio