After the rampant mid-1970s punk movement fuelled by such bands as the Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash, the post-punk period was a time of experimental arty complexities that broadened the framework that punk had already set out.
There was one band who would traverse the realm of the alternative, from psychedelic pop to dark gothic tones, but could not be labelled firmly as any one of those things.
The lead singer was particularly memorable. Who could miss the wild black hair, smudged red lipstick and black eyeliner in a crowd?
This is the story of The Cure.
The year was 1976, and the punk movement was rife with an explosion of bands all jumping on to the same bandwagon to make music in some way or form. In a sleepy town in Sussex, a local student was playing a gig in the church hall of St Edwards with a band he had put together from his fellow schoolmates. They were doing David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Alex Harvey in their setlist. This was a newly-formed band that called themselves Malice.
The student was 17 year-old Robert Smith, attending school at St Wilfrid's Catholic Comprehensive in Crawley, UK. Malice was not very long lived, and with a few member changes, 1977 saw the birth of 'The Easy Cure'. Made up of Robert Smith taking up vocals and staying on guitar, Porl Thompson also on guitar, Michael Dempsey on bass and Lawrence 'Lol' Tolhurst on drums, the band took its name from a song that Lol had penned1. They had all started writing their own material, and after entering a talent competition, the group was offered a £1000 record contract with Hansa Records. The Easy Cure should have flourished after that, but as is usual in the music business...
All was not well.
They were giving us all these really old songs to cover. We couldn't believe it. This was summer 1977 and we thought we'd be able to do all these outrageous songs we'd written and all they wanted from us were versions of really bad old rock'n'roll songs.
- Robert Smith, on Hansa Records
The band left Hansa and returned to playing local gigs as a support to another local band, Lockjaw, but found themselves in a bit of a hole when they were dropped due to the style of their music, which didn't really include the sort of songs that you would grab a partner and dance around the room with until you get dizzy. They had been turned down by several other record companies that they had sent demo tapes to, and guitarist Porl Thompson left the band, unhappy with the direction that the songs were taking. Lots of other changes were happening to the band as well.
The band was called The Cure.
Three Imaginary Boys
Now a three-piece, The Cure2 spent three nights in Morgan Studios at the end of 1978 recording their first album. Three Imaginary Boys, driven by punk-inspired energy but inbued with pensive, brooding lyrics. With contempories riding a similar wave like Joy Division, The Cure soon found themselves as one of those at the forefront of post-punk psychedelia.
Soon after signing to Fiction, they had released the song that had attracted Chris Parry to them through the demo tape - 'Killing An Arab'. It sparked a lot of controversy, understandably, due to its title. Robert Smith had been inspired by the existentialist book L'Etranger3, by Albert Camus, and the lyrics similarly. The single was released with a label denying all racial connotations, as it was pointed out that the person referred to in the song and the book could have been of any race, gender or background but it just happened to be an Arab in Camus' book.
1979 was even busier, recording a John Peel session, with The Cure playing as a support slot to such bands as Generation X on tour, and also punk veterans-turning-rapidly-Goth, Siouxsie and the Banshees. When the Banshees' guitarist and drummer left just before a show began, Robert Smith found himself playing two sets a night - one for The Cure, and one for the Banshees.
At this period, The Cure weren't exactly the most memorable-looking of people in the music industry. In fact, they pretty much wore the same clothes on stage as they did off. Compared to Siouxsie Sioux's flamboyance, Robert Smith looked like your random lad on the street. However, this didn't stop him from forming a friendship with the Banshees co-founder and bassist, Steve Severin, which would prove to be musically fruitful in its own way.
A Strange Day
The next album release, Seventeen Seconds, was made by a four-piece Cure. Michael Dempsey, who had voiced his distaste at Robert Smith's song writing taking a turn for the sombre, had been replaced by former Lockjaw bassist Simon Gallup, and Matthieu Hartley added on keyboards4. 'A Forest' proved to be their first UK Top 40 hit, reaching No. 31, despite concerns from Chris Parry that though he liked it, it wasn't entirely radio-friendly pre-release.
Faith, released in 1981, was the most depressing album to date. Back to a three-piece, each Cure member happened to have a family member die around the same time, so the track list spurned such songs as 'The Funeral Party' and 'All Cats Are Grey', embodying gloomy dirges. Everyone in the band had started experimenting with drugs and were drinking heavily, which certainly didn't help the depression at the time. Now twenty-one, Robert Smith himself was wondering if there was really any point in carrying on with life, and this was apparent in the tone of Faith.
1982 saw a change in the band's appearance. Despite not really wanting to make themselves memorable, Robert Smith went all out wild. The teased hair and black eyeliner were suddenly in, with the dark appearance and sounds appealing to the Goth community. If you thought Faith was sombre, Pornography tested that to the limit. The Cure had become exceedingly nihilistic in tone. They had been influenced, not only by the amount of drugs they were taking, but by disturbing films and images to get them in the mood. The harsh hypnotic drumbeats and wavering, Wagner-esque guitar riff of songs like 'The Hanging Garden' and 'One Hundred Years', the latter which opened with the words 'Does it all matter if we all die?', combined with Robert Smith's distinctive voice5, were merciless in tone. There was also the hanging rumour that Robert Smith was suicidal. Either way, Pornography cracked the UK Top 10 albums, getting to No. 9, and the Ten Explicit Moments tour was also successful.
However, the inner turmoil of the band was getting to a height to which they could not stand each other any more. After an argument and fisticuffs in a club with Robert Smith, Simon Gallup left the band, meaning that The Cure were now left with the two original founding members.
And to make things marginally worse, Lol Tolhurst decided that he wasn't that great a drummer after all.
A Short Term Effect
Fuelled by acid-trips and magic mushroom tea, it was safe to say that the record company must have thought Robert Smith mad when he brought them The Cure's next piece. This was the start of the 'Fantasia' set of songs. Expecting yet another funeral dirge, 'Let's Go To Bed' was a single full of pomp, circumstance, and happy pop sounds. Lol, unable to cope with the syncopated beat (he was dipping deeper and deeper into alcoholism), had switched to keyboards.
The next single, 'The Walk', was a trippy Japan-inspired piece, but it was 'The Lovecats', a jazzy, Madness-esque number that added a new audience to The Cure's music, attracting a mob of predominantly teenage girls alongside the Goths from the Faith/Pornography periods. With immaculately applied eyeliner and stalking about with the cheeriest, bubbliest disposition ever in the song's video, it was difficult to believe that this was the same Robert Smith who had sung so depressingly about animals and love in 'The Hanging Garden'. 'The Lovecats' peaked at No. 7 in the UK charts. The three songs, along with their B-sides, were issued as a compilation known as Japanese Whispers.
With Siouxsie and the Banshees finding themselves without a guitarist again, Smith took time out from working on new material to become a Banshee on their Nocturne tour. Indeed, he was also offered the chance to become a full-time Banshee, having also recorded material on their Hyaena album. He had been working with Steve Severin on an experimental side-project known as The Glove, releasing Blue Sunshine under that moniker. However, The Cure's relationship with the Banshees was irretrievably broken when Smith left suddenly on the eve of a world tour on doctor's orders, suffering from chronic blood poisoning. Siouxsie was less than forgiving:
It wasn't like he became ill. He was one of those people who just didn't say 'no' to anything, so when it's self-induced it's hard to have sympathy. To actually say two days before a tour that's been planned in advance that he can't do it - f**k off!
- Siouxsie Sioux, on losing yet another guitarist
Even though 'The Lovecats' was probably the single that came the closest to a mainstream pop song, beckoning pop stardom, Robert Smith was having none of it. The next year saw a return to a more melancholy mood.
The Head On The Door
Even though The Cure were officially a two-piece, Robert Smith was doing most of the work as Lol descended further and further into drinking. The Top, a wholly weird album, if anything could possibly get weirder, was released in 1984. Everything, except for the drums and saxophone, was done by him. The album was influenced by working with Severin in The Glove, and some of the songs that didn't make it on Blue Sunshine were there. However, the album wasn't particularly well-received, and Robert Smith also had to find himself a band again to tour with.
Help came in the way of Andy Anderson and Phil Thornalley, who had been drawn in on drums and bass respectively for 'The Lovecats' sessions, and the return of old Easy Cure member Porl Thompson on guitar and saxophone. In true Cure fashion though, members dropped out, with Anderson being fired during the tour and Thornalley leaving at the end. They were replaced by new drummer Boris Williams, and the return of bassist Simon Gallup. Robert Smith commented on his satisfaction of the newly-staffed Cure, saying 'We're a band again.'.
The Head On The Door era in 1985 immortalised Robert Smith henceforth with his smudged red lipstick, black eyeliner and heavily teased hair. The album was a balance between melancholy and pop, and was well-received in the UK, beating Pornography's record by getting to No. 7 in the album charts. The addictive guitar riffs of 'Inbetween Days' and the cute and innovative video for 'Close To Me'6 were a breakthrough for the band after the flop of The Top. It was the start of a new era. Again.
The Drowning Man
A tour ensued after the success of The Head On The Door, where it made MTV headlines that Robert Smith had lopped off his famous bird's nest of a hairstyle to a simple crewcut. Sadly, it was apparent that Lol Tolhurst's alcoholism was getting worse, and he could no longer cope with keyboards on his own. Reluctant to throw his fellow co-founder out of the band, Robert Smith enlisted the help of Roger O'Donnell, who played with The Psychedelic Furs, to stand in for him when he couldn't play.
The long Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album could be described as a extension of the dirge/pop theme started by The Head On The Door, keeping the success going in that respect. The band had retreated to a vineyard in the South of France, and it was written in what was referred to as a 'family atmosphere', with the members' girlfriends appraising the pieces and giving them marks out of ten. The length of the album was covered by the fact that they were 'having so much fun' writing it.
If Whigfield's 'Saturday Night' is enough to get you doing all the dance moves in a jiffy, then The Cure's version would be the psychedelic 'Why Can't I Be You?', complete with the band doing all the dance moves to it in the video. However, it was 'Just Like Heaven' which would be lauded as the definitive Cure song, combining all the elements of The Cure into one. Robert Smith had written it about a meeting he had with his girlfriend since secondary school, Mary Poole, at Beachy Head7. The Cure now had a great following, with odd incidents on the Kissing Tour in 1987 including several girls taking off all their clothes and lying down naked in front of their tour bus to stop them from leaving.
It didn't stop them.
The next year, Roger O'Donnell had been drafted in as a permanent addition to The Cure, and Robert Smith took the steps to tell his old schoolmate that the relations between Lol and the band had been damaged to the point that he had to leave. Though he would still be credited on the next album, though not actually contributing anything to it, Lol Tolhurst was removed from The Cure, meaning that Robert Smith was the only person from the original line-up.
The next album was panned heavily by the record company, but it would turn out to be one of The Cure's finest hours.
I thought it was our masterpiece, and they thought it was s**t.
- Robert Smith, on Disintegration
Disintegration was considered to be almost unmarketable when it was presented to the record company. However, Robert Smith considered it to be the best thing they had ever done. It was a return to the bleakness of Pornography, though not quite as hard hitting. It included a thoughtful, contemplative set of songs, from the moody 'Prayers For Rain', the creepy 'Lullaby' and the hopeful 'Pictures Of You'.
The album reached No. 3. So much for being unmarketable.
Smith, now thirty, had started contemplating his own existence again, going back to hallucinogenic drugs and living a hermit-like lifestyle by locking himself away for long periods at a time. The other members had, in the past, passed ideas for lyrics under the door but by now it was evident that Robert Smith was pretty much losing himself in his own world to produce lyrics.
Disintegration had been announced by Smith as the last album the band would ever make, and that they would be splitting up soon after. Despite this, it was quite a fruitful period, with 'Lullaby' making it to No. 5 in the singles chart and the video winning a Brit Award in 19908, with 'Fascination Street', 'Pictures Of You' and 'Lovesong' all making the Top 20. The Cure also managed to crack the USA with 'Lovesong'. Originally written as a present for Mary, and not really tipped to do well, it managed to get to No. 2 in the singles chart over the pond, held off only by Janet Jackson.
The Cure were now selling out stadium concerts on the Prayer Tour9, with Robert Smith even announcing that this was 'probably' their last time together as a band at their Wembley Arena gig. But then, Robert Smith isn't particularly well-known for being truthful in this type of announcement, considering The Cure were meant to have split up after the release of Pornography.
To Wish Impossible Things
Right, so maybe Robert Smith was telling a bit of a lie when he said that The Cure were splitting up after Disintegration. However, a band member did leave. Roger O'Donnell left the band after 'artistic differences' with the other members, and was replaced by long-time Cure guitar roadie Perry Bamonte on keyboards, and who was occasionally drafted up to playing guitar.
Therefore, the five-strong Cure hurtled into the '90s, first with an album of remixes of old and new songs. Mixed Up was released in 1990, with songs like 'A Forest', 'Lullaby' and 'Why Can't I Be You?' remixed by people including William Orbit and Paul Oakenfold. Though the album was certainly not as popular as Disintegration, a single, the guitar-driven rocker 'Never Enough', was taken from it, and the video suitably twisted and trippy to fit in the band's videography. The remix of 'Close To Me' was also released, dubbed 'Closer Mix'.
After Mixed Up and another snipping of the iconic hair by Robert Smith, the album Wish was released in 1992, and went straight to No. 1 in the UK and No. 2 in the USA. More radio-friendly than Disintegration, it produced songs like the memorably cheery 'Friday I'm In Love' and the incredibly sunny 'High' alongside more pensive pickings as 'Trust' and 'A Letter To Elise'. It was also The Cure's year at the Brits, winning Best Group.
Certainly, The Cure were riding a high at the moment, but things then started to slow down. Porl Thompson, who had also designed the cover art for Wish, left the band in 1993 to concentrate on his art again as well as to work with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Boris Williams and Simon Gallup started wandering away as the band stagnated. Robert Smith and Perry Bamonte met at one point to discuss new plans for an album, but couldn't, because 'they didn't have a band'.
Wild Mood Swings
Right in the middle of the Britpop movement, it seemed that the future was bleak for The Cure, initially post-punk, then Goth, then pop, Goth again, then Goth/pop/punk, then just plain Cure. Could it be possible for the band to reinvent itself once more? Robert Smith thought so.
1994 was where the band was almost apart but not quite, able to record 'Burn' for The Crow soundtrack, but hampered by an ex-Cure. Lol Tolhurst sued Robert Smith and the Fiction label over royalties from Cure songs and that he had joint ownership of 'The Cure' name. However, the court case only saw to reveal the massive drinking expenses of the band and Lol's alcoholism. Ruling for the defendants, the case left Lol bankrupt, and The Cure could continue as before.
With Porl Thompson and Boris Williams gone, Perry Bamonte moved on to guitar. Roger O'Donnell returned to the fray on keyboards, newcomer Jason Cooper was enlisted on drums and Simon Gallup wandered back into bass. However, the following album, Wild Mood Swings, was a definite 'swing' from The Cure's usual songs. From Latin songs in 'The 13th', to Smith trying a different type of vocal in 'Club America', it alienated many, though the songs 'Want' and 'Jupiter Crash' did have traces of Disintegration and Wish in them.
Wild Mood Swings was not exactly the most popular of albums, and the release of the album Galore, a compilation of The Cure's singles from 1987 to 1997 did nothing to help the band except fuel the rumours that they were splitting up for real. Would The Cure make it into the new millennium, or split up? Siouxsie and the Banshees had called it quits in 1996. On the other hand, The Cure seemed to be gathering a new, younger following, also helped by Robert Smith guest appearing on an episode of cult comedy South Park.
Almost absolutely certain that this was The Cure's last ever album, the Grammy-nominated Bloodflowers was released in 2000. Robert Smith had dubbed it the end of a trilogy, alongside Pornography and Disintegration. Not exactly the most cheerful of albums, but certainly not as nihilistic as the former or creepy as the latter, Bloodflowers did have a bit of trouble making its mark. It was the live shows that were the turning point, with the successful Dream Tour to promote Bloodflowers and the highly-regarded Trilogy shows in 2002, where a DVD was made of back-to-back shows at the Tempodrome in Berlin where they performed Pornography, Disintegration and Bloodflowers in their entirety.
A Greatest Hits album was released in 2001, and Join The Dots in 2004, the latter a collection of B-sides and rarities. It really did seem that The Cure were on the verge of ending a successful and colourful career.
But it wasn't the fairytale ending everyone was thinking. It wasn't an end at all.
Fiction, who had now been tied to The Cure since 1978, had been taken over by Universal, and The Cure soon found themselves without a label. It was a music festival in Switzerland where Robert Smith met Ross Robinson, a producer for Geffen Records. Geffen was fairly notorious for having nu-metal bands under their wing, and Robinson, being a lifelong Cure fan, was all too happy to sign up the supposedly split up Cure. Therefore, with a new start it was only natural to release their first eponymous album, The Cure.
Rather than recording the music first and then overlaying Smith's vocals over the top as with the other albums, Robinson insisted that the songs on the album be recorded with all the members together, an almost live experience. However, the manner in which the recording was done was not exactly admired by all of the band members:
I personally don’t like Ross. I find him trite. I’m old enough to form my opinion where I think someone is contriving to be eccentric, and I think he was. I’ve met enough genuine people and honest people, and I personally don’t think Ross was one of them. I thought he tried to do things so everybody thought he was eccentric where true eccentrics don’t try to create a persona around them. He would just do, to my mind, things that were unnecessary. He’d say, ‘Oh, I’m trying to get a sound like, so it sounds like...’ for example, he would pick up my bass, and I’d say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ and he’d say, ‘I’m just trying to get the sound so it sounds like your bass,’ and I said, ‘Well, I know how to get that sound.’ There’s more convoluted ways of doing it than trying to create a sound, why not just ask the person who’s playing it?
- Simon Gallup, on working with Ross Robinson on The Cure
Nevertheless, the album spawned two singles, 'The End Of The World', which made it to No. 25 in the UK, and 'Taking Off'. The album itself made a Top 10 debut on both sides of the Atlantic. It received mixed reviews, with some rating it as the best since Disintegration, and others panning it completely. In this Researcher's opinion, the Marmite effect10 applies.
The Curiosa festivals took place soon after in 2004 in the USA, headlined by The Cure and featuring such bands as Muse, AFI, Mogwai, and many other bands that The Cure liked. However, the stadium sellout days simply weren't happening, and whether they will happen again is another one of the band's mysteries.
A new start, a new album, a new label, lots of tours and awards. The Cure were voted MTV Icon for 2004, and Robert Smith won the International Achievement award at the Ivor Novello Awards in 2005. However, there was a bit of controversy when keyboardist Roger O'Donnell and guitarist Perry Bamonte found out from a fan website that they had apparently been dropped from the band, before Smith actually told them himself. The Cure had dropped back to three.
Was it back to the 'Three Imaginary Boys' again? The Cure were reissuing their back catalogue at the time, remastered and with rarities. Coincidence?
More sort of four. An old pal in the form of Porl Thompson rejoined the band just in time for their performance at the Live 8 concert in Paris.
But what now for The Cure? It's unknown which direction they will take, but it's certain that they've made a permanent mark in the music industry as a band able to adapt to any climate along the alternative stream. It will undoubtedly depend on when Robert Smith decides to finally complete that solo album he intends to do, probably when The Cure split up.
Judging from the number of times The Cure supposedly split up, that might be a long time in coming.
- Robert Smith (founding member) - vocals, guitar
- Simon Gallup (1980 - 1982 and 1985 - present) - bass guitar
- Porl Thompson (1977 - 1978, 1985 - 1993 and 2005 - present) - guitar
- Jason Cooper (1995 - present) - drums
- Michael Dempsey (1977 - 1979) - bass guitar
- Lol Tolhurst (1977 - 1989) - drums, keyboards
- Matthieu Hartley (1980) - keyboards
- Andy Anderson (1984) - drums
- Phil Thornalley (1984) - bass guitar
- Boris Williams (1985 - 1993) - drums
- Roger O'Donnell (1987 - 1990 and 1995 - 2005) - keyboards
- Perry Bamonte (1990 - 2005) - guitar, six-string bass, keyboards
- Three Imaginary Boys (1979)
- Seventeen Seconds (1980)
- Faith (1981)
- Pornography (1982)
- The Top (1984)
- The Head On The Door (1985)
- Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
- Disintegration (1989)
- Wish (1992)
- Wild Mood Swings (1996)
- Bloodflowers (2001)
- The Cure (2004)
- Concert (1984)
- Entreat (1991)
- Show (1993)
- Paris (1993)
Compilation and Reissue Albums
- Boys Don't Cry11 (1980)
- Japanese Whispers (Singles and B-Sides 1982 - 1983) (1983)
- Standing On A Beach (Staring At The Sea) (The Singles 1978 - 1985) (1986)
- Mixed Up (1990)
- Galore (The Singles 1987 - 1997) (1997)
- Greatest Hits (2001)
- Join The Dots (B-Sides and Rarities 1978 - 2001) (2004)
- 'Killing an Arab' (1978)
- 'Boys Don't Cry' (1979)
- 'Jumping Someone Else's Train' (1979)
- 'A Forest' (1980)
- 'Primary' (1981)
- 'Charlotte Sometimes' (1981)
- 'The Hanging Garden' (1982)
- 'Let's Go To Bed' (1982)
- 'The Walk' (1983)
- 'The Lovecats' (1983)
- 'The Caterpillar' (1984)
- 'Inbetween Days' (1985)
- 'Close To Me' (1985)
- 'Boys Don't Cry' (reissue) (1986)
- 'Why Can't I Be You?' (1987)
- 'Catch' (1987)
- 'Just Like Heaven' (1988)
- 'Hot Hot Hot!!!' (1988)
- 'Lullaby' (1989)
- 'Fascination Street' (1989)
- 'Lovesong' (1989)
- 'Pictures Of You' (1990)
- 'Never Enough' (1990)
- 'Close To Me' (Closer Mix) (1990)
- 'High' (1992)
- 'Friday I'm In Love' (1992)
- 'A Letter To Elise' (1992)
- 'The 13th' (1996)
- 'Mint Car' (1996)
- 'Wrong Number' (1997)
- 'Cut Here' (2001)
- 'The End Of The World' (2004)
- 'Taking Off' (2004)