Story: Jack Foley
"WHEN I hear myself talking about how we made the new album,
it sounds almost unreal," says Robert Smith, letting his
gaze roam around the now silent room in London's legendary Olympic
Studios where The Cure's new tracks were captured for an album
that is already being hailed as their most powerful ever.
"It sounds like I'm talking about some kind of weird group
therapy, but making this album has really changed my attitude
to what we do. I expect so much more of us now."
One reason for this change is that for the first time ever, The
Cure have worked with a producer.
The man in question is Ross Robinson, whose involvement with
such genre-smashing acts as Korn, Vex Red and Slipknot has made
him arguably the most influential soundsmith of the past decade.
Smitten with The Cure since his early teens, Robinson had publicly
stated that working with the band would be his ultimate achievement,
and his determination to make this their best album ever has pushed
them to new limits, which is why they're happy to call this one,
simply - The Cure.
"The performances on The Cure are so emotionally
driven," explains Smith. "Largely because we recorded
the songs live in the studio, which is something we haven't done
since our very first album."
That first album, Three Imaginary Boys (1979), signalled
the start of a 25-year career which has seen The Cure, despite
personnel changes and rock 'n' roll dramas that would have wiped
out lesser bands, surge from strength to strength, selling over
27 million albums world-wide without ever making concessions to
The original line-up of the band, then known as Easy Cure, came
together at school in Crawley, a brash post-war new town tacked
onto a sleepy village in the heart of the rolling green downland
of Southern England.
Robert Smith was the much-loved child of a happy family but,
even then, his imagination was being fired by deeper, darker things.
"I had been reading books, books that maybe I shouldn't
have been reading, books that hinted at despair and disintegration..."
Although Easy Cure had started out very much as a punk band,
by the time they simplified the name to The Cure, Smith's increasing
fascination with dark and weighty subject matter was matched by
his ability to channel those ideas into passionately evocative
songs that set Three Imaginary Boys apart from the typical
punk albums of the era.
The power and the energy were punk-inspired, but the songs were
from somewhere else entirely - the subterranean nether world of
Robert Smith's unique imaginings.
Songs like 10:15 Saturday Night, Grinding Halt and Fire
In Cairo were so far removed from punk's studied simplicity
that it was obvious The Cure were much more than part of a passing
By the time of their first UK hit single, A Forest,
the band's original bassist, Michael Dempsey, had departed, replaced
by Simon Gallup who, with Smith, has remained the band's most
The second album, Seventeen Seconds (1980), confirmed
what the discerning had already realised - The Cure were here
to stay. Their third album, however, completely overturned all
Faith, by any normal standards of early 80s music business
logic, was an almost suicidal move.
Here, from a band perched on the brink of potentially huge mainstream
success, was an album of morbid, brooding introspection, where
every despair-laden track was clearly designed to scrape hard
against the fragile sensitivities of daytime radio airplay programmers
like squeaky chalk on a blackboard.
Fortunately, it has never been possible to judge The Cure by
normal standards, so Faith became their most successful
album yet, and the attendant single, Primary, provided
When the fourth album, 1982's unrelentingly grim Pornography,
proved to be the first Cure album to enter the British Top Ten
album chart, it was obvious that the rule book and The Cure had
nothing in common.
Something was happening around Smith's band that defied the long-cherished
wisdom of record company marketing departments.
Making albums of such nerve-shredding intensity, however, was
taking its toll not just on Smith but on everyone around him.
He was living the excessive life his music seemed to demand,
pumping almost every chemical stimulant known to mankind into
his body. The band's keyboardist, Matthieu Hartley, had jumped
ship in 1981 and now Simon Gallup found it impossible to remain
in Smith's orbit.
Around this time, the band was asked to record a track for a
cover-mounted disc presented with Flexipop magazine.
The track, the original version of Lament, was done
with an acid-frazzled Smith as the only participating member.
"I thought it might be the last thing that would ever be
done under The Cure name," he recalls. "I actually wanted
it to be done under my name, and if you look at the cover of the
magazine, it says The Cure, but on the flexidisc it just says
Robert Smith." The Cure barely existed.
Once again playing totally against all expectations, the next
Cure single, Let's Go To Bed, was a deceptively light-hearted
pop romp. Smith and the band's original drummer-turned-keyboardist,
Lol Tolhurst, were now the only real members.
As luck would have it, Let's Go To Bed was also The
Cure's first single to be released in the USA, where it served
the function of breaking them on the West Coast.
However, as Smith puts it, 'the band wasn't a band any more;
it was a studio thing'.
"I'd only really phone Lol up out of courtesy to tell him
I was going in to do a song," recalls Smith.
But with or without a band, Smith couldn't stop writing compulsively
In July 1983, Walk soared effortlessly to No.12 in
the UK, followed by an even bigger hit, Lovecats, which
he now reckons was, 'as close as we could get at that time to
a perfect pop song'.
Smith could now see pop stardom beckoning, and he was having
no part of it.
Instead of capitalising on The Cure's biggest chart successes
to date, he offered up the unyieldingly weird album The Top,
fuelled, it is said, by massive amounts of magic mushroom tea.
Once again, though, his excesses were driving him to physical
exhaustion and the brink of breakdown.
It wasn't until 1985, with the return of Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson
and new drummer Boris Williams that stability returned to the
group and, that July, when In Between Days appeared as
the next single, it was evident that much had been learned along
This was easily as commercial as the earlier hit singles, but
the contrast between its vibrant musicality and one of Smith's
most poignant lyrics created an entirely new hybrid.
That year's album, The Head On The Door, reached No.
59 in the Billboard charts, confirming that a whole new North
American audience was discovering the band.
Tragically, the weak link in The Cure was now Lol Tolhurst, whose
drinking habits were making him impossible to work with. Although
he remained in the band through the making of the next album,
keyboardist Roger O'Donnell was drafted in to play the parts that
Lol was incapable of.
May 1986 saw the release of the first Cure compilation, Standing
On A Beach, which gave them their first US Top 50 album placing,
paving the way for the next record, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me,
to become their most successful album internationally, going platinum
in the US and providing a bumper crop of hit singles, including
Just Like Heaven, which Smith calls, 'the best pop song
The Cure has ever done. All the sounds meshed, it was one take,
and it was perfect'.
After much heart-searching because of their long-standing friendship,
Smith took the unhappy decision to remove Tolhurst from The Cure
in February 1989, just before the release of Disintegration,
an altogether more uncompromising slice of Smith's art.
Undeniably an artistic triumph, it was also their bleakest album
since Pornography, and the record label considered it
Or, in Smith's words: "I thought
it was our masterpiece, and they thought it was shit."
The public agreed with Smith. On release in May 1989, Disintegration
delivered The Cure's highest album placing yet, rising to No.
3 in the UK and propelling them into the American Top 20 for the
first time, where it earned another platinum certification.
Now, with a stable band at the peak of its live power, they easily
translated their performances onto the stages of the most massive
US stadiums, and watched as the album's second single, Lovesong,
soared to no.2 in the Billboard chart.
Although the band maintained a relatively low profile as the
90s got underway, 1991 brought a BRIT Award as Best British Group
and, in May 1992, the Wish album made its debut at No.
1 in the UK and No. 2 in the US.
After the release, in late 1993, of the live albums, Show
and Paris, much of Smith's time and energy was, distressingly,
channelled into the long anticipated lawsuit brought by the embittered
Lol Tolhurst who was claiming, among other things, ownership of
the band's name. When the London High Court ruled against Tolhurst
on all counts in September 1994, it was possible to get back to
work in earnest.
The Cure, however, was once more in a state of flux. Roger O'Donnell,
Porl Thompson and Boris Williams had all moved on since the start
of the decade, and Simon's participation was tending to fluctuate.
But by May 1996, when the next album, Wild Mood Swings,
was released, former Cure roadie Perry Bamonte was on guitar,
Jason Cooper had replaced Boris on drums and Roger O'Donnell was
persuaded to re-join the fold - establishing The Cure line-up
that endures to this day.
With Wild Mood Swings Top Tenning around the globe,
The Cure set off on their biggest tour ever, performing over 100
concerts to ecstatic crowds in some of the world's most prestigious
This was followed, in 1997, with a second hits compilation, Galore.
Then, underlining The Cure's ongoing relevance as icons of worldwide
alternative youth culture, in February 1998 Robert Smith made
a memorable guest appearance on the animated cult TV show South
The Cure paused only to contribute songs to several major Hollywood
movie soundtracks, before starting work on the next album, the
epic Bloodflowers, which took up the bulk of 1999.
"I knew how I wanted to feel after listening to it,"
explains Smith, "and I didn't want anything to break that
up, I just wanted it to be a perfect hour's experience."
Released in February 2000, and nominated for a Grammy, it's an
achievement that Smith remains particularly proud of - the third
chapter of the Dark Trilogy, along with Pornography and
Much of the rest of the new millennium's first year was taken
up with the nine-month long Dream Tour, during which The Cure
played to more than a million people worldwide.
2001 brought the end of the band's career-spanning relationship
with Fiction Records, and it was November of that year before
a new single, Cut Here, was released.
With hits still being racked up internationally, November 2001
saw the release of the Greatest Hits compilation, and
in January of 2002, The Cure formed an alliance with Ross Robinson's
iam Records, heralding the start of another chapter in the history
of one of the few bands able to continually combine innovation,
integrity and intelligence with mass global success.
In November of that year, The Cure mounted the most ambitious
concert of their career at Berlin's Tempodrom, performing the
entire contents of the much-cherished Dark Trilogy, live and back-to-back
over three intense hours. In the spring of 2003, the DVD/vhs film
Trilogy was released to universal acclaim.
These first years of the new millennium had also seen Robert
Smith exploring the potential of several re-invigorating genre-spanning
He collaborated with Blink 182, vocalist Saffron from Republica,
not one but two of David Bowie's guitarists (Earl Slick and Reeves
Gabrels), Blank & Jones, Tweaker, Junior Jack and Junkie XL,
to name but a few, while The Lovecats re-surfaced as
a hip DJ bootleg, spliced with Missy Elliott, and as a cover version
on the latest Tricky album.
The Cure's continuing influence was equally evident in a whole
new generation of acclaimed young bands as diverse as The Deftones,
Sparta, AFI, Interpol, The Rapture and many others.
Tying up virtually all of the loose ends from the Fiction/Polydor
years, The Cure released the fascinating 4-CD box set, Join
the Dots in early 2004. A lovingly compiled compendium of
hard to find B-sides, rarities and re-mixes, it effectively cleared
the way for the great leap forward represented by the latest album
- The Cure.
"When we did the Trilogy thing," points out Smith,
"I thought, 'This is it.' It was the end of the 25 years,
and I was really adamant that the next thing I would do would
be my own solo album, and the others were expecting that too."
That plan was shelved however, on July 25, 2002. While in Switzerland
for the Festival Nyon, Smith met up with lifelong Cure fan, Ross
Robinson, in Geneva's Hotel D'Angleterre.
"I knew after that first day of sitting talking to him
that I wanted to work with him. He re-awakened all the old passion
for The Cure that was dormant in me; he reminded why people love
what we do so much... "
With Robinson's track record, Smith saw an opportunity to make
the ultimate mind-bending all-out Cure assault ever committed
to disc, and that's how it turned out, but not in quite the way
he envisaged it.
"I assumed, the same as everyone else, that his interest
in the band lay in the darker, bigger songs, but as work started
I was surprised to discover that he was equally enthused by the
pop side of the band - and what he really loves is the stuff that
has the combination of intense emotion and melody."
Working in London's Olympic studios through the Spring of 2004,
the shape of the album began to evolve, with Robinson coaxing
and cajoling the most intense performances imaginable out of the
band on a range of material that spanned virtually every style
The Cure has ever explored.
Any of the band members will confirm that, in the early stages
of the relationship, there was a good deal of friction but, as
the sessions forged ahead, it was realised that Robinson's obsessive
quest for perfection was doing them nothing but good.
The final track listing features songs which, having previously
been demoed, were each recorded in the span of a single day.
Typically, the day would start with establishing the sounds and
the structure for each song.
"We'd be facing the control booth, so we could see Ross,"
says Smith, "and we would figure out all the technical stuff."
By evening, when the time came to record the finished version,
'we'd face the other way, light the candles, turn the lights off,
and suddenly it became very real; I would stand up, and away we
would go... "
This was the moment when Robert would do something he had never
done before - discuss his words in detail with the band.
"These discussions would sometimes go on for hours.we would
be talking about the most intimate things. It was really, really
weird. But it was also brilliant because what Ross was doing was
getting us all in the same headspace."
Finally, the song would be recorded live, with the band in a
circle facing each other.
"Ross put us in a very confined space, right on top of each
other, with eye to eye contact. He made a very firm stipulation
that I must sing live as the band played, because the response
I get from the band playing live is different from what happens
if we record the parts separately.
"The moment I start singing for real, everyone steps up.
I'd never really noticed it like that before, but it's the main
reason why the performances on this album are different from anything
we've recorded in the past."
The result is that, although the album includes songs covering
a range of musical styles, the emotional intensity of every performance
never flags, so that a tuneful pop gem is delivered with the same
conviction as a grinding single-riff onslaught.
"This is how I always imagined making records could be,"
says Smith. "Nothing comes close to what I felt while we
were making this album."
In May 2004 The Cure signed a global three album deal with Geffen
records as the story continues.