Was Robert Smith ever happy? At age fourteen, The Cure frontman, stated his ambition was to "sit on a mountain and die." Don't set the bar too high there, Robert. Just a scant seven years later (after failing to locate a suitable mountain) he was quoted saying he "didn't see that there was much point in continuing with life." Surprisingly, Smith not only survived the '70s, '80s, '90s and even the millennium, he took The Cure right along with him as the group's only constant. Not surprisingly, Smith's dour attitude marked the group's synth/keyboard based Goth sound.
Easy Cure formed in the fall of '77 from the loose remnants of Malice and The Obelisk. These groups included Michael Dempsey (guitar), Porl Thompson (guitar) and Laurence "Lol" Tolhurst (percussion), players who would have recurring roles throughout The Cure's history.
Hansa Records, who provided a small but necessary advance, in early '78, signed Easy Cure. But this proved to be a false start. The deal fell through with The Cure moving to Fiction Records, distributed by Polydor. In the meantime, the "Easy" was dropped from the group's name and they recorded their debut album. Because Friction, a new label, was not yet ready to release a single, The Cure's debut, "Killing An Arab" came out on Small Wonder Records. Almost immediately, the group had to defend itself against charges of racism. Wonder why? They claimed the song was actually based on French existentialist Albert Camus' story The Stranger. OK, fine. Despite the provocative title, the song didn't do much.
The Cure's debut, "Imaginary Boys," was issued in '79. The group was unhappy with the artwork, largely because they had next to zero input. They were also distressed over the inclusion of "Foxy Lady," the Jimi Hendrix song, which had been recorded during a soundcheck. But the label hounds figured a familiar track would bolster sales. That's the way they're trained to think.
The Cure toured the U.K. and the Netherlands, often with Siouxsie & The Banshees. Smith performed with The Cure and the subbed on guitar for the Banshees when John McKay quit just one stop into the tour. The Cure's second single, "Boys Don't Cry" was far less controversial and became a minor hit in the U.S.
The group's fortunes improved, if only minimally, with the '80 release "Seventeen Seconds" and their '81 effort "Faith." It was during this period that Smith jelled his hair and applied make-up (eye-liner, shadow and lipstick), a look seemingly lifted from Siouxsie. This "theatrical" appearance became one of the group's more indelible images.
The Cure's instrumental soundtrack for the film "Carnage Visor" and a non-album single, "Charlotte Sometimes," were issued prior to the disturbing "Pornography," in '82. Recorded under the influence of alcohol and drugs, including but not limited to, LSD, the album fueled rumors that Smith was on the verge of suicide. A rocky tour followed with bassist Simon Gallup quitting. This looked like the end for The Cure. If it had been, they would have been remembered, if at all, as a fairly inconsequential early-80's Wave group. But rather than splinter, The Cure did something fairly remarkable. They tossed off their morbid and gloomy persona and released a succession of cheery (for them) songs, "Let's Go To Bed," "The Walk" and "The Lovecats." Each did better than the last on the U.K. chart. "The Lovecats," with its saucy vocals, became the group's calling card. The hits and B-sides were assembled for "Japanese Whispers," an album exclusively for the Japanese market. But the record company, once again, made a unilateral decision, and distributed the '82 album worldwide.
Two years later, "The Top," with Smith playing almost all the instruments, was released. The album was the first to crack the U.K. Top 10 and was also the first Cure album to make the U.S. Billboard chart, albeit barely.
In '85, "The Head On The Door," featuring "In Between Days" and "Close to Me" did even better. A year later, the compilation "Staring At The Sea" arrived. The group found itself very popular on the continent.
"Just Like Heaven," the third single from their '87 double album "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me," became their biggest pop hit to date earning extensive MTV play. The Cure was on a roll.
'89 saw the return of The Cure's earlier gloom and doom on "Disintegration." Still, the album generated three U.K. hits ("Lullaby", "Lovesong" and "Pictures of You"). In the States the album peaked at #12 and the single "Fascination Street" hit #1 on the Modern Rock chart. The real story was the single "Lovesong" which landed at #2 on the pop chart - the only Cure single to ever crack the Top 10. Smith was now the only original member left.
During an '89 concert at London's Wembley Arena, ending The Prayer Tour, Smith announced that it was "probably our last show." Hardly, though the immediate future didn't look too promising.
The early '90s were spent (wasted?) pushing out remixes. Again, it looked as though the end was at hand. Never mind, '92 release "Wish" became The Cure's highest-charting LP of all time, reaching #1 in the U.K. and #2 in the U.S., with the worldwide hits "Friday I'm in Love" and "High."
The Cure contributed "Burn" to The Crow soundtrack and interestingly, considering their prior experience with a Hendrix cover, recorded "Purple Haze" for "Stone Free: A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix." The Cure also were heard on "The X-Files: Fight The Future" soundtrack. They covered "World In My Eyes" for the Depeche Mode tribute album "For The Masses" and did a version of John Lennon's "Love" for Amnesty International's "Make Some Noise."
Smith kept The Cure recording and touring with whatever musicians were available, handy or willing. The results varied but were generally good. "00's "Bloodflowers" earned a Grammy nomination. Four years later, The Cure received the MTV Icon Award. The ceremony, hosted by Marilyn Manson, included performances of Cure songs by AFI ("Just Like Heaven"), Blink-182 ("A Letter to Elise") and the Deftones ("If Only Tonight We Could Sleep").
But the biggest accolade came years earlier, in '98, when Smith appeared as himself on cable TVs animated South Park (Episode 112). Smith stops Barbra Streisand from destroying the world (about time somebody shut down that woman!). At the end of the episode, Kyle says "Disintegration was the best album ever!" That should have made Smith happy.
Another happy moment came a few years later. The Cure, having been signed by Geffen, released the four-disc, 70 song compilation "Join The Dots: B-Sides And Rarities 1978-2001 (The Friction Years)." The '04 collection failed to crack the Billboard Top 100 album chart, but The Cure's self-titled effort that year with new material did well on both sides of the Atlantic.
But rather than build momentum, Roger O' Donnell (keyboards) and Perry Bamonte (guitar/keyboards) were ditched in '05. O' Donnell only learned about Smith's plan to cut back The Cure to a trio by reading about it on a fan site. "It was sad to find out after nearly 20 years the way I did but then I should have expected no less or more," said O'Donnell. That statement speaks volumes about working with Smith. Sometimes a musician gets so caught up in his vision that he's not cognizant or just ignores the personal aspects. Of course, telling someone directly that they're out can be painful - best to try and avoid that unpleasantness altogether.
Smith, Simon Gallup (bass) and Jason Cooper (drums), performed briefly before original guitarist Porl Thompson returned.
Following a strenuous tour schedule that included appearances at Live 8 and Teenage Cancer Trust, The Cure, who had started work on an album in '06, finally managed to issue "4:13 Dream" two years later.
1979 Three Imaginary Boys
1980 Seventeen Seconds
1984 The Top
1985 The Head On The Door
1987 Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
1996 Wild Mood Swings
2004 The Cure
2008 4:13 Dream
The Cure can hardly be dismissed as "a singles band" but their "Greatest Hits" is a good place to start. "Galore: The Singles 1987-1997" is another option. "Staring At The Sea" is another excellent compilation but there are some later, classic Cure songs (like "Lovesong"), missing. Early Cure can be a bit much. If looking for some Halloween party music, check out "Faith." Otherwise, stick with the late '80s/early '90s material.
While "Disintegration" is not the best album ever, South Park's Kyle is close. The set is The Cure's best. Smith's plaintive, on-the-verge-of-tears vocals, are tight and not so dour. "Wish" is next. "Friday I'm In Love" which would probably be a joyful song in anyone else's hands is effectively measured here. After six days of rottenness, Smith sings of one day of bliss. Not a real good ratio.
04's "The Cure" finds the band in good shape. "Before Thee," "The End Of The World" and "Alt. End" are vintage Cure. Though "Never" pushes too hard and set opener "Lost" is a bit of a dirge, there's Smith's falsetto (a nice surprise) and plenty on commiseration moments throughout.
There has always been a thin line between Smith's ability to hit just the right emotive note and overplaying it. The good news is "4:13 Dream" hits the mark more often than not.
The lead single, "The Only One" has all The Cure elements. Even so, the next track, "The Reason Why," is much sharper. "Freakshow" and "Sleep When I'm Dead" cross into Marilyn Manson/Alice Cooper territory but stand on their own. The real winners are the energetic "The Real Snow White," the cut loose "Switch" and closer "It's Over."
Despite a few false steps, "4:13 Dream" is indicative of Smith's career (and by extension The Cure's). Among cluttered theatrics there are clever pop songs buried at the root.