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 greatest recorded performances to date 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 worldwide without ever making concessions to the mainstream. 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 wave. 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 constant member. Almost Blairwitch-like in its stark documentary intensity, "A Forest" nudged the bottom end of the UK Top 30 in April 1980 - a decidedly strange bedfellow alongside contemporary ear-candy hits like Paul McCartney's "Coming Up" and "Let's Go Round Again" by the Average White Band. 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 expectations. 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 another hit.
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, but, "The band wasn't a band any more. It was a studio thing," recalls Smith. "I'd only really phone Lol up out of courtesy to tell him I was going in to do a song." But with or without a band, Smith couldn't stop writing compulsively listenable music. 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." Once again, a single under The Cure banner was staking out entirely new musical territory, jazzy and effervescent but no less quirky than before.
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 the way. 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 almost unmarketable. 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 venues. 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 Park... 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 Disintegration. 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 side-projects. 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.
The essence of The Cure is distilled in every cut on the album. From the savage opening assault of "Lost" to the inwardly-directed rage of "The Promise," the chilly sense of impending doom in the first single, "The End Of The World," the warm guitar lines of "Before Three" – these elements each highlight different aspects of why millions of fans worldwide love The Cure. What makes this album different is that these elements have never before existed side by side on a single, utterly coherent album. "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...
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