The Cure's Robert Smith (illustration by Andy Friedman)
Robert Smith of The Cure is a curious contradiction. This master of the lachrymose, broken-hearted song is really an affable romantic: he's been married to his childhood sweetheart, Mary Poole, for 28 years (in fact, that's Mary twirling with Smith in the video for "Just Like Heaven.") Smith's halo of unkempt hair, smudged lipstick (preferred color: Mac's Ruby Woo), and ruggedly kohl-lined eyes is also a declaration of love: as he's said in many interviews, it's a look that pleases his wife and he sees no reason to change.
For an Englishman so comfortably entwined in a long, satisfying relationship, Smith, the one consistent member of the Cure for over forty years, confounds expectations. Smith and company have intuitively tapped into the visceral, bottomless ache of loneliness, despair and anxiety: the band's most recognizable calling card. There may be no more magnificently bleak album than 1982's Pornography, but there's also plenty of joy in the Cure's repertoire. Smith cavorts cheerfully through "Doing the Unstuck," "High" and "The Lovecats," although those moments of bliss are often fleeting and ephemeral. There's a hearty amount of sex too, lurking in the voluptuous, sax-bleating flurry of "Icing Sugar" or the post-coital contentment of "The Only One." Cushioning the Cure's lyrical sobs shrugs, and swoons are some of the most beautiful melodies and arrangements in modern rock: from the shimmering majesty of "Underneath the Stars" to the sensual, motorik drive of "A Forest."
Over the course of 13 studio albums since 1979, from the post-punk minimalism the Cure's debut, Three Imaginary Boys (known in a different configuration Stateside as Boys Don't Cry until properly released in the U.S. by Rhino in 2004), to 2008's grandly euphoric 4:13 Dream, Smith and his cohorts have intimately bonded with their devout fans, offering a healing salve for sadness and self-doubt.
Mourning an unrequited love? Find comfort in Disintegration's five stages of grief: denial ("Pictures of You"), anger ("Prayers for Rain"), bargaining ("Untitled"), depression ("Closedown"), and acceptance ("The Same Deep Water As You"). Drifting in a grey mist of existential ennui? Blue skies break through storm clouds on 1992's disarmingly upbeat (for the most part) Wish and 1985's The Head on the Door, even when punctuated by that perfect lovelorn pop gem, "In Between Days."
Smith's lyrical moodswings and vocal tics shape the emotional tides of the Cure's songs, a cornucopia of hiccuped yelps, distressed vibrato, tender murmurs, and bereaved, bone-chilling wails. But it's also Smith's nimble and underrated guitarwork, notably his use of the distinctive six-string Fender Bass VI beginning on 1981's Faith, that set the tone of the Cure's emotive, atmospheric sound on tracks like "Pictures of You." Over the years, since Smith, bassist Mick Dempsey and percussionist Lol Tolhurst first solidified the early version of the Cure in 1977 (with the passage of other musicians through the nascent, pre-Cure phases of Obelisk and Easy Cure), a parade of talented musicians has marched through the Cure's lineup, including lead guitarists Porl Thompson and Reeves Gabrels, bassists Simon Gallup and Phil Thornally, drummers Boris Williams and Jason Cooper, and keyboardists Roger O'Donnell and Perry Bamonte.
As a live band, the Cure is one of the best, treading on Bruce Springsteen's territory when it comes to marathon-length shows. Count on at least three and a half hours of moody bliss, but those lucky enough to catch the band on Smith's birthday in Mexico City in April 2013 were treated to a 50-song, four hour and 16 minute extravaganza that was preceded—no joke—by an earthquake. As for the band's upcoming three-show run at Madison Square Garden from June 18-20, with Gabrels, Gallup, Cooper and O'Donnell accompanying Smith in the lineup, expect a different set list every night as the Cure pull from over 70 songs, including just-resurrected B-sides like 1985's "The Exploding Boy" or 1992's "The Twilight Garden." There's fresh material too. For their 2016 tour, the Cure have been playing at least two new songs, apparently titled "It Can Never Be The Same" and "Step Into The Light."
It's been eight years since the Cure has released an album, 4:13 Dream, and Smith has teased a new release for a long time. The inclusion of new songs in the band's current tour points to an actively scribbling Smith and that's a good thing. Even if the delivery of another Cure album is far in the future, Robert Smith and the Cure have left their ardent admirers with some of the most emotionally resonant, gorgeously realized rock songs. The band's influence stretches over thirty-five years, reflected in the music of young (and older) bands as diverse as Interpol, Wild Nothing, Nine Inch Nails, Death Cab for Cutie, The Knife, and Crystal Castles. A band treasured by melancholics and romantics, the Cure is one of our FUV Essentials.
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