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Opinion: A curious Cure for a long winter

  • The Cure, pioneers of goth rock, emerged in the post-punk era
  • The band will have a new studio album out this year, their 14th

(from left) Pearl Thompson, Jason Cooper, Robert Smith and Simon Gallup of The Cure in London in 2006.
(from left) Pearl Thompson, Jason Cooper, Robert Smith and Simon Gallup of The Cure in London in 2006. (Getty Images)

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Last winter, my daughter, the younger one who is a teenager, decided to become a goth. Black lipstick; black nail polish; dark mascara; all-black clothes; knee-high Doc Martens; the works. She was born with black hair, unlike many of her friends here in Finland where we live, so we were spared the hair-colour change. But it was the music emanating from her room that changed most profoundly. We heard her playing Siouxsie and the Banshees, we heard Bauhaus, but, most of all, we heard The Cure. Lots and lots of The Cure. On a rare trip to her den, I spied a portrait she has painted of The Cure’s Robert Smith and which now has pride of place on her desk.

Those doses of The Cure were nostalgic for me and contagious too. I found myself exploring my old albums of the British band, widely acknowledged to be among the pioneers of what is described as “gothic rock”, a dark and gloomy genre that first emerged in England in the post-punk era. The bands that featured on my daughter’s playlist were gothic rock’s front-runners, with The Cure being the most successful of them. And the band’s frontman, Smith, emerged as the biggest icon for the genre’s fans. Smith, who will turn 60 later this month, formed the band (initially named Easy Cure) in the mid-1970s and soon he and his bandmates sported their now well-known look: messed-up unruly black hair; bleached faces; smeared lipstick and dark eye shadow; and mostly black clothes. Their music has a dirge-like feel, with moody songs that have semi-literary lyrics, guitar riffs that hack away like machetes, an upfront and prominent bass line, and the highly charismatic Smith’s very versatile and wide-ranging vocals.

I began re-exploring The Cure with their double album from 1987, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, a set of 18 songs that experiments with different styles and incorporates a broad soundscape featuring prominent guitars, symphonic arrangements, horns, a sitar, and even occasional forays into funk. Smith’s vocals are sometimes deadpan, often decidedly downbeat, but also always strangely uplifting. It was the peak of winter and relentless snowstorms in the region where we live had further dampened an already low, blue phase I was going through. The Cure’s songs seemed to work for me like some believe the hair of the dog does for hangovers that are particularly bad. On Torture, an especially dark song on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Smith sings: “I’m in the room without a light/The room without a view/I’m here for one more treacherous night/Another night with you/ It tortures me to move my hands/To try to move at all/And pulled/My skin so tight it screams/And screams and screams/And pulls some more.” Yes, disturbing. But, as I found, also strangely soothing!

And then as winter receded and spring showed signs of its arrival, something serendipitous happened. This year’s inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced and The Cure were on the list (so were Radiohead, Roxy Music, Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, The Zombies, Janet Jackson, and Def Leppard). At the red-carpet award ceremony in Brooklyn, a hyper-effervescent TV reporter exuberantly asked Smith if he was as excited as she was. Smith nonchalantly said: “Um, by the sounds of it, no.”

The 11-second video of that typically deadpan response has now gone viral but also attracted flak from a few critics who thought Smith could have been a bit more cheerful and less churlish. But then The Cure (who are now 43 years old) deserved to have been inducted much earlier. One of the Hall of Fame’s eligibility criteria for inductees is that they should have been around for at least 25 years and have significant influence and contribution to contemporary music. By those yardsticks, The Cure should have been inducted at least 10 years ago, if not earlier.

Age hasn’t affected Smith. At the Hall of Fame ceremony in Brooklyn, The Cure performed five songs, including fan favourites such as A Forest, Just Like Heaven and Boys Don’t Cry, and while Smith seemed to avoid the really high notes, he sounded quite like he does on the band’s impressive discography.

The Cure have 13 studio albums and many compilations, live albums, and officially released videos. One of the videos is from 1991, when the band played unplugged on MTV at a time when that channel still predominantly aired music videos. Stripped down and spare, that performance makes you realize how talented Smith and his bandmates are.

Every Cure fan (or goth!) has a favourite album, although given their expansive catalogue it can be difficult to choose just one. Mine has to be 1989’s Disintegration. It is a magically hypnotic album, never mind the overall gloominess that it exudes. A stand-out song on the album is Pictures Of You, which is over 7 minutes long and deals with a break-up. On it, Smith sings: “I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you/That I almost believe that they’re real/I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you/That I almost believe that the pictures/Are all I can feel.” Not a happy song (not many Cure tunes are) but, inexplicably, it’s a cure I turn to when I’m low.

At the Hall of Fame celebrations Smith not only announced The Cure’s forthcoming multi-continental tour beginning next month but also, wait for it, a brand-new studio album, their 14th, to be released sometime later this year. That is certainly worth waiting for.


The Lounge List

Five tracks from The Cure to bookend this week

1. ‘Pictures Of You’ from ‘Disintegration’

2. ‘Friday I’m In Love’ from ‘Wish’

3. ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ from ‘Boys Don’t Cry’

4. ‘Just Like Heaven’ from ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’

5. ‘Lovesong’ from ‘Disintegration’

First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.

He tweets at @sanjoynarayan

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