The Cure The Importance of Being Earnest
Published Apr 01, 2000"I wanted to make a Cure record that couldn't possibly be made by anyone else," says front-man Robert Smith. "I think we play one particular type of music better than we do anything else. We're not a good jazz band; we don't swing. I can't sing opera. In certain basic ways, we're constrained. We play Cure music better than any other band on the planet - to me that's enough."
The new record is unmistakably Cure, evident even in the drifting moments before Robert Smith's unmistakable voice enters the equation. The band has featured a revolving line-up over the years, and the diversity of instrumentation is, looking back, quite remarkable - hyped-up horns and full lush strings often flesh out the trademark echoing guitar that inspired a legion of black-clad pretenders. Yet throughout a more than 20 year career, Smith has managed to maintain his singular songwriting voice.
For long-time fans, Bloodflowers is a notable a return to form, their best work since 1989's Disintegration, and good enough to forgive and forget an entire decade of side-steps and distractions, the best of which was 1992's Wish, but that has included a remix album (1990's Mixed Up), a singles collection (1997's Galore), a pair of live albums, (1993's Paris and Show) and a terrible mistake (1996's Wild Mood Swings).
What Bloodflowers doesn't offer up is a radio-friendly single, the catchy pop hit that most casual listeners know the band for, be it Wish's fluffy "Friday I'm In Love," or 80s fare like "Love Cats" or "Why Can't I Be You?" It's this other side of Smith that he seems happy, even anxious to leave behind. "It's a crass kind of extreme, but the music media in general forget that taxi drivers think we're a weird pop group: Aren't you that bloke I saw on the telly?' They don't know the doom and gloom side, and they're not interested."
The doom and gloom, though, is what Smith wants to be the band's lasting legacy, as the epic depth of Bloodflowers attests. It's a conscious effort to compete with his own back catalogue, the final chapter, he says, in a triptych that started with the claustrophobic darkness of 1982's Pornography and continued with Disintegration, the album Bloodflowers most closely resembles.
"I wanted to concentrate on the bigger side of what we do. We're not making videos; there are no singles. I sat down to write an album, and wrote eight of the nine songs in about a month. I knew what tempos everything was going to be in, what keys they were going to be in, what song was going to start and finish it. The whole thing was conceived as a record."
But while Smith seems to maintain some contradictory ideas about what the band does well - he dismisses the band's best, most balanced album, 1987's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me as merely a "good summation of our 80s work" - he has similarly conflicting views about most aspects of the industry, and its demands.
He feels constricted by his image and the expectations that come with it. He says "the public image of me is imposed upon me - I used to worry about it and fight against it, but I can't win." At the same time, 20 years hasn't change the trademark black clothes and spiky hair, the likes of which hasn't been seen outside the goth scene since Molly Ringwald was a teenager. "When I walk onstage, I'm wearing the same stuff and I've got the same amount of make-up on and my hair looks the same as if I was out buying gas."
With a new record to support, a fairly extensive tour is planned, although Smith says the band "is already at each other's throats. I'm having second thoughts about the scale of what we're doing." Despite the fact that the proposed "sheds" - midsize amphitheatres of about 15,000 capacity - seem too big, Smith's current activities aren't a better option. "We're doing a short promotional tour in clubs of 1200 to 1500, which is really too small ? there's more space in the car park than in the club. Medium-sized theatres would be ideal, where we could do two nights and two different types of shows. Unfortunately, the tour would then be twice as long."
It's difficult to sympathise, in the grand scheme of things, with the "poor me" pose, lamenting the trials and tribulations of being famous (no one is twisting arms to record or tour) but all the whining seems appropriately Cure-like. After all, the band built their entire career tapping into the self-pitying angst of teenage loneliness and despair. But having turned the corner on age 40, Smith's concern now is the band's legacy.
I ask him straight out: Is this the last record and tour, and is that a final decision? "Yes" comes his definitive answer, but doubt and hedging sneaks in here and there throughout our conversation. "We make records more infrequently, and at some point we will stop," is how he expressed it early on in our interview. "Almost certainly the last," he says minutes later. "Paradoxically, it's rekindled a lot of my enthusiasm for what I do with the Cure," he continues. "Part of me, now that we've done something really good, feels that we should continue, but a bigger part of me thinks it would be very honest of me just to stop, having made a final record. No one ever does that."
Whether or not Smith can stay away from the public spotlight - after all, there has to be something about it he likes or it wouldn't have lasted this long - remains to be seen, but for now, he seems fairly firm about his decision, no matter how absurd his "goals" are for retirement. "I'd like to make the most of the fact that I don't have to get up in the morning and go to work." (This is their first record in five years - how much daily grind can there be?) "I'm probably embarking upon the part of my life that most people do in their early 20s. I'll do the things that I didn't get to do when I was that young."
There will be no Robert Smith solo records - he rightfully points out that he could never get away from being "of the Cure" - and he won't miss writing lyrics, so film music seems the logical next step. "Other people can act out what I've been acting out for the last 20 years. I can just write music, and I don't have to make sense of things lyrically," he says. "And I don't have to keep shaving every day." (There's a quick, barely audible, breathy sound. I won't swear to it, but I think I just heard Robert Smith giggle.)
"No one agrees with me, they think I'm being very foolish, but they do appreciate my reasons. Having just made a record that I think is one of the best three things we've ever done, it does seem kind of bizarre, but I think that's a really good reason to stop. It will be a really good memory of what we did, and how I was. I don't want it to just... fade."