3/10/2000 Jet Lounge - Atomic Pop Online
Is There No Cure? After 24 years of making records with the Cure, Robert Smith is finally ready for a new beginning. Ken Micallef examines the disintegration. James Smolka takes the pictures.
Robert Smith's lipstick and mascara are smeared after a day of interviews as he sits in a funky room in New York's legendary Chelsea Hotel. Surrounded by pea-green walls and worn '70s furniture, Smith looks like a character from a Diane Arbus photograph, and that, in keeping with the intense nature of the Cure catalog, would seem to represent Smith's true, tragic feelings about life. But to hear Smith explain it, the Cure is really just a mask that he dons when dark clouds form on his horizon. But not for long.
Renown for their spectral music and Smith's ghoulish appearance, '80s Cure albums such as Pornography and Disintegration were hailed by press and fans alike as hypnotic masterworks, while Standing On The Beach and a more recent singles collection, Galore, trumpeted the band's mindlessly tuneful pop. The Cure's latest (and reportedly last) album, Bloodflowers, completes a loose trilogy that began with Pornography and Disintegration. A haunting album that addresses burning beds, old age and injustice, among other themes, Bloodflowers confirms Smith's dark power and morbid melodicism.
But Smith has other things on his mind today than album-hawking. He is pronouncing the end of the Cure as we know it. Again. But Smith says this time is different. He's not the angst-ridden figure often portrayed in his songs, but a happy 40-year-old man who enjoys the company of an extended family who know him not only as a rock star, but also as his cartooned character on "South Park." Feeling that the Cure has largely accomplished its goals, Smith now wants to explore new means of expression, from skydiving and sculpting to playing with a jazz band and cross-country cycling.
Quite a leap for a musician who inspired millions of kids to paint their faces black and sing about being in love on a Friday night. Who said time waits for no one?
"I've always said that when I hit 40 I want to try something else," says Smith. "It might even be something non-musical. If I don't take that step it will just drag on and I'll be 50 and still making Cure albums."
Some would say that the Cure is already a parody of itself; a band whose wispy, introverted longings and atmospheric tracks are out of step in this pro-commercial, anti-art era.
"Parody is a strong word, a pejorative word." Don't rustle Smith's feathers! "I think there are elements of what we do that are cartoon-like anyway. That is why it didn't really bother me 'cause I think we are halfway there. Pornography and Disintegration are two of my favorite albums. With Bloodflowers I wanted to finish...not create a trilogy, but I thought that the elements that I really enjoyed about Pornography and Disintegration, I wanted to use those lyrically as well as musically to have it create a final part. I think Cure fans will spot the references, musical and lyrical, in the record."
With the Cure a shell, even in Smith's mind, why the need for a solo album? Why not keep the name and simply change the players? Smith has not been beyond firing Cure "members" in the past.
"The reason why I want to do something on my own is 'cause at the moment I am envisioning it as an instrumental album. I don't want people to get any ideas that it is a new Cure album when there might not be any songs or any singing. I want to do something that is very different. So I would alert people that I would be recording something under my own name. It will be recorded with entirely different people from different idioms than I am normally used to working with. It's the sensibility of instruments that don't exist in pop or rock music. That is something that I think will lend itself to what I want to do, but I can't call that the Cure."
Recorded in what Smith calls a "great atmosphere," Bloodflowers is indeed one of the best Cure albums ever. While there are no potential pop hits like "Friday I'm In Love," it is a glorious final statement, full of melodic mystery and alluring, quixotic lyrics.
"There was a finality to the whole session," says Smith. "It really worked. You are thinking, 'If this is the last time, let's make it really, really good. Let's not argue and the usual bullshit.'"
In the first lyric to the album's opener, "Out Of This World," Smith sings, "When we look back on it and I know we will," seeming to address the Cure's demise. "We always have to go back to real life," he continues. Smith is ready to carry on with his post-40 life, Cure-less.
One thing Smith may lay aside is the persisting notion that he is an endlessly troubled soul. Smith has said before that Cure songs are only one percent of his life, that he is not about doom and gloom. But a song like "Watching Me Fall" would seem to feed the very myth he is trying to put to rest. Exploring sex, rituals and bloodbaths, the song doesn't allude to new directions, it only confirms the past. Smith explains.
"In the opening line, 'I have been watching me fall, for what seems like years,' that pertains to one particular instance which happened to me a long, long time ago. I used some of the imagery of how I remembered it. It was also taken from an article I read about the drug Rohipnol and date rape. I used to take Rohipnol always on planes. It would make me not really care if we fell out of the sky. It removed any anxiety. It helped me overcome, not quite a phobia, but I was incredibly loath to get on a plane for seven years. It helped me break through that barrier. I found the outcry that surrounded Rohipnol was a lot of it rubbish basically. The senses that I experienced were not like that. Not that I was ever date raped, but the images that they used were quite powerful, the testimony of the women involved. I used some of that and wove it in with this particular experience, then tried to marry to the idea of what I sometimes perceive as my own decline over the years since Disintegration. I tried to put myself in context to how I felt then and how I feel now."
Do you feel better now, Robert? Does life really begin at 40?
"In some ways I feel so much better," he laughs, "but in other ways it's so obvious, the physical decline that you enjoy as you get older. I spend more time with young children now [he has many nephews and nieces] and the getting up process can hurt. I remember seeing old people doing this when I was young! Now I know why they did it."
Smith brushes back a still very black lock of hair and sighs. "I'm not as young as I used to be."