9/14/1985 New Musical Express
Inbetweenies Having recovered from being called "our most boring interview experience" in an office
poll, BOB SMITH of THE CURE feels alive enough to consider his past efforts
and discuss his present with DAVID QUANTICK, the liveliest writer we would muster.
Pawnography, BLEDDYN BUTCHER.
Robert Smith - he's so grim! Robert Smith - he's a bit overweight! God I wouldn't like to be
washed up on a desert island with that boring old sod! He's always moaning!
Enough. Robert Smith is far too likeable to inspire an evening's rancour over a taperecorder.
One's opinion of a pop singer as a person is also too easily influenced by his product, and I
find it extremely difficult to dislike someone who makes records like 'Love Cats', 'Boys Don't
Cry', or the recent 'In Between Days'. The pop side of Robert Smith is the one even his sternest
critic might mumble acceptance of, even if a chance hearing of 'Pornography' should drive
them screaming, brick in hand, to the record-player.
Sometimes you wonder, in this world where bands find a formula and stick to it grimly until
death or a solo career beckons, how Robert Smith came to be the man who recorded such disparate
affairs. 'Love Cats' and 'Caterpillar' would have kept most of Western Europe's pop kids in paisley shirts
until 1988, while those who sneer at a smile could quite happily have opened a chain or
crematoriums on the strength of careers based on 'Faith', 'Seventeen Seconds' or 'Pornography'.
Robert Smith seems such an ordinary type to be such a rampant schizophrenic. How come, I ask, The Cure have
"Lurched!" He grins, almost nervously.
...sorry, lurched from pop to po-face, from gloom to tunes and back again? When did the problem start?
"The change came with the disillusionment, with thinking I could write songs like 'Boys Don't Cry', and
record them, and they'd be Number One, that naivety," says Robert, "which is why too much emphasis
was put on 'Let's Go To Bed', 'The Walk' and 'Love Cats', 'cos all they were really doing was
redressing the balance, that we'd spent far too long doing one thing."
It's almost a case of revenge. But if those singles were The Cure's attack on people who'd dismissed
Smith's popist talent after the Wall Of Doom that was 'Pornography', then rather paradoxiacally
'Pornography' was Smith's way of shaking off a few people as well, perhaps the Undertones fans
who missed 'Boys Don't Cry' as well as the armchair manic depressives who'd bought 'Faith' and
Of that time, Robert remembers: "All through that period, there was still the same kind of odd humour
in what we did, but we never made anything of it, it was always kept very hidden. So we were
seen to be very po-faced about everything. But it was quite good fun being like that, because
we could get away with a lot of things; we could get away with an intensity which would otherwise
have seemed to be manufactured, which it wasn't."
"I mean, we lived the part right up until 'Pornography' - publicly we were to all intents and purposes
a very depressing, morose group. Privately, we weren't at all."
Robert claims to "hate it" now, that attitude, which is no bad thing; you never expected him
to wear a big red nose and tell jokes, but endless despond and out-of focus grey photos were a bit
of a cliche then. Still, they were funny times for The Cure...
"'Faith' was going to be a very positive record," says Robert, to the disbelief of an
entire generation. "It turned into a very morbid record... there were just personal reasons
which affected everyone at the time. We then had to live with it for a year, in that we toured
with it - and it was the one record that we shouldn't have done that with, because for one year
we lived this doomy, semi-religious record. We sort of wore it everywhere we went; it was like
sack-cloth and ashes... it wasn't a very enjoyable year, really."
And as for everybody's party favourite...
"'Pornography' was the reverse. 'Pornography' was the most
horrifying, chaotic recording of a record, but not in the nice way that this one's been. It
was a very vicious, anarchic way. I seriously don't even remember making a lot of
'Pornography'. But it turned out to be one of my favorite albums."
'Pornography' is probably the most interesting Cure LP. As a rule, Smith's longer efforts bog down in over-familiar
ideas, weak lyrics, and generally don't know if they want to be good pop songs or something
a bit more serious... 'Pornography' had no pretentions to either, being the most horrible
noise Smith could commit to vinyl. A song like 'One Hundred Years' is Phil Spector in Hell, guitars
on syntehsisers like some screaming migraine, and Smith's querulously desperate voice announcing, in
my favourite opening line of the week, "It doesn't matter if we all die...". Perhaps
some of it is unlistenable, but it's certainly not insipid, like the dull 'The Top' (which
Smith thinks has been mastered at the wrong speed, making it even more stodgy and plodding), or
the rather too staid 'Head On The Door', which is pop Cure, and best listened to in doses of
singles. Then there's the lyrics...
Robert Smith's forte is not the quilled epithet. He admits he has difficulty in the words
department, and the lyrics of 'Head' rarely strike one favourably. Too much fear in the
dark, nightmares, and (one doesn't like to say it) sub-Siouxsie gloom. Why so much attention
to unsuccessful love affairs, illness, and death?
"It's my life!" laughs Robert, and pauses for a few moments of "erms".
Then he rallies. "I project a lot of myself onto other people; a lot of what I write about
that appears to be me isn't at all. Because I'm not that different to a lot of people I've
met, I project myself into circumstances which they find themselves in, and which they tell
me about and then... So a lot of the time it's made up, but the situations exist... some of
them are obviously autobiographical, but not all of them; I would be dead if I lived
everything I write about!"
Against this sort of unhealthy, distinctly un-outdoor and pasty-faced excused-gym attitude, we
must of course set Robert's other side as a writer of the drolly carping 'Jumping Someone Else's
Train' and the like; but, Robert, that apart, isn't a line like "I'm paralysed by the blood
of Christ" perhaps a trifle laughable, the sort of thing that one might find in The Toyah
"That was poetic licence, 'cos I changed it from 'The Tears Of Christ', which is a drink."
Oh, I say, reddening. So much for religious lunacy...
"It's a very cheap Portuguese wine, it's a very heavy drink that all the workers drink... it's
about 12p a bottle. I was given a bottle of it and I drank it, and I noticed the label, which
is the Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus under one arm and a bottle in the other hand. It was
completely brilliant... this is drunk by hundreds of thousands of people, and it's a pretty
visionary drink, really!
"I was convinced I was Portuguese, I just sank into this reverie of being a Portuguese
I resolve never to ask anyone about their lyrics again. I move on to this year's Cure interview
question; what's with the minor plagiarism?
Robert grins shyly. "There's nothing minor about it! It's major!"
OK, but why so many styles? U2 exists quite happily with a strong sound that owes but little to
their competitors (although some of their competitors are rather easily influenced by the
Bono Band), you can tell a New Order record anywhere, and so forth... what drives
a man to the extremes of 'Love Cats' (1983 Fake Jazz) 'In Between Days' (1981 New Order) and
'The Walk' (1982 New Order)?
"I would find it more difficult to be U2 than to be us. I like the idea of change. I like the idea of us working in an environment that's in a constant
state of flux. The reasons are very selfish, I find it more enjoyable. It's not really being
dilettantey about it, I do really enjoy manipulating different styles of music, trying to create
a unique style by utilising styles that have been used before... But of course I'm gonna steal
things! I mean, everyone steals things! I've heard hundreds of groups that steal from us..."
The Cure are, of course, Stars. They have real hits, no the manky little lower 40s placings of
their youth. So what's it like being in the Top Pops, Robert?
"The Top Ten in this country is of a standard that I find unlistenable. We sort of fit in and
we don't, but we've never really been accepted into it. I don't ever want us to be too
successful... I mean, I'd love to be heard by more people, the records to get as much airplay as, say
Kate Bush's records, but I wouldn't pay the price that Kate Bush pays for being her.
"The reasons for us continuing are still the same as when we started, which is a disillusionment
whith most other things. At any given period when we've been making records, there's very
little else which I've found comparable. Which is a very very subjective thing to say, selfish; it
may sound big-headed..."
Robert sounds suitably embarrassed. Myself, I waver on this one. Granted, The Cure are better
than many bands around, but one still feels that they're not that good a lot of the time. Defend
yourself, Robert Smith; what do you like about The Cure?
He slumps even further into his blouse. "I think we're really funny. There's certain
things I dislike about us; I've read things about us where we appear to be pompous... but
again you read about me and I'm either an alcoholic or completely drug-crazed, you know?
"I don't take what we do seriously, I just take how we do what we do very seriously."
Robert Smith, the acceptable pop star. A lot of unmemorable recors behind him, a clutch of great ones, and
a great deal more common sense than one might expect. You do find yourself liking him, if only
because he isn't unbearably cocky or arrogant in conversation. He tells me that Andrew
Ridgely's favourite record of all time is 'Boys Don't Cry'; "so we're responsible for Wham!" he
adds, grimly. So, for a summary, we might as well ask him what he thinks is a great pop record.
"'In Between Days'," he begins immodestly, and thinks on. "'Killing Moon', 'Everything's Gone Green', 'The
Staircase (Mystery)', 'Flower Of Romance', those sort of songs."
The Cure's name, as hallowed pop lore has it, refers to the supposition that certain surroundings
are the problem, and that they are... you know. I still don't rate recors like "In Between
Days" is more than a placebo.
Robert Smith, like Guinness, is good for you. In small doses, of course.