1 pm at Hyatt Hotel, Hamburg. Robert Smith, unpainted and unshaved, takes a seat in his armchair and asks me while looking at my glass of water: "Whatīs in there, Vodka?" Ehm, nope. Really water. Robert nodds calmly. He sure saw enough Vodka yesterday; he experienced the nightlife of Hamburg together with the colleagues of the record company until five in the morning. "I really pulled myself together during the first days of this promo tour" he explains and smiles. "But I really felt like it yesterday. Nevertheless Hamburg was a real disappointment - there isnīt anything happening on monday evenings...
Regardless of the long night Robert is in best mood. He confused the ladies of the promotional department anyway with the wish to do at least one hour interviews, which is quite unusual nowadays, where most musicians allow you a maximum of thirty minutes. But after twenty years of The Cure and an album which is again rumoured to be the last one, he obviously has a lot to tell.
When "Bloodflowers" is released in february, it will be four years since the last album "Wild Mood Swings". Anyway, the breaks between the albums in the nineties were much longer than in the decade before, where they released a new sound carrier almost every year.
Do you focus on other things than music today? "Yes" Robert nods "in a certain way, this is right. Not that much that you could assume from the long breaks. "Mixed Up took us a lot of time, even if it didnīt bring us much. I also always lose a few months for promotion." He leans back and stirs his coffee. "What happened in 1991?" he considers. "No idea, we probably wrote there. Maybe this was the first real blank. Thereīs been very bad reactions to "Mixed Up" from the critics and the fans and it was the first time that such a thing happened to us. I felt quite hurt by this reaction. This has been one reason for me to take a break. I thought "Mixed Up" to be really good. Maybe people realized later, that it shouldnīt be a regular Cure album but an experiment.
Now Robert passes the nineties in review. Even if there are just three regular albums compared to seven ones in the eighties, The Cure werenīt lazy. After the Wish tour, it took Robert months to cut the live video "Show" because he wanted to do it on his own and he had to learn what is necessary to cut a film. After this he was involved in mixing the live albums "Show and "Paris and 1993 was over.
"1994 - we had the case with Lol which took us three or four months struggling with lawyers" he continues. "I also took a break of six months in 1994 after I thought the material for "Wild Mood Swings" was written. Probably this was the point where I realized that I liked staying at home for a change. In 1995 we worked on the album, in 1996 the Swing tour took shape... In 1997 we had a year off. During the eighties there was probably one month in ten years where I hadnīt anything to do with The Cure, during the nineties it was two and a half or three years altogether. I just realized that I like to have a private life. To do things that are not intended for publicity - talking to people, taking a walk. Having free time.
Robert discovered the preferences of family life. Indeed, he and his wife Mary havenīt got children on their own but they live in close contact to the extended families Smith and Poole with altogether 21 nephews and nieces. The youngest is a year, the oldest 23 years old, the most are between five and ten years old.
"By spending much time with them in the past 18 months, I became a part of their lives" Robert says. "I play soccer with them, I pick them up from school, the really dull things, which I like a lot. Normal things like going to cinemas and such. If Iīd go on tour for eight months now and do an album right after this, Iīm out of this for two and a half years. And they grow up during this time. Iīd like to carry on like I used to but today I just feel different. And itīs impossible to do both, I canīt tell them to wait growing up because I havenīt finished The Cure yet.
This was the main reason for the announcement this album would be the last. Robert couldnīt imagine that anything could be more important than the band for years but now it seems he has grown up. The conception of travelling the world for months suddenly seemed quite unreal.
"In the last five years I relized that I got used to another life quite well. I had to struggle through doing this again. But "Bloodflowers was a necessity for me - cause I felt that I hadnīt made an album that sounded like The Cure since "Disintegration. And I wanted to make this album, no matter if I stop or not. But now doing the album was a lot of fun - and I think itīs really good - so I actually donīt want to stop. Indeed Iīd like to spend more time building up my private life. I havenīt had a real home for a long time. I had a flat in London during the eighties but that wasnīt the same. I didnīt want to go back there absolutely. But thatīs different now - I long for the people at home, feel homesick, thatīs a completely new experience for me.
For this reason, there wonīt be a gigantic tour around the globe, even if The Cure look forward to playing live: Instead of going on tour for fourteen weeks they will be on the road for just four weeks in a row.
"You know, one reason for me to make music was being my own boss. To rule my own life. And I had the feeling that there isnīt endless time if I wanted to do something else. If I donīt build me a private life now, Iīll be just an old Rockīn Roller in a few years and this is a terrible thought. I have to keep The Cure as something that means fun to me and not something that I have to do. This is the reason why I donīt know how many Cure albums there will be between 2000 and 2010 - maybe just one.
Besides he looks back on the past twenty years without a touch of regrets.
"I canīt imagine having had that much fun with any other thing. And I also havenīt got the feeling to be to old to play with The Cure. Probably some people think so but that doesnīt bother me. I even can imagine to do this at the age of sixty. I donīt care what others think. But it would be horrible to this at the age of sixty just because I canīt imagine of anything else. As long as I make music with people I like it is wonderful, itīs something most people dream of. But if I work the next one ot two years with The Cure thinking Iīd much rather be at home, then I wouldnīt be honest to myself."
The honest listening to oneself has a big influence on most of the songs on "Bloodflowers", best to hear in "39 which Robert wrote on his 39th birthday: The fireīs burned out, he ascertains, and he hasnīt got a clue how to light it again.
"Actually I havenīt wrote about myself since "Disintegration" except for songs like "Want" or "Bare", but I havenīt sat down and written a whole album that reflects on how I feel since then. I wanted to do this again now, but I was frightened to have it turn out boring. To come to "39" - I donīt feel like having no ideas all the time but sometimes I do. Itīs an odd song that didnīt fit in the album easily and wasnīt easy to sing either - with a message like "I donīt know if I still want this anymore, Iīve got nothing to say". It had quite a contradiction in it. If I really hadnīt anymore ideas, I wouldn't have been able to write this song. But this was exactly the point that made it exciting. I told myself that, if I wanted to be honest to myself, then the song had to be on the album.
Anyway, the impression of "39" will be neutralized by the following titletrack, the mighty "Bloodflowers" which wipes away all doubts about Roberts creativity with itīs power and gloominess. Contrary to the last albums "Wish" and "Wild Mood Swings" he knew this time how the record had to sound like. And like he did with the 1981 album "Faith" he chose a one-word title on purpose, that should express a certain sound.
"On the last albums I fought against the idea of The Cure having a certain sound but on this record I used this in a positive way. I wanted the album to sound like us. I asked myself, why I thought "Disintegration" to be that capital: At first the songs are simply good but there is also a certain context. You canīt take a single song out of the album on itīs own, which works very well on "Wild Mood Swings". There you can start somewhere in the middle or press "shuffle on the CD player. The same with "Wish", there were many different styles, which symbolized what I was feeling at that time. I didnīt want to write about me, I wanted to try many different styles. I like "Wish" and "Wild Mood Swings" but I had the feeling that , if we donīt do an album that has a certain emotional power with this line-up now, we wonīt ever succeed in doing this. It should mark a sign. And it does. I canīt really tell if "Bloodflowers" is an end or not. Robert pauses and laughs: "I donīt want to say this anymore, itīs becoming kind of a cliché."
Before The Cure started the recordings, Robert played "Pornography" and "Disintegration" to the band to tell them the direction and to reach the intensity that he thought they lost after the Swing tour. Today he thinks that the 1997 festivals were terribly average - "okay but in fact not Cure-worthy.
"For a time I thought the reason was that I lost interest, because the band often reflects my inner feelings - sometimes, without me noticing it. And because I absolutely wanted "Bloodflowers" to turn out to be the best weīve ever done I infected the others with this idea. The recordings were a very intense experience. Compared to this, "Wild Mood Swings" was like a one-year-party, as if you were living in a commune and recorded an album by the way. With "Bloodflowers" we had a total time of three months from the beginning until the end and I knew exactly where I wanted to go, what we should do. The lyrics were already written at that time. It was like "Disintegration" - I directed the band and made them play in a certain way. It wasnīt that much fun while we recorded but the result is much better.
So, for the first time in a decade, Robert took his part as the musical director. After the very democratic "Wild Mood Swings" where every idea of the whole band got tested - "no matter how silly it was" (Robert) - there wasnīt any input of his colleagues wanted for "Bloodflowers", except of Simon Gallup who wrote the music of "Last day of summer". What was the reaction of the band to this change?
"I donīt know" Robert claims and pauses: "Yes, of course I do. It wasnīt that much fun for then as it was with "Wild Mood Swings". But I explained to them at the beginning that fun wasnīt the point this time. Simon and Roger had been present before with the "Disinitegration recordings and hated the work on this one, too. They loved the result and the tour afterwards but the work on the album itself - I had been quite difficult at that time because I knew exactly what I wanted. I drove Roger mad for the keyboards, because I didnīt let him pass by not playing clean. Of course, I got them whispering, now heīs completely mad. And with "Bloodflowers" Iīve been just as obsessed for a few months, because I wanted to realise exactly what I was hearing in my head.
I saw them both (Simon and Roger) looking at each other murmuring "Oh shit, this thing is happening again... but I think the result justifies this. Therefore we had a lot of stress in the band and in the end I stood there alone. All the others were gone because they got the feeling I wouldnīt listen to them. So I had to record the vocals alone. As they came back and listened to it they thought it was fantastic.
The recordings took place in St. Catherineīs once again where "Wild Mood Swings" had been recorded also. Not the least because Robert liked the region around Bath and he enjoyed taking a walk through the fields at 5 am after a recording session. They had much less time than in 1995 because Jane Seymour wanted to live in the house again sooner or later. Robert didnīt mind because the rigid timetable prevented squandering their strength on too many ideas. They recorded all the songs in these three months except for the vocals. After that Robert moved to RAK studios in London where they once recorded "Pornography" and "Disintegration" to record the vocals.
"It was great to go back there. On the first night I listened to "Pornography". I have fantastic memories for that time, even if it was very difficult. The studio gave me the feeling to do something important. I had a kind of crisis in self confidence, I think. When I started singing in St. Catherineīs I thought, why should anybody be interested in the things Iīve got to say. But I knew that I didn't have these doubts with "Disintegration", so I got back to RAK. And it worked, I finished one song each day and after two weeks the album was finished.
After this he also had enough of the capital-hectic. "I didnīt want to do the mixing there. I did stay in a hotel in London for two weeks and had a terrible headache; the traffic noise, the dirt, all these people... so we moved to the country again to the studio of Genesis which they just opened - we were the first there, itīs like a farm. It was wonderful, around early summer and so the album finally got a consiliatory note. I think if I had mixed it in London it would turn out much more agressive."
Whereby "Bloodflowers" is still much harder and heavier than the last albums. Another reason for this is that Robert changed his attitude towards guitar solos which he took for hippie stuff for years. And even if he needed one for a song heīd rather let them be done by a feedback guitarist like Porl Thompson. Now we can find long, classic guitar passages in "Watching Me Fall" and "Bloodflowers". Second guitarist Perry Bamonte had to take a step back. As everywhere on this album Robert wanted the guitars to sound exactly like he imagined them to.
"Concerning to this, Perry has got a very calm attitude. I wanted to show him how he should play certain songs and he asked me why I wonīt do it on my own. So there are a few songs where he doesnīt play anything, but he doesnīt mind. There is no sense in telling him what I want to hear and doing it on my own two days later anyway. He plays something on "Out Of This World" and "39", those solid things. The solos are all mine. Robert grins: "Because I want to win a guitar award this year."
But itīs not only these things that cause the powerful sound of the new album. While even on "Disintegration" there were poppy singles like "Lovesong", "Bloodflowers" is an extremely dark, complex album which - for the first time since "Pornography" in 1982 - doesnīt include any singles. On purpose.
"Do you remember "Galore"? Robert asks me. Of course, the second single collection after "Standing On A Beach" which was released in 1997. "There was hardly any promotion for this album. There were even people in my family who didnīt know about this release. The reason for this was a heavy quarrel I had with Polydor and Elektra. They wanted to have songs from "Standing On A Beach" included on this album plus a few songs from the last decade - a normal Greatest Hits compilation because that would appeal to more people. "Boys donīt cry" and stuff like that. I didnīt want it like this. To me it seemed like an offense to the fans if we included those old songs.
They didnīt want to agree to this - they were like naughty little children. If you do it like you want, we wonīt do any promotion. And I thought, fuck it, then there wonīt be any promotion. So they pressed the lowest edition they could. Even if this first edition had sold out in Britain in the first week we hadnīt cracked the Top 40. There just werenīt enough records in stores. I was really pissed by that. And now Iīve got my little revenge - on this album there isnīt a single. None."
In May The Cure invited a few responsible people of the record companies for a pre-listening and watched their reaction to the songs very carefully: The two songs they liked the most were taken from the album. "That was very childish of course" Robert explains. "And if we really stop some day, Iīll compile a real Greatest Hits album, which theyīll hate much more because there wonīt be any singles on it, too.
Whenever this will be. Maybe in the year 2020, when Robert marks the end of forty years of The Cure at the age of sixty. Or sooner. Or never.
- Kirsten Borchardt