Note: Featured Image taken from Rolling Stone
One of the most enduring bands to emerge from the late 1970s punk scene, The Cure have undergone numerous stylistic changes during their 40-year history. Moving from nervy, dark guitar riffs through to synthesiser-heavy goth rock and upbeat mainstream pop, the only constant in this pillar of British music has been its enigmatic frontman, Robert Smith. Although The Cure have been through many twists and turns during their lifetime, we’re going to attempt to provide you with an overview of how they made it from a church hall in Crawley to packed stadiums all around the world. Here’s the Kore Guide to The Cure.
The founding members (Robert Smith, Mick Dempsey, Laurence Tolhurst, Marc Ceccagno, and Alan Bass) met at school in West Sussex in the mid-1970s. Originally called ‘Malice’, the group was heavily influenced by the punk scene, favouring fast tempos and acidic guitar riffs. Within just a few years, the band had changed its name (first to ‘Easy Cure’ then to ‘The Cure’), lost and found various members, and gained somewhat of a cult following in the Crawley music scene.
Their first big break came in 1978 when one of their demo tapes made its way into the hands of Chris Parry, a talent scout with Polydor Records. Recalling the moment, Parry says, “I heard this tape and I really loved it so I called Robert (Smith), he’d written his telephone number on the tape, and he walked into my office and I said to him, I really liked your music. He was kind of lanky, but I liked his look”.
This encounter was the start of a 20-year relationship with the band, which kicked off with the release of their debut single, ‘Killing an Arab’. As you can probably tell, the title caused somewhat of a stir; many thought the track was out-and-out racist, which ultimately led to the recording label putting a ‘not for a racist usage’ sticker on the cover of the track. What it actually referred to, however, was Albert Camus’ book The Stranger, in which a young man French Algerian man kills an Arab man in Algiers (all over an argument with his mother).
Although the track wasn’t a huge commercial hit, it did win over the critics. Adrian Thrills wrote in NME, “An abrasive Light Metal Trio hailing from Crawley, a far-slung southern outpost of London commuter hinterland, The Cure are like a breath of fresh suburban air on the capital’s smog-ridden pub and club circuit.”
Goth, pop, and commercial success
As The Cure stepped into the ’80s, their sound turned from a punkish energy to the sombre seedlings of what became goth rock/emo-pop. The single ‘A Forest’ from their 1980 album Seventeen Seconds encapsulates this change of direction. Although still having a hook, there’s definitely a more downtrodden, atmospheric feeling to the track – something Smith credits to his bleak outlook during those years (“Looking back and getting other people’s opinions of what went on, I was a pretty monstrous sort of person at that time” – SPIN magazine, July 1987, p.46).
Regardless, people were buying more of their music. Seventeen Seconds reached number 20 in the charts, whilst their 1982 album Pornography took the 8th spot, their highest yet. They followed it up with The Fourteen Explicit Moments Tour in which they first appeared with what would become their signature look – huge hair and red lipstick crudely smeared on their faces. Despite drawing in huge audiences around Europe, the tour was a disaster in many ways. Smith was constantly arguing with fellow band member and bassist, Simon Gallup, and tensions culminated in a nightclub brawl in Strasbourg.
As soon as the tour was over, the band went their separate ways. Smith joined Siouxsie and the Banshees (also signed by Chris Parry) as their lead guitarist, whilst the others took a complete break.
All was not over though, as Parry sought to salvage the wreck and bring the band back together in late 1982. Key to the re-invention of the group, according to him, was yet another change of style. He wanted the band to go full-out, mainstream pop, and catch the public unaware. Smith was initially reticent but agreed to go ahead with the plan as long as it was considered a kind of ‘musical vandalism’ designed to destroy the reputation that The Cure had built up.
It worked, in a weird way. This shift towards a more mainstream style triggered the band’s most successful commercial period to date. The 1982 single ‘Let’s Go To Bed’ became a minor hit, whilst ‘The Walk’ and ‘The Love Cats’ both made it to the top ten in the UK. Before long, the band’s success even touched America – their 1985 album The Head on the Door made it into the US charts, carried by the singles ‘In Between Days’ and ‘Close to Me’.
This spate of chart-topping albums went on unabated for a few years. In 1989, they released the album Disintegration which reached number three in the UK, twelfth in States, and featured three hit singles: ‘Lullaby’, ‘Lovesong’, and ‘Pictures of You’. A couple of years later they were awarded Best British Group at the Brit Awards and were nominated for Best Alternative Music Album for Wish (1992), which included arguably their most well-known songs, ‘High’ and ‘Friday I’m in Love’.
Burst bubbles, tours, and influence
By the mid-’90s, The Cure’s popularity was on the wane. Whilst various members switched in and out of the band’s lineup, their new music simply wasn’t received with the same enthusiasm. Although their 2000 album Bloodflowers was nominated for a Grammy, most of their albums fell flat with the critics. Despite this, they continued touring and playing festivals all around the world, mixing up old crowd-pleasers with new material.
By this time, though, The Cure had already solidified their status as one of the world’s most influential bands across multiple genres. The music of Smashing Pumpkins, The Pixies, and Sonic Youth, to name just a few, all alluded to the emo pop/goth/rock that Smith had forged. Paul Banks, lead singer of Interpol, once stated in an interview, “…The Cure is the band that all of is Interpol can say influenced us…It’s one of the bands with the deepest influence on Interpol, because we all like them. They’re legendary.” And many others agreed – in 2019, The Cure were finally inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (much to the amusement of Robert Smith).
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