Tuesday 23 July 2019

Robert Smith finds a cure for everything

With a new studio album in the pipeline, The Cure are also Ireland-bound

Robert Smith of The Cure
Robert Smith of The Cure
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

In February, 1998, the cartoon image of goth godhead Robert Smith appeared in US show South Park. He is transformed from a gargantuan moth into a Japanese monster to help Leonard Maltin and Sidney Poitier defeat Barbra Streisand.

Just as unlikely - or at least it would appear immediately unlikely from listening to his music - was that the very first concert Cure front man Robert Smith ever went to on his own was actually Rory Gallagher...

"In a one-month period in 1973 or 1974, I saw him," Robert told Rolling Stone magazine in 2004, "Thin Lizzy and the Rolling Stones. I wasn't really a big Rory Gallagher fan, but I thought his guitar playing was fabulous. But Thin Lizzy, they were fabulous. I saw them probably 10 times in two years. The actual sound of them live was just so overpowering, it was better than drinking."

To their millions of devotees, The Cure - "not so much a band as a sensibility", to quote writer Anwen Crawford - remain better than drinking. Playing Dublin's Malahide Castle on June 8, they are about to release their first new studio album since 2008's 4:13 Dream.

"It's very exciting times for us all around," The Cure's lead singer said recently in an interview with SiriusXM.

A new Cure release is, of course, yet another welcome excuse to have a peek inside Mr Smith's intriguing brain. He claims he is not a morose person; "it's just that my best songs reflect on the sadder aspects of life".

Songs like How Beautiful You Are start with lines like "You want to know why I hate you?" while Open has the Sylvia Plath-esque "and the way the rain comes down hard/ that's the way I feel inside..."

Smith critics talk of his lyrics echoing Albert Camus's L'Étranger one minute and Charles Baudelaire's god-knows-what the next. It gets even more pretentious than that. In describing The Cure's 1989 album Disintegration, one journo compared it to "the Nietzschean idea of transcending despair through art". (Please note: on the aforementioned episode of South Park, the character Kyle shouts: "Disintegration is the best album ever!")

The author of Boys Don't Cry, The Lovecats, Inbetween Days, Friday I'm In Love and Close To Me perhaps never envisaged that he would be still playing shows with his band at nearly 60 years of age.

"If I had ever been intent on being the number one band in the world and was still relentlessly banging my head against that particular wall, I would hopefully be dead - and if not, I would just be a moron.

The process was what I enjoyed: to be an artist, if I want to be poncey about it. Everything The Cure's ever done is purely selfish. I've only got one life, and I should really be doing stuff that brings me satisfaction.

"Anyway, one day my hair will all fall out and I won't look gothic any more. So just wait for that," he told Time Out magazine last year with typical wit.

This razor sharp wit has, of course, been used on others without mercy of any kind over the years.

"I have never liked Morrissey and I still don't. I think it's hilarious, actually, what things I've heard about him, what he's really like, and his public persona is so different. He's such an actor.

"I never liked Queen. I can honestly say I hated Queen and everything that they did.

"I never liked U2, the things they've done over the years. Bono's so totally absorbed in the idea of himself as almost messianic and then to turn and realise he looked a complete prat and say, 'Oh, actually, it was irony'. The single with the Edge intoning platitudes over a really tired backing: if we were to do something like that it wouldn't get past the demo stage. I'd think someone in the group was taking the piss!" he hissed in 1993.

For nigh-on four decades Smith has been sporting the pseudo-pantomime look of black eye-liner, a smudge of red lipstick, and that furiously back-combed black hair. It is too late to stop now, and we wouldn't want to stop him either.

"I wore makeup when I was at school," he said once, "and I wore makeup when glam started. I started wearing it again when punk started.

"I've always been drawn to wearing it. It's partly ritualistic, partly theatrical - and partly because I think I look better with it on."

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