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 tape-recorder. One's opinion of a pop singer is also too easily influenced by his product, and I find it difficult to dislike someone who makes records like LoveCats, Boys Don't Cry, or the recent Inbetween 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. LoveCats and The 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 of 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 veered...
"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 LoveCats, '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 paradoxically 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 Seventeen Seconds.
Of all 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 a 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 with 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 favourite 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 synthesisers 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 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 Song-Book?
"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 flamenco guitarist..."
I resolve never to ask anyone about their lyrics again. I move onto this year's Cure interview question; what's with the minor plagiarism?
Robert grins slyly. "There's nothing minor about it! It's major!" OK, but why so many styles? U2 exist 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 LoveCats (1983 Fake Jazz), Inbetween Days (1981 New Order) and The Walk (1982 New Order)?
"I would find it more difficult to be U2 than 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, not the manky little lower 40's 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 with 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 feel!s 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 records 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 of 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.
"Inbetween 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 (musical) aspects of their surroundings are the problem, and that they are...you know. I still don't rate Head On The Door as a blistering pop remedy, but something like Inbetween Days is more than a placebo.
Robert Smith, like Guinness, is good for you. In small doses, of course.