It's been 19 years since the Cure sketched their first spidery hieroglyphic on pop's surface. Back then a moody, timid teenager named Robert Smith composed a slice of dark nonsense named "Killing an Arab". Nineteen years of askew dreams, edgy desires, exquisite longing, poisted poetry, dodgy lipstick and comedy hair. Has so much time really passed? Where did it go?
It's easy to forget about the Cure. Like the common cold or Des O'Connor or boiled patatoes, They're always just there, hanging around. Like aren't the Cure just so '80s?
"We're a bit confused as to what we're thought of at the moment", Robert Smith admits. "We've no idea who our audience is going to be-or how our old fans will react to us. I think we managed to trancend the '80s, though. Some bands couldn't make the leap and they're fucked now. Depeche Mode and U2 did it. Simple Minds, on the other hand, are still very much '80s band. I saw Electrafixion last year and they were stuck in the same time-wrap. Ian McCulloch is a friend of ours but I have to say he was rather sad to watch." However, unlike Mac the Mouth, Robert Smith and the Cure can disappear for a year of two, safe in the knowledge that they won't be abandoned. After all, who else can pop in so many resonant, echoing, lovelorn voices? "I have no sense of limits", nods Robert Smith"I don't think we do anything which is wrong. There have been times in the past when some things seemed unimaginable for The Cure But now, really..."
He pauses and marshals his thoughts.
"But now, I can imagine us doing anything we want."
The five imaginary men that constitute the last Cure line-up have been chilling out in a mansion, a small but mean distance from Bath. It's an imposing and impassive pad, a centuries-old feudal monstrosity wich belongs to English Rose-turner-ageing-Hollywood-Babe, the actress Jane Seymour (former Bond girl Solitair from Live and let die, most recently seen starring the vacuous Hollywood Western Doctor Quinn: Medicine Woman). "She used to come here one week a year, for Christmas," grins The Cure's faultlessely amiable keybordist, Roger O'Donnell."But she doesn't even do that now. Apparently, the local people here don't appreciate her enough." we sit and ponder awhile on the lamentable failure of the good burghers of Avon to carry Ms Seymour shoulder-high through the streets every time she leaves her palace. The house, though, hardly lacks reminders of its owner: glossily perfect photographs of far-from-Plain-Jane beam down from every single wall.
"There are even pictures of her in her lingerie in her ex-husbands old bedroom," confides bassist Simon Gallup.
"I think he was her third."
The Cure have been living together, Monkees style, in this grandiloquent gaff for well over six months now. Dreaming up and setting down Wild Mood Swings, their tenth studio album. They're not exactly going stir crazy, but a degree of boredom can be sensed: they're even mildly pleased to receive a journalist into their minds. Yeah, music, drink and an empty mansion house is the mansion house in the country to abuse. Sometimes live can be a hell. They pad into the kitchen one by one. O'Donnell, who has just rejoined the band after five years living in Canada with his partner, is affability itself. New Cure drummer Jason Cooper is quieter, nursing a hangover in the corner.
"He went down to Moles club in Bath last night, and got drunk," says Roger O'Donnell., paternally. "So what?" Mumbles Cooper. " I do that every night."
Ex-roadie and keybordist Perry Bamonte appears from his bedroom, offers a hand for shaking, goes back to bed. The pony-tailed and perennially-roguish Simon Gallup chats amiably and shows me the majestic ballroom which the band have turned into their temporary studio. Consternation crosses his face when I ask where he intends to live when he has to leave the mannor. "I hadn't thought of that," he says. "I haven't got anywhere at the moment. I suppose I'm technically homeless."
"It's a long story."
We slouch back to the kitchen where Robert Smith shambles about playing the gracious host with easy practised charms, alert under his black sea-anemone of a haircut, slighter and happier and healthier than you'd expect. The Cure pose for pictures, then file into Ms Seymours third-best sitting room.
"We do our intervieuws in here," says Robert Smith"We also watch telly, and we drink a lot."
When Robert Smith talks about The Cure, he itches his fingers and twitches his eyes and speaks a little to fast, as if unsure and trying to convince himself as he goes along. Then he pauses and smiles and makes strong, big eye contact. The rest of the band, meanwhile, gathered in the candlelit room, murmur occasional comments but mostly sit quietly, letting their tousled leader answer the thorny questions.
So, Robert, has there ever been a stage in T.C.'s existence when you felt totally out of sync with the times?
"Always!" says Robert Smith, and the band laugh, even though it's only half a joke. "Well, we don't feel part of Romo, that's for sure! What is all that about? We were told we were out of touch when the club and dance explosion went off in 1988-'89, but I think there's always been dance element to The Cure Then we did that Mixed Up album of our tracks remixed by DJ's like Paul Oakenfold, and got absolutely fucking slaughtered by the critics for jumping on a bandwagon!"
"I'm not sure what dance music is any more, there's so many sub-genres I get confused. I like Banco De Gaia because it's fairly gentle. I listen to ambient dub as well."
Did Robert Smith enjoyed the positivity and freedom which came with the Ecstasy Revolution?
Did he get sorted for E's and whizz, head into the countryside, and rave in a field 'til sunrise?
"Well, no, there may be a dance element to The Cure but I didn't say that I can dance! I can't dance without E and I can't dance with it. I'm not a gregarious person who responds to that atmosphere. If I take E, I'd rather listen to Mahler on my own. My wife's tried to teach me to dance several time, and I have zero ability or co-ordination. I just lurch to the sea and back again..."
"Let's face it, the only reason to dance is to pull birds," chips in Roger O'Donnell. a real Darwinist.
"We were going to call the album 'Bare' originally," says Robert Smith, steering in the conversation towards matters at hand. "I wanted to do it really fast, litarelly in a weekend, just playing accoustically in a room like Cowboy Junkies. It might have worked, but then our old drummer Boris left the group and decided to have a rethink."
The finished record could hardly sound less this soon-jettisoned initial groundplan. Wild Mood Swings is a fantastic(al) album, prime Cure, lush and invigorated. Great title too Bob.
"Well i'm glad you think so," Robert Smith brightens, "because not many people do. There was a lot of resistance to it. But i think it sums up what the record is. I think it works."
Indeed. in the blink of a pretend eye it can bound from the arch poignancy of 'Want' to the soaring, almost unbearable glee of 'Mint Car', which announces its 'Friday I'm in love'-like existance to the world with a first line wich boasts: 'Sun is up , I'm so happy I could scream/and ther's nowhere else in the world I'd rather be...'
"writing a happy song is a complete diferent process for me from writing an introspective or melancholic one. I generally write when i'm unhappy or upset. That's when Iexternalise my fear and try to understand it. When I'm incredibly happy, I just enjoy it. 'Mint car' is about that feeling of expectation when you think: 'This is going to be really really good, nothing could be better than what's about to happen'. But I wasn't feeling that way when I wrote it. I tried to remember it, manufacture it, get as close as can on paper."
"Much of what we do is really cheerfull," continues Robert Smith" I mean, even my mother likes some of it. The biggest misconception about The Cure is that we're a Goth band. We were never Goths. When we started we were Raincoats-although now I've forgotten exactly what that meant. i hate the way every album is dismissed as more of the same thing. We mix lots of sounds and types of music but it always comes down to the hair and the lipstick and the gloom." hardly surprising, considering the diehard clones-'the black hair and white face mobs'- the band still atract in Europe.
"We played a concert recently in France and Blur were supporting us," recalls Robert Smith"The whole front then rows were diehard Goths. They were giving damon shit and screaming at him, so he started chuking water over their hair. He said, 'the more you shout, the more water I'm gonna pour over you, and you'll all look stupid when Roberts comes out.'
"I like blur for having a sense of humoor. that's something that's underpinned everything we've done. People think we're Mr. Doom & Gloom, but they should spend an evening with us. we laugh more than anyone I know." it's time to drop a provocative 'faux pas' into the conversation
I say: 'the first track on Wild Mood Swings, the profound and symphonis 'Want', is a lament on the subject of the sands of time slipping through our fingers, yet it has such a pathetic opening line:' I'm always on the moan' "NO,"Robert Smith corrects, kindly keeping a straight face as the rest of the band quietly guffaw, "it's 'I'm always wanting more'."
Ah, okay. But do you genuinly still have this fear of missing out? Or are you a more content, centred soul?
"I'm still dissatisfied a lot of time," he says, wounded. "It's not as though I'm...contented or anything. The only difference now is that I try to find something good in whatever situation i'm in. Before I never used to bother. i do worry about people who've given up, though. People who just go 'fuck it' and give up, and-I dunno, sit and watch the telly until they die! i can't do that. i'll always be somebody who is constantly searching for some purpose."
You were an adolecent when you started The Cure-surely you've grown out of the teen angst by now?
"Well, yes because I'd just be a joke if I hadn't. At some point, unless you're going to go mad or become clinically depressed, you have to come to some sort of arrangement with yourself as to how you're going to continue on. I've never met anybody who's genuinely resolved everything. Ever. There's only ever been one period of The Cure when there was no humour involved and that was 15 years ago now; around the time Faith and pornography. Why? it was just the way we were. Simon and i did have fun but it was all incredibly drug and alchol-fuelled. There was a feeling of desperation and anger and frustration. I went haywire. A lot of music we made then, like 'The walk' and 'Love Cats', was made despite me, not because of me. I find it irritating beyond believe, though, when people try to manufacture that angst or rage, or sustain it beyond its natural life. How can you bothered to keep communicating a sense of futility? it's a paradox: nothing matters, so I'll make a record about it? Then another one? I mean, come on! You can do it once, but after all that it's very stale."
When Kurt Cobain took his life, did it seem the act of a lost and desperate soul a million miles away from you? or did it blink hard and think, yeah, you could've been me?
"Not any more. There was a point a long time ago which I can remember very vivid when I was actually confronted with that inclination, but then I realised that I liked living, I enjoyed life."
A woman from a guitar magazine arrives to take photographs of Smith with the 43 guitars, basses, sitars and mandolines which the band used to record Wild Mood Swings Afterwards Robert Smith and Simon Gallup retire to the lounge for a spot of cigar-smoking, brandy-quaffing and that traditional country-house pastime, Top Of The Pops-baiting. Wedged into an elegant sofa by the telly, they suck on their the first beers of the night and revert to classic Cure cattiness. David Bowie and the Pet Shop Boys, with 'Hello Spaceboy', are first on and first in the critical firing line.
"God, this really is shit, isn't it?" Simon Gallup decides. "The Thin White One has lost it. Yet again. Why's se singing in that stupid Anthony Newley voice again? He hasn't done that for years!"
"I hate Neil Tennant even more, though," snorts Robert Smith"Just look at him, a sad old journalist standing there being oh-so-clever and ironic. He's so perfectly post-modern he can't even dare to smile!"
The irony of The Cure, of all bands, advocating a more cheery and upbeat onstage persona is lost on our hosts. "I hate people who go to glamorous parties and nightclubs and pretend they're being ironic," says Robert Smith "I went to see Ireland vs Italy in the world Cup 2 years ago and it just turned into a mental weekend. Perry's brother is in Depeche Mode, so we were hanging out with them. There's a song on the new album called 'Club America' that mocks the music scene we experienced out there. It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, which is why I sing in a different voice. It's a long time since The Cure have been seduced in that world. It was so strange to see Depeche Mode still existing in that scene. Still being taken in and thinking it's cool."
Meanwhile, back on the box, Blighty's latest transatlantic challengers are doing 'Don't look back in anger'. Here they are, boys: the critics'gods, the rock deities, the band who can do no wrong... Oasis.
"Yeah, I guess so," muses Simon Gallup And pauses. His timing is immaculate. "Aren't they just a bit too much like like The Rutles for liking, though?" Uh-huh. The cosmically smug Nicky Campbell is creaming his chinos at the prospect of Tina Turner, but his enthousiasm isn't shared by The Cure, who watch didainfully as the grandmother of funk creaks through another bluster of bombast.
Robert Smith:"Yuk, Tina Turner, I bet she smells of tea. Well, they all do don't they? All the old ladies who can't wash themselves properly..." Ther's a collapse of all parties, primarly fuelled by a relief at the thought that this particular edition of The Pops simply can't get any worse. But this does. It's time for... Sting! Sting with his smarmy smirk, scatting through a version of 'Let Your soul Be Your Pilot' surrounded by nubile dancing girls on a rooftop in New York.
"What on earth does he thinks the point of this is?" wondersR.S. "I mean, really?" He glances at his bassist. "To be honest, I can't see Simon staying in the room much longer. He has, um, views on Sting."
Simon Gallup rises to his feet. "No, I just can't watch this pompous arsehole, I-can-have-sex-for-five-hours-without-coming wanker. Just think, if he stepped ten feet back and went over that roof edge we'd all be much happier."
Simon Gallup walks to the door and heads down the dark corridor. As he pads away one last, measured thought echoes back down the hallway "Sting is a FUCKING DICKHEAD!"
We are left to pounder the weighty significance of Gallup's words in the vast space of the room. But what could anyone possibly add to that? The Cure: country squires and men of easy leisure have once again sized up the opposition and found it wanting.
The finished record could hardly sound less this soon-jettisoned initial groundplan. Wild Mood Swings is a fantastic(al) album, prime Cure, lush and invigorated. Great title too Bob.
Robert Smith, midfield general and football pundit, looks ahead to Euro '96 and puts away a few chances...
T.C.'s love for football is legendary. No surprise, then, that Robert Smith passes over the current travails and struggels of his beloved Queen's Park Rangers with a terse "no comment", and declines to give the team's beleagured boss, Ray Wilkins, his personal vote of confidence.
"I think he's just not passionate enough," Robert Smith shrugs, soccer-pundit style. However, before we leave Murder Mansion, Smith agrees to join BlahBlahBlah in playing an age-old parlour game that we made up just now, loosely titled 'If Rock Stars Were Football Teams...'- in which the constant must run through the 16 Euro '96 finalists, nominating which bands he feels most closely correspond to each national team's style. The contestant must attempt to complete his exercise without being rude about anybody whatsoever. Naturally, Robert Smith fails miserably...
ENGLAND = THE CURE
"Why? because we're the written-off underdogs who, come the glorious day, will be standing there holding the cup aloft at Wembley Stadium... No, to be honest I couldn't let anyone else be England." (Simon Gallup adds: "But I must say that i don't approve of the English team song being supplied by 'Simply Fucking red'. He's a Manchester United fan! And he's fat."
GERMANY = GEORGE MICHAEL
"They're both very calculated and they're never ever going to surprise you. You always know exactly what they're going to do. But wath a great moment it was when Bulgaria beat germany in the World Cup! I took a really horrid satisfaction in seeing people like Klinsmann fall flat on his face. I really don't like Germany at all." (Adopts a tone for which the phrase "withering sarcasm" is criminally inadequate): "George Michael on the other hand is a fabulous artiste..."
CHECH REPUBLC = RADIOHEAD
"Thom looks like somebody who could play for the Ceech Republic. You can imagine the team photo - he'd be at the back on the right-hand side, and you wouldn't be able to work out where he was looking. Radiohead are huge in America and nobody's quite sure except that Thom's written really good songs and sticks to what he thinks is right. The Czech Republic are like Radiohead because they could be the dark horses of the whole thing."
SPAIN = BLACK GRAPE
"Because Spain look like they've probably found some sort os substance to enhance their performance which would go undetected in a blood test. They're also like Black Grape because they're flamboyant and a really weird mixture of very creative players and complete thugs."
BULGARIA = PAGE & PLANT
"That choir of Bulgarian women (Les Voix Des Mystères Bulgares) remind me of Page & Plant, close up. I can imagine Robert Plant drinking a flagon of red wine and going out naked on horseback and killing a load of people, like a Bulgarian would. Well, no, not a modern Bulgarian, but those old Bulgarian warriors, were a wild, nomadic, insanepeople. Like early Led Zeppelin."
DENMARK = STAR TURN
"Star Turn are a bit like Mike Flower Pops. When MARRS had that hit with 'Pump up the volume', they did a piss-take version called 'Pump up the bitter'. They play the pub and club circuit around Newcastle, and their singer looks like Jan Molby! Denmark are really good but there's something humorous about them, and I think it's essentially Jan Molby's accent, that bizarre mixture of Danish with a scouse twang."
PORTUGAL = THE PRODIGY
"That clubbing attitude, being hot, crazy guys-I can imagine The Prodigy playing a residency in Lisbon somehow. The Prodigy keep trying the same thing again and again untill it works, the same as Portugal. Portugal will take endless free kicks trying to bend the ball around the wall and you think 'Oh, don't try that one again', but then suddenly in the 90th minute it works and they've won."
HOLLAND = SUPERGRASS
"Well I think Holland will win Euro '96, and really like Supergrass at the moment. I love them live. They're just at that point some bands reach where everything they try to do works really well. I think Holland have the right combination right now to walk and win, even if it all falls apart later. There's also the Rizla connection. And the colour orange."
SCOTLAND = BEASTY BOYS
"Scotland are loud and lairy, and they come rampaging down shouting 'We're gonna win!', then they get knocked out in the first round. There's a certain charm in their refusal to lie down and be beaten. In the same sort of way the Beasty Boys made a good second album which got really slammed and everyone thought there time had gone, but then they came roaring back with a great record and became hip again."
ROMANIA = PETER GABRIEL
"This is a bit horrid and cynical, but I can imagine Peter Gabriel supporting Romania because os the orphans, or something. There would be a photo-opportunity. I like Romania and Georgi Hagi is axcellent, but there's something abut them that's... worthy. You feel like you should be supporting them because they had a hard time under Ceaucescu."
FRANCE = AND ALSO THE TREES
"This is a band the Cure have always liked, but like the French they're very stylish but never quite live up to their true potential. There's some kind of emotional character flaw in the French. The temperamental nature, the obviuos diving and writhing the French do-And Also the trees do that aswell."
ITALY = DEPECHE MODE
"Italy as in Milan, not as in Naples. I can imagine the young Dave Gahan being in the Italian team photo, and fly in Anton Corbijn (top super-moody-style photographer) to do it! I'm not trying to be horrible here. The Italians are a mixture of clumsy players and brilliant ones. Like Depeche Mode? No comment."
RUSSIA = CRANES
"Cranes look like a Russian peasant band, don't they? They look like they've just travelled across the steppes barefoot. They get to the semi-finals and everybody says 'Oh, I really like the Russians' then forgets all about them, which is a bit like the Cranes. Oh, and I've seen Jim from the Cranes drink a whole bottle of vodka, which I thought only Russians could do."
TURKEY = SIMPLE MINDS
"This is a basic play on words. And I'm not trying to be nasty about Turkish people. No further comment needed."
CROATIA = BANCO DE GAIA
"Croatia seem to be like a good ambient sort of football team. They'll be in a couple of entertaining games and a couple of not-so-good ones. They're almost a filler team, but could come good at the time, which is like Banco de Gaia: they've consistently done my favourite ambient stuff, and been really really good, but haven't quite broken through."
SWITZERLAND = U2
"The Swiss speak several languages, pretend to be many different nationalities, and lots of people go there because the taxes are... convenient. The Swiss all have their own nuclear fall-out shelter but love everyone in the world, which is why they can never quite take side in a war. And obviously this is no reflection on U2 at all... (evil laugh): U2 are from Switzerland, aren't they?"