Dr Robert

Rip it Up
June 1996
Bronwyn Trudgeon

I thought I might have caught The Cure's Robert Smith napping when my arranged phone hook-up met the response that he had gone home. It was, after all, around 11PM on his side of the world, and he's not exactly what you'd call a young buck these days. I needn't have worried, however, for within half an hour Mr Pink Eyes himself had called me, and he was sounding far from sleepy. In fact, the hours where good little boys and girls slumber are the ones he of the tarantulaesque hair-do could rightly call day. "I go to bed about six in the morning," he told me. Rock 'n' roll, Robert!

Yes, after a fleeting recording glimpse of their new line-up on the Judge Dredd soundtrack ("I got to direct an 80-piece orchestra," explains Robert. "I made 'em run through it three times before I was satisfied."), The Cure are back. Their new album Wild Mood Swings, is the product of what Robert describes as the best year he's ever had, which was spent with his band in a mansion belonging to the lovely '(what more) Jane Seymour (what more could I want?)'. Now, doesn't that sound rather glamorous?

"Oh, it was, dead glamorous," chuckles Robert. He's got a dry sense of humour, so subtle you can see why the less perceptive louts among us have mistaken it for being cloaked by doom. Take it from me, it is not. The new Cure line-up sees keyboardist Roger O'Donnell returned to the fold, the band's former roadie and member since 1990, Perry Bamonte, on guitar, the beginning-to-seem-unshakeable Simon Gallup on bass, new boy Roger O'Donnell (***actually printed***) on drums, and of course, the hero of this story, the man who is as much The Cure as Martin Phillips is The Chills, the aforementioned Robert Smith. He'll have been Curing the masses for 20 years come 1997. Having often vented his spleen on the subject of rock dinosaurs (once even going so far as to say he wished David Bowie had died in a car crash), one wonders how he's managing to avoid the trap of looking as ridiculous as he loathes others doing.

"I find it difficult to draw comparisons between us and anyone else, and I always have. I don't see that somehow a notion of longevity can comprise a comparison between me and other people. And because people that have been going a long time are still going, they're still older than me and they always will be, and they've still been going longer.

"I take myself far less seriously than I think people imagine I do. I take seriously what the group does musically and lyrically, and that's it. The rest of it can often be farcical, and people kinda pretend it isn't. If I'm not setting myself up to be some kind of messianic figure of illumination, I don't see how I can go wrong."

"People thought I was ridiculous when I was doing 'Let's Go To Bed' and 'The Love Cats', I don't think it's got anything to do with getting older. There are people in groups now on their first album that, to me, are like decrepit old men."

This time around, he won't name names. Nevertheless, the subject of 20-year marks brings to mind another band who were doing their thing in the biggest way possible 20 years ago, spontaneously combusted, leaving only the recorded remains of one of rock's more inspired accidents, and have recently announced they will reform. They're the band who should be most likely to call any upcoming record output Never Mind The Sex Pistols, Here's The Bollocks. Grand prize of a bovver-booted kick in the head goes to anyone who can't guess who we are talking about.

"That's sort of what I'm alluding to," says Robert. "They set themselves up as something; in their case it was live fast, die young, take the money and run, anarchists in the UK and we don't care. You can't come back and do it - I mean, you can, 'cause they are doing it, but it is bollocks, and everyone knows it is, but people will still go and see 'em."

Likewise, but for entirely different reasons, The Cure are still pulling in the punters 20 years down the track. Although Robert had become somewhat notorious for saying every tour is their last, The Cure hit the road in Britain this month and, after a month off in June ("Because the football happens in England, the European championships England has no chance of winning, but I'm still gonna watch them try."), will take them in the world between July and December.

"I suppose it's got to the point now where I've said it four or five times running, that it's become something of a joke, even to the rest of the group. The go: 'Oh, we know what you're gonna say now.' But at the same point, that has to be true. The gaps are getting longer. I'm finding I need and want more time away from what The Cure is, and away from being in The Cure and existing solely in and through the group. I'm sure as the gaps get longer, there will be a gap where it doesn't happen again. Even before we've embarked on any live stuff this year, I have a feeling I won't do it again - but then, I've said that before."

He's also said similar things with regard to The Cure's recording career, but the new album has put paid to that idea once again as well. "I honestly thought that about the Wish album, and in some ways I was right because that group line-up fell apart, and this is like a completely different group. To me, that sense of the linear doesn't really exist when a line-up changes as it did. That was pretty stable for an eight-year period, and it's quite a big wrench to suddenly have a different line-up. It's almost like starting from scratch in some ways."

"I always take everyone into the process saying: 'This could be it.' So, everyone kind of gets that feeling: 'Well, if it is, this is it, you've got to make it as good as you possibly can." It's kind of psychological thing, and I honestly believe it 'cause it has to be true at some point that it could be this one."

Admittedly, when Robert gave an interview early in the recording of Wild Mood Swings (published in Q, September 1995), things were sounding rather shaky. He was struggling to come up with new material and admits it probably wasn't the best time to be talking to the press. "That was very early on. There was a lot of stress because Boris [Williams] - our drummer who we'd had for, like, 10 years - left, and we were having to fill that gap, which was quite difficult. It wasn't just finding someone who was technically brilliant, it was someone who was gonna fit into the group. So, we had seven different drummers come and live with us for a week at a time at the very start of the year.

"As we were going on recording, I was kind of finding my original ideas for the album were mutating into something else. So, a lot of the words I had figured out for the songs weren't working, and I wasn't really happy with most of it anyway. I scrapped everything I'd written when it got to about March and that's, I think, when I did the interview, around that time. I was sort of mildly hysterical that we couldn't find a drummer and we were three months into this year, and I hadn't even really figured out who was supposed to be living with us, and I'd thrown away all my words. It was a bad time to do an interview really."

"We settled on Jason, and I felt much more comfortable. I had never met him before he came down to the house, although he had been to see us play several times.... but obviously there were other people around.... 'cause he was in a crowd." Robert chuckles.

The Cure then took a break from recording to play some summer festivals (which was apparently less like work and more like "a big idiot holiday"), and have a "sports break" ("But that's not really worth talking about because it was pretty horrendous.")

"I came back from that and wrote most of the words in two or three weeks. It was quite good to got rid of the initial lot because it was almost like I'd purged myself of them."

If you take a cross-section of The Cure's last studio and most commercially successful album, Wish (the cry-me-a-river invitation that is 'A Letter To Elise' versus the heady spin-out of 'Friday I'm In Love', for example), it's hard to imagine what a 'wild mood swing' would entail for them these days. "I suppose this album is a lot more extreme, lyrically and musically," explains Robert. "There's a lot of different combinations of instruments, and they're actually real instruments, and we've had lots of different people coming into the house and playing. The dynamic in the group and in the musicians, effectively, is different on different songs, which kind of changes the sound. Obviously all the different drummers are playing, which changed the way we were playing. Then songs have all been mixed by different people, I sent them all out to my favourite mixers, so no one song sounds like another, sonically."

"I've also lyrically tried to break away from my perspective all the time, so that I'm actually writing things I don't honestly believe. I'm writing from other people's points of view, something I haven't done before. So, I'm presenting a much more varied world view, and the group is presenting a much more varied soundscape. You put it all together and it's just really wierd."

Proof of this can be found on the album's first single, a cheery wee number called 'The 13th' (which a cunning marketing strategy saw released here on May 13), or, indeed, the album itself, which is out now. A live dose of The Cure will be administered sometime before Christmas, the good doctor assured me, so we don't need to start up any petitions this time around. Of the beg sheet which was signed by 10,000 New Zealanders and 28,000 Australians, resulting in the Antipodean leg of the Wish tour in 1992, Robert says: "That worked. It only works once." And once is obviously all it takes for us to prove our point.

Last Revised: Monday, 15-May-2006 14:59:59 CDT

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