Or, rather, FAITH, the bands third album just released by A&M in tandem with the previous SEVENTEEN SECONDS as a two-record set called HAPPILY EVER AFTER-as misleading a title as the late Ian Curtis’ band being called Joy Division. Much of the Cure's live set is deliberately, almost painfully slow. On-stage at the Ritz in New York, the band seemed to prolong the majestically lugubrious "Funeral Party" indefinitely; other numbers, like "The Drowning Man" add new dimension to the word "miasma." Dance music for autistics?
There you go. In a hot, humid ballroom in the wee hours of a hard day's night, at the reserved table of the record company whose people were either snoozing or had gone home, it was easy to make cracks about the music. Under more favorable circumstances the Cure's moody mantras could be hypnotic instead of soporific. How about "melancholy ear candy?"
The Cure's music has been labeled and pigeonholed since they started. At A&M's offices the next day, the band tells how even the record company is having trouble describing them for a press bio.
"They did say, 'It's not your regular boogie,'" drummer Laurence ("Lol") Tolhurst notes with a mixture of wryness and resignation. "You should have heard it before I started censoring it," counters guitarist/vocalist Robert Smith. "They said our sound couldn't be compared to anyone, and then further on say we're a 'cosmic Ventures' with overtones of psychedelia or something. Must be the West Coast office's version.
Smith's common name masks striking facial features. He resembles a less fantastic version of Marvel Comics' Sub-Mariner--without the pointy ears but with a shock of bristly black hair. He himself says he wouldn't bother trying to describe the band's music; the Cure's creative process is very much intuitive.
" We never theorize about what we do . There's no ulterior idea behind it. When we sit down and play something we know straight-away if it's not right. When we started-and it was literally a toss-up that I picked guitar-I tried to avoid musical cliché’s. I never wanted to be a guitarist *per se* and tried to impress on the others [originally Tolhurst and bassist Michael Dempsey, now in the Associates] not to 'be' their instruments, The Drummer and The Bassist. That's so limited." The song, rather than musical role models, would dictate the course of action.
The Cure's debut album, THREE IMAGINARY BOYS,(released here by PVC in slightly altered form as BOYS DON'T CRY), consists of a dozen brief songs, most with gloomy/dire/stark scenarios, a spare instrumental sound and catchy riffs. "Fire in Cairo," "Grinding Halt" and two subsequent singles (included on the US LP), "Boys Don't Cry" and "Jumping Someone Else's Train," suggested a growing affinity for pop hooks.
"But the Cure then has nothing to do with what we are now," Smith objects. "We were playing about 50 songs at the time, mostly in pubs and to people who didn't care if we fell over and died. I wrote most of them by myself without thinking they'd ever be heard by more than 30 people at a time. Chris Parry [head of Fiction, the Cure's English label] picked what he thought were the best of the 30 we recorded. They turned out to be some critics' ideas of 'classic pop,' but they obviously weren't because they weren't popular. "Jumping Someone Else's Train' was the last song of that period-and, yes, the last we did with Dempsey. We could've gone on doing songs like that but it would've been like, er, a Vapors trail'-everyone groans at the pun-'and we had no intention of doing that."
Dempsey's departure spurred changes on many fronts. Besides current bassist Simon Gallup, Matthew Hartley(since departed was added on keyboards. The writing began to change, and with it the sound and aural shape of the Cure.
"Early on," Smith says, "the songs were credited to the group even if I had written them, so there wouldn't be any jealousy over my getting more money; I didn't want that to be a factor. Now the songs are group compositions. I couldn't just say "Here, we're gonna do this song,' 'cause if everybody's unhappy with it they wouldn't play it. Though it's down to compromise, we all do tend to think along the same lines."
Tolhurst always had some lyrical input; now they're all involved, although Smith has last say on the words ("I have to sing them"). There's no set writing pattern.
Smith: "We played 'Charlotte Sometimes' [the latest Cure single] through for the first when we went into the studio to record it. The first take was perfect-although none of us told the others what to play at all. The B-side, though, 'Splintered in Her Head,' was pieced together: The drums were put down, then we sat and thought about what to put on top. Simon tried bass parts until bass and drums meshed, then I tried some guitar over that. So both sides were completely different processes. The only thing that runs through it all is that we are primarily concentrating on the atmosphere we want to create-and then, of course, Lol usually thinks of a title."
SEVENTEEN SECONDS had a richer texture than the first album. It was almost lush, even gentle in spots, not unlike ambient music-although it's eight main tracks (not counting a brief instrumental introduction on each side) are definitely songs. The album almost made the British Top 30 and the single it spawned, "A Forest," nearly snuck into the Top 20.
"That's a joke," Smith says. "When we did 'Jumping Someone Else's Train," Polydor, who distribute Fiction in England, said, 'This is it, a Top 10 single!’ and it went nowhere. They also said they couldn't really hear 'A Forest' as a single, and it was a hit. Polydor doesn't understand us. One person likes us; the rest say, 'This is your year, boys'-and after we leave, 'Who was that band?' The critics didn't understand us either, but we don't pay much attention."
Reviewers' potshots escalated when FAITH came out. The term "self-indulgent'? Is ambient self-indulgent? Is Van Halen? My mother thinks Gregorian chants are."
"I have my own criticisms of the album. The production is really shit!" The band laughs, since they produced it with engineer Mike Hedges. More seriously, Smith continues, "We didn't allow ourselves enough time to develop the songs in the studio; then again if we'd taken longer that would've been self-indulgent. The last album took under 20 days, this one a bit more but even that was too much; we have self-imposed limits on how much time and money we should spend. It took so long because we kept getting thrown out of studios in favor of 'more important' people, and once we lost the mood we never quite got back the atmosphere we wanted. Also some of it could have been a little more cohesive.
"A lot of people are like us. Everybody I know has gone through the emotional trauma of SEVENTEEN SECONDS, which is learning you can't trust people as implicitly as you'd thought when you were younger. FAITH is about having gone through that and trying to discover what you can have faith in, the loss of innocence and growing older, as in 'Primary,' and trying to sort out what your life’s about."[Sounds like jolly good entertainment.-Ed.]
The band isn't aware of what an atypically raucous reception they received from the packed Ritz crowd. The closing jam, based on "Three" from SEVENTEEN SECONDS, is made up "as we go, to relieve the tensions of the day," Smith says. "Once it lasted 45 minutes!"
Irregular boogie men? In the last analysis, one can only say it's all very Cure-ious. Bad punning aside, the Cure wouldn't have it any other way.