Can that really be the Cure's Robert Smith chirping away so giddily on the ebullient song Mint Car from the veteran British band's new Wild Mood Swings album?
The same Robert Smith whose moody songs and dour, lipstick-smeared visage inspired a generation of youth on both sides of the Atlantic in the '80s to dress in black and act mopey?
Yes, the one-time king of Mope Rock is back and is decidedly more upbeat these days. That's in spite of a four-year break between studio albums that coincided with the departure of several key band members and a protracted lawsuit against Smith and his record company by another former member that was ultimately unsuccessful.
But if you see the Cure at their concert July 20 at the Rosemont Horizon, don't expect it to be all sunshine and lollipops. Just as its title indicates, Wild Mood Swings displays a wide variety of musical shades over the course of its 14 songs. The songs range from dirges (This Is a Lie) to acoustic ballads (Numb) to upbeat pop (Gone) and even an exuberant Latin workout complete with horns and percussion (The 13th). Wild Mood Swings indeed!
Reached at his London home on the eve of the Cure's first American tour in four years, gen-ial guitarist Perry Bamonte says the album's title refers more to the music than to Smith's state of mind.
We originally had 25 songs written for the album that we had to narrow down to 14, said Bamonte, a Cure member since 1990 and a roadie for the band previous to that.
We could have made an album that was all rock songs or all pop songs, or we could have gone very introspective with all these slow, dark songs. We also were listening to a lot of Latin and world music and jazz in our off hours, which influenced the music we were recording.
In the end we decided that the only way to encapsulate the whole experience was to include a bit of everything on it and call it Wild Mood Swings.
Formed by suburban London native Smith at the tail end of the punk movement of the late '70s, the Cure have become something of an institution in the interim. A top act in the United Kingdom ever since their callow early singles Killing An Arab and Boys Don't Cry, it took much longer for the band to break America.
The turning point in the United States was the 1987 double album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, which finally elevated the Cure from cult to major headliner status here.
The band's last studio release, 1992's Wish, sold more than a million copies here thanks to singles like Friday I'm In Love and A Letter to Elise.
A bit less successful were a pair of live albums that were released in 1993, Paris and Show.
Bamonte says the Cure's longevity at the top of the charts in Britain has inspired the inevitable backlash against them in the current era of "Britpop" mania.
A lot of the reviews of Wild Mood Swings in England have gone straight for the throat, criticizing Robert as a person and barely mentioning the album, he said. Then you read the last paragraph and they grudgingly acknowledge it as a good album!
People are very finicky in England. Everything is based on what is currently trendy. Fans in America tend to be more loyal and broad-minded. Americans in general tend to be more optimistic and more ready to have fun and enjoy themselves than the British are. There's more positivity in America, I've found.
Longtime Cure fans will notice a few new faces on stage at the Horizon. Gone is veteran guitarist Porl Thompson, who went on to play with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and drummer Boris Williams. In addition to founder Smith, veteran bassist Simon Gallup and Bamonte (who has switched from keyboards to guitar), the 1996 edition of the Cure includes new drummer Jason Cooper and keyboardist Roger O'Donnell, the latter a Cure alumnus circa 1987-1990. Keep those pencils and score-cards ready!
Bamonte says the popular perception of the Cure as the Robert Smith Show isn't quite true and the fact that the band's lineup over the last 18 years has been something of a revolving door is misleading.
It is Robert's group, he said. He's the frontman, so naturally he gets most of the attention. He writes all the lyrics and he writes the bulk of the music. Simon and I contribute to writing the music, but Robert always has the final say. That's crucial, because he's the one that's got to sing the song, and he has to manipulate the music to suit his voice. Also, he's the most talented at arranging and producing in the band.
Robert's thing with the group has always been, Be there if you want to be there. He doesn't tell people what to do. In the Cure you're there by your own choice because you want to be in the Cure. You can add your opinion and make suggestions, and some get taken onboard and some don't.
There's no problem with anyone in the band about that. Personally, it makes life easier for me!
1997 will mark the Cure's 20th anniversary. Is the band planning anything special to celebrate that milestone? According to Bamonte, no one knows if there even will be a Cure by then.
Robert has always said that he doesn't know from year to year what will happen with the band, he said. You'll just have to ask me again six months from now!