Cure swings on CD again
The Baltimore Sun
For most of the last decade, the Cure has seemed a band for which
breaking up would not be that hard to do. It's not as if the band has
been beset with rampaging egos or romantic complications. Apart from
keyboardist Lol Tolhurst, who was forced out of the band in 1988 and
later filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against front-man Smith, the Cure has
been relatively free of internal strife in its 20 years of existence.
If anything, Smith, bassist Simon Gallup, guitarist Porl Thompson and
drummer Boris Williams always have seemed more like buddies than
band-mates. Even so, rumors of the band's demise cropped up with
regularity in part because Smith himself has often insisted that he never
saw the Cure as a permanent fixture on the rock land-scape. In 1989,
after dubbing the group's 10th album "Disintegration", Smith worried that
some fans might take the title as a sign that it was the Cure's last
album. "But then" he says, "I always think it's the last album, so I
don't see why everyone else shouldn't get that feeling".
That feeling got a lot stronger, though, after the band's 1992 album,
"Wish". As a rule, the group cut a new album every other year, but when
1994 rolled around, not only wasn't there a new Cure album, Thompson had
signed on for an album with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Moreover,
Williams announced he was leaving at roughly the same time. Suddenly,
the band's silence seemed even more pointed. Could the Cure have finally
called it quits?
Not hardly. As Smith explains, the Cure's membership may have changed
over the last two years, but its basic principle remains the same. "The
group-it's really much like a social thing" he says over the phone from
the house in Bath, England, where the Cure recorded its new CD, "Wild
"Boris left a couple years ago, but has actually been back to where we're
recording and played drums with us", he says. "And then Porl's my
brother-in-law, so it's no kind of acrimonious departure. On both
counts, they left because, after such a long span of time in the Cure,
they just wanted to try something else."
Thompson's spot was filled by Perry Bamonte, who had played keyboards on
"Wish"-keyboardist Roger O'Donnell, who left before "Wish" was recorded,
is now back in the fold. Williams was replaced by newcomer Jason
Cooper. Only Smith and Gallup remain in the roles they held on the last
But that's not the only reason Smith calls the current Cure "a very
different group to the one that made the 'Wish' album. Where previous
Cure albums took a closed-shop approach to music making-that is , if
Smith and his band-mates couldn't make the sounds themselves, they
weren't made-"Wild Mood Swings" boasts a broad assortment of guest musicians.
"On the new record, we've used an Indian orchestra, and a jazz quartet,
and a string quartet, and Mexican trumpet players", Smith says.
"Everything on the album is real. In the past, I would have tried to
keep it in the family, so to speak, and tried to attain a realistic sound
through emulation or simulation. Now I feel much more comfortable having
people around who are really good musicians. I suppose deep down I must
feel that we've kind of reached that level where they're not going to
laugh at us."
Laugh at them? Well, the Cure is a product of the punk era, and neither
Smith nor any of the band's early members considered themselves serious
musicians in the early days. But that, says Smith, was less a matter of
aesthetics than of experience.
"I've never held that disingenuous punk ethic that we won't play our
instruments properly", he says. "Boris, particularly, is a phenomenally
good drummer, and replacing him was the most difficult thing. Not only
did we have to find someone who would fit, who would get on with us and
understand what the Cure is about; [he] also had to be as good a drummer
as Boris, and it took months finding someone. Because once you've had
someone that's that good, you can't really take a backwards step. The
audience expects us now to have a certain standard of playing. I like
the idea of being able to play. I thin it's to be applauded. I despise
people who revel in the ignorance of not being able to play their
instrument. I think there's a kind of pathetic side to it, really. I
have limitations, It's just that I accept where they are. Porl is a far
more fluent guitarist than me, much faster, much more able to have a
range of styles, but ultimately, people equate my guitar playing with the
Cure. So in some ways he was kind of isolated. Although he could play
alot of things, a lot of what he played didn't really fit--which was
proved when he walked into Page and Plant. His style was far more
suited, and he was given free rein to express himself, in that set-up.
But it's not right to say, 'Oh, it doesn't matter if you can't play. You
can still be in the group because you're a good laugh'. That doesn't
really work. It used to, right at the beginning, because none of us
could play. But I would be very frustrated now to have someone in the
group who was lacking in ability, because I think it would hold the group
back. And I like the idea of the group kind of growing all the time".
That sense of growth of is particularly evident on "Wild Mood Swings".
Wile some songs, such as the single "The 13th", are well within the realm
of what Cure fans expect, aspects of other songs-the gently pulsing
strings of "Treasure", for instance, or the blaring horns and jazzy
overdrive of "Return"-clearly find the band moving in new and different
directions. None of that had been in Smith's original plans, however. As
always, he began work on the album by making a set of fairly detailed
"But I realized after the first demos that I was actually constraining
the group by closing down all options before we even set foot in a
recording studio," he says. "Which seemed a bit stupid. I'm glad that I
pushed the group into different areas."
By giving the band a greater role in shaping the songs, Smith wound up
changing the album's content and feel. "In a strange way, it actually
reflects the group more than it does me", he says. "I think it's the
first record that the group's ever made that does actually reflect more
what the group's like, rather than my state of mind. I've been writing
songs, not necessarily from my perspective, but vicariously, observing
what's been going on. I'm listening to what other people are saying, and
I'm actually writing what they think, or how they feel-how I imagine they
feel. I'm slightly divorced from some of the songs on the record".
He cites "This is a Lie" as an example. "That [song] proposes that
monogamy isn't actually the true natural course and it doesn't work," he
says. "But in fact, I don't believe that. I don't think there's an
absolute right or wrong, but for me personally, the opposite holds true.
I get much more from a one-on-one relationship that has a certain depth
than I do from picking and choosing what I take from other people and
giving in return what they want. I thought it would be interesting to
write from a different perspective, but I found it very difficult to
sing. There are two or three songs on the album that aren't necessarily
Maybe that's why the most difficult aspect of finishing "Wild Mood
Swings" was deciding which 14 songs to include. Because the Cure spent
18 months recording, the band wound up with a wealth of material-far more
than could fit on a single CD.
"We're constrained by the 74 1/2 minutes on the CD", says Smith. "There
were actually 25 songs to choose from. It was quite a fight, actually".
Smith's method of sorting out the possibilities was to put all the song
titles on cards, and pin them to a chart in the studio control room.
"It was like a football-league table", he explains. "The song titles
moved up and down depending on the day's mood. And there were some very
As a result, he says, "It kept being switched before I got up. I would
go down every morning, and they'd have stuck a whole new batch of teams
between No. 7 and 11, while my favorites had been pushed down".
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