Return of the Happy Man

The New Zealand Herald
May 24, 1996
Gary Morley

Some descriptions make no sense on paper. Take Robert Smith of The Cure. Mention him in the same sentence as "happy" and "content" and someone is likely to call the men in white coats.

Indeed, keen students of his lyrics may conclude the man has himself spent serious time in a sanitorium.

How then to react when the so-called Godfather of Goth calls with a cheery "Hi! I'm Robert Smith and I'm, er, in a band called The Cure"? And then he says all is wine and roses in the kingdom of the misplaced? This is the man who flirted with fragile punk-pop-for-losers in the late 70s, made raincoat rock de rigueur for early 80s existentialists and who's music was linked to a spate of Auckland teen suicides in the early 90s. But 1996 it is and four years and a few line-up changes after the platinum-selling Wish, Smith and The Cure are back with a rollicking boisterous album, Wild Mood Swings. Possibly the crispest Cure album ever, it is, much like Wish, a melange of familiar Smithisms held together by an unbelievably uplifting mood. And yet this album was very nearly a non-starter.

After 93's Show live video and albums, guitarist Porl Thompson joined the Jimmy Page/Robert Plant Sub Zeppelin roadshow; drummer Boris Williams left ("I'm not sure even he knows why") and long-time bassist/best friend Simon Gallup nearly went AWOL for a second time.

"Porl leaving was not a problem for recording because 90 per cent of Wish was me anyway,"says Smith. "I'd present him with something, and he'd play what he felt like. If I like it, it got used. If not then it didn't. He hated having to learn parts - although he'll do it for Page and Plant. And for a very short period Simon left as well. He thought it was him causing everyone else to leave."

But finding new blood wasn't easy: "Everyone that's been in the group has been in The Cure because of what they're like as a person. Music was not the primary reason. Obviously you've got to be able to play to a certain standard, but there's been very few individually brilliant musicians in The Cure."

So Smith auditioned new drummers. More than 100 skin bashers later, he selected seven to each spend a week with the band as they recorded at actor Jane Seymour's house. The lucky winner was "twentysomething" Jason Cooper, whose parents lived, curiously enough, in the same street as Williams. Roadie Perry Bamonte joined as full time guitarist, Disintegration-era keyboardist Roger O'Donnell returned and The Cure had, like our own Chills, pulled once more back from the brink. And like Martin Phillips, Smith is now frank about his position as figurehead.

"I've always felt like Dad from the word go. I'm trying to delegate a bit more with this line-up. When the group fell apart, I thought if I put it back together I could adopt new working methods, do things differently and no one will actually know, if we get new people in, what it was supposed to be like." Being in the band, that is.

So to the album, which, as the title suggests, is "incredibly varied," featuring guest musicians (a Cure first), two string quartets, a Mexican brass trio and an Indian violin section. Nine of the 14 songs were remixed by outside producers (including Adrian Sherwood's playful take on Strange Attraction) and the yearningly melancholic Smith larynx was given a belting throughout.

"I tried singing differently, adopting different voices. It's strange, yet extremely good, I may say. It's got it all over Wish [his favourite Cure album] but I thought I'd never say that. If it follows on from anything it's Kiss Me although it's much more complete. Kiss Me was a lot more scratching the surface. We messed about a lot. Mood Swings has a lot more depth. It was much more fun to make than any record, even the really sad stuff."

Lyrically, Smith has moved slightly away from the first-person perspective for which he's both loved and loathed: "Always in the past I've written from things I actually believe in. This time, in a few instances, I've taken an opposing point of view from someone else in the group rather than just have the last word and write a song about it. I think that makes it more interesting."

Next year The Cure will celebrate 20 years in the biz. Smith is obviously, not the same man who gloomed his way through the early 80s, took copious amounts of mind-expansion aids, cheered up a bit and whose press image is now a cuddly mix of Marvin the Paranoid Android (of Hitch Hiker's Guide fame) and a troll doll.

"I've changed in the last five years. I've become much simpler, I've made a conscious decision to enjoy things a bit more. I think a lot less about why I'm enjoying things, whether I should be or not. I just kind of do now." And The Cure's infamous recreational excesses have slowed somewhat. "We've all realised we're not immortal. We're currently playing tennis. That's our token fighting-off of whatever - the imminent decline. There's people around who haven't and they're basically frying themselves." But he's still a 37 year old man with smudged lipstick and a bird's nest hair do? "I am - and I'm not. I'm toying with the idea of shaving my hair again. I've done it three times in 10 years but it doesn't seem to make any difference. It wouldn't matter now if I had a number three cut and was wearing glasses and a brace. I think people would still equate my name and the group with that image. But there are worse kinds of things to live with."

Last Revised: Monday, 15-May-2006 15:00:08 CDT

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