Disintegration is a title...

Largo, MD
by J.D. Considine

As he sat in his hotel room on a sunny afternoon in eary May, Robert Smith was looking at nothing but beginnings.

It wasn't just that the first blossomings of spring were in the air: Smith and his band, the Cure, were just about to embark on a tour that would take them across Europe and then America. (The Cure will be at the Capital Centre Tuesday). Moreover, the group's new album, "Disintegration", had just arrived in record stores, and there were two new singles - "Lullaby" in Britain, "Fascination Street" in America-to track on the charts.

And yet Smith was thinking about the end-- not of the tour, but of the Cure itself.

Some of that, he admitted, was a function of the new album's title, which seems to suggest that the Cure is on the verge of falling apart. That isn't the case, Smith insisted: "it's a very good reason NOT to call it 'Disintegration'. I was aware of those sorts of things when I went to title the album 'Disintegration'. I was aware that it might put some people off, who might think, 'Oh, this is the last record.'

"But then, I always think it's the last record," he added with a smile, " so I don't see why everyone else shouldn't get that feeling."

Coming after the successful "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me," which sold half a million copies in the United States alone and finally put the Cure into the American Top 40, such pessimism is unseemly. Most musicians, in fact, would be eager to keep that momentum going.

Yet Smith, his smile a faded lipstick smear across the deathly pale of his face, seems genuinely uninterested in commercial success. "I would love the idea of the Cure having a No. 1 single in England after all this time, " he said.

"But I wouldn't do anything to help it," he added with a laugh. "If if doesn't happen, it's tough."

Naturally, such single-mindedness only endears him to his fans. Besides, his fatalism regarding the Cure's future may be more a matter of habit than intention. "Every time we come out of the studio, I think 'That's it,'" he said. "After 'Kiss Me,' for at least eight months I didn't think we'd make another record or play any more concerts. I was convinced of that.

"Then, when I'm out with the others, it just sort of falls back into place again, and we start doing things."

It has been that way since the beginning, he added, "ever since 'Seventeen Seconds' [the Cure's second album]. It's just that I think if you have any kind of feeling that the group is going to carry on regardless, it introduces complacency."

Needless to say, the Cure has carried on, producing a dozen albums since 1978 despite Smith's ongoing insistence that the end is near. "Each time I say it, I feel stronger that it's probably true", he said. "But then, I said that the last time, so they've started to disbelieve me.

"I blew my trump card too early, I think."

Yet given the gloomy nature of the band's new album, it's tempting to take Smith seriously this time. With songs about loss ("Pictures of You"), romantic estrangement ("Plainsong") and dangerous intimacy ("Lullaby"), "Disintegration" is the darkest Cure album since 1982's mega-depressing "Pornography".

Naturally, some of that derives from the band's sound, instrumentally, the band's somber sound stems in part from the fact that both Smith and guitarist Porl Thompson often use a six-string bass in place of guitar on many songs, adding a dark, plangent tone to the proceedings, and in part from the way keyboardist Roger O'Donnnell's heavy, semi-orchestral synths rumble through the echo-laden studio.

The result is music as minimal as it is monolithic, and quite a contrast to Smith's wobbly, tremulous voice. Granted, Smith never intended to be the band's singer. "When we started, " he said, "I wasn't the singer. I was the drunk rhythm guitarist who wrote all these weird songs."

Unfortunately, none of the designated singers were any good at the job. "I always ended up thinking, 'I could do better than this,'" Smith recalled. "So gradually, I started singing. [First] one song, and then it was two songs, until I reached the point where...I mean, I hated my voice, but I didn't hate it more than I hated everyone else's voice."

It helped, of course, that Smith's voice seems so at home in his songs. "I think the weirdest thing about the way I sing is that most of the time it's like how I talk, sort of stuttery."

And that adds an extra measure of poignancy to Smith's lyrics, which manage in few words to convey a world of introspection, doubt and emotional anxiety. In his youth, Smith contemplated a career in writing, and though he now shrugs away the idea with a typically modest, "I'm not good enough," his lyrics have the ability to vividly express personal emotions without getting bogged down in the specifics of someone else's life.

"There are two reasons for doing that," he explained. "One is the obvious reason, that I want [the songs] to appeal to people on a level where they think, 'This is me, this could be me.' Because it's a good feeling when you hear a song and think, 'Wow, that's exactly how I feel.'

"If I name names, people won't think 'That's me.' They'll think, 'That's Robert Smith singing,' And I don't like that. Who am I to sit and moan and wail? I don't think what I'm feeling is particularly special.

"The other reason is that I find it very difficult to write specifically," he continued. "I actually have started out with something that's happened, and I end up taking all the names out of it and trying to get to the essence of what's actually upset me. I often find that it isn't because it's me and someone else, or because I was somewhere and something happened; it actually goes much, much deeper than that."

It also opens a certain amount of communication between the band and its following. "One of the really good things about being in a group is that you attract a lot of people who do other things and sort of give us things. It might be poetry they've written...a lot of people who paint have given me things that they've painted. It's just an expression of their trying to give me something back.

"And that's how I feel about what I do. It's not separate, it's just there. It's part of everything that's going on."

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