End-of-the-Cure fatalism is a long, rich tradition, and the 38-year-old Smith is given to making his musings public.
Not at the end of last year's tour, however.
"First time I didn't think that," says Smith, with a laugh at his own expense.
Smith is the black-clad, ruby-red-lipped guy at the core of the 18-year-old Cure, it's singer-songwriter, guitarist, it's Face. The man whose band, along with Joy Division, helped guide early English post-punk music toward atmospheric mood pieces, toward a fertile ground of despair and futility. Last year, he found himself having, well, fun.
"Last year's tour of America was the most fun I've ever had on a tour," Smith says. "I don't think we could do it again, because it was very cavalier, a this-it-it-sort of attitude."
Maybe they couldn't do it quite that way again, but at least the unit is in working order. The band - bassist Simon Gallup, keyboardist Roger O'Donnell, guitarist Perry Bamonte, and new drummer Jason Cooper - is more that halfway through making an as-yet-untitled new album. They hope to release it by June. After the World Cup Championship (June 1-July 12) - Smith's a rabid soccer fan and the English are favorites - they'll begin a major tour.
As it is, the Cure is winding up a week of rehearsals in its London studio, readying for a quick return to the United States for nine radio station-sponsored Christmas events.
The album the band is supporting, "Galore," is another compilation, the group's third collection of singles. How do you support a hit package? By playing the hits: 12 from "Galore," eight from the previous best-of, 1986's "Standing on a Beach."
"I think it was a concept concert," says Smith, of this give-the-people-what-they-want gambit. "It's a chance for us to go out and play our old stuff, without worrying what people think, or whether it will sell records. It's just something to enjoy."
Enjoy. Ponder that little word for a moment. Do you find it odd when used in the context of a man who wrote a song called "Funeral Party" and began another with "It doesn't matter if we all die"? The proto-Goth Cure has always appealed to, as Details put it, "those picked last for basketball. The Beatles meet Sylvia Plath."
Lipstick and eyeliner
Smith had a chance to look back at what he's created and his public image when he viewed Mike Leigh's film, "Career Girls," released last summer. It's about two women who reunite six years after college and still deeply connect with each other through the Cure. Six Cure songs are featured.
In the film, says Smith, he's seen as "this iconic figure who doesn't change. There's a part of the film when they see a poster (promoting the song) 'The 13th' and one of them says, 'Is he still doing that?'" ("That" woule be the jet black, fright-wig hairstyle, the lipstick and eyeliner. An effeminate, bruised look on a guy built like a linebacker.)
"Like I'm an unchanging man in a changing world," Smith muses about the movie. "It was very weird, because it was wrapped up in what I represented at the time, which was a kind of disaffected youth, and I was perceived as being the same now. It's weird, because I know I'm not. I realize it's there, but to see it up there on the screen, to have it driven home like that. I've never really felt like that, even when I was 17 or 27."
But Smith understands the process, the identification.
"People empathize with you as a singer and you can communicate certain emotions," he says. "People think I'm singing to them, and they think I feel that way too."
Sometimes he does, maybe, but not all of what Smith pens should be heard as absolute truth. He claims poetic license - "I tend to embellish." He likes to party; he likes his pints.
Still, Smith admits, as a fan, he's fallen into the same trap as many of his fans do. Recently, too. He met David Bowie and sang "Quicksand" with him at Madison Square Garden in January for the Bowie tribute show. Meeting Bowie offstage, Smith says, "changed my impression of what he was like as a person. I still had an idea of what I wanted him to be like, but I found him to be different and probably not how I imagined him to be. I thought he'd be very cold, aloof, distant and clever. But he's very genuine."
Actually, Smith has done a pretty good job of countering the mope image by crafting upbeat songs like "Friday I'm in Love," "Hot! Hot! Hot!," and "Just Like Heaven." "Galore" emphasizes this side of the Cure.
"Sometimes, I've got no control over it," Smith says of his creative muse and the contrasts contained within his music. "Sometimes I would prefer it to be heavier. ... But I've never done anything with the group that I don't want to do at that time. So, if we want to do a song like 'Friday' we just do it and don't worry about the consequences to our future career or credibility."
The Cure recorded one new song, "Wrong Number," for "Galore," and it features Boston-based guitarist and Bowie gunslinger Reeves Gabrels. They met at the Bowie tribute, quaffed beers, hit it off, and Gabrels joined the Cure in London during a tour break to lay down this track and two others likely to appear on the upcoming album. "Wrong Number" has a hard edge and a techno beat, "a marriage of rock and dance," says Smith.
"It's something to do with the makeup of the group as it is at the moment, particularly with Jason on drums. He's still in his 20s and doesn't have the hangups (of some older drummers). A different generation feels kind of threatened by machinery."
'Taking fewer prisoners'
The Cure, observes Smith, is the kind of band that wanders in and out of the mainstream's gaze.
"I think that we've sort of bridged a gap," he says. "We've been outside. We've been very commercial, whatever that means. I like the idea of moving between. More often than not, we're way outside, which has an upside and a downside. It allows us not to worry about being fashionable, being in, being hip because we rarely are."
"The downside part of it is that whenever we do tap into something that is contemporary, we get critics who think, 'Oh, they're trying to get into the techno-rock hybrid,' quite conveniently forgetting the stuff on the "Mixed Up" album, which is in the same vein, and all the remixes we've been doing back to 1982."
The Cure's upcoming album will be the last for the labels it is currently signed to worldwide (Elektra in the United States). As the Cure remains a hot commodity, Smith expects that its current labels will be going all out to impress the band and make this disc a hit.
"Normally," he says, laughing, "we just sort of chuck it out there and hope for the best. I think they're going to try hard and impress us."
Will the Cure be impressing their fans? Some of them. But they may not thoroughly captivate the slice of fandom that's buying "Galore." Smith is viewing the upcoming album like "my invented trilogy, to follow up from (1989's) 'Disintegration,'" which was a semi-continuation of the dense, dark sound of 1982's "Pornography."
"The writing is heavier than what I've been writing over the past five years," Smith says. "Not gloomier. Just a bit more powerful. Just taking fewer prisoners."
Just another chapter in the Cure's book of wild mood swings.