Jumping Someone Else’s Fame
The Rebirth of the Cure Arrives Nearly 20 Years After Its Creative Peak
Even your average multilimbed Hindu deity doesn’t have enough fingers to count the number of times singer-guitarist Robert Smith has threatened to disband the Cure over the past 27 years. In fact, so often has the lipsticked boy cried wolf about hanging it up that fans repeatedly devastated by those proclamations actually started welcoming them, as it pretty much guaranteed that another album from the iconic British outfit would turn up eventually.
As 2003 melted into ’04, though, the Cure’s future was looking rather dire. The dreaded four-CD box set, Join the Dots: B-Sides and Rarities 1978-2001, appeared in January; its contents are terrific, but the collection’s very existence signals a band resigned to living off past glories. It came on the heels of 2003’s Trilogy DVD, which documented a 2002 one-off Berlin performance of 1982’s Pornography, 1989’s Disintegration, and its last album, 2000’s way-undervalued Bloodflowers, in their gloriously gloomy entirety, a career-capping move if ever there was one.
Plus, there was Smith’s Pharrell moves via recent collaborations with everyone from Tweaker, Junkie XL, and Junior Jack to David Bowie guitarist Reeves Gabrels and, most famously, Blink-182 (Blink-182?!!?). Was he moving on, finally making good on all of those threats? Sure, word came down in the spring that the Cure was working on a new album, but the kicker was that it was being produced by Ross Robinson, the nü-metal producer known for his work with Limp Bizkit and Slipknot. On paper, it had all the makings of a desperate, certain-to-fail exercise in resuscitating the Cure’s commercial appeal, on the wane since the early ’90s.
And then, Coachella. Though most of the advance buzz surrounding the two-day Southern California festival in May was reunited Pixies noise, all anyone could talk about afterward was the splendor of the Cure’s fest-closing set, packed with career-spanning hits both dark and poppy and a handful of promising new songs, too. And then, The Cure: The band’s self-titled 13th album arrived in June to overwhelmingly positive reviews, and it deserves every single one. It’s fucking brilliant, it’s got all the hallmarks of classic Cure music: the ecstatic yelps, the lovelorn lyrics, the atmospheric guitars and keys, the stately rhythms, the alternately dark and buoyant melodies. It’s the most vital and intense recording the group has turned out in 15 years. And now, with healthy album sales, as well as critics and fans singing its praises once again and pointing out just how many up-and-coming bands the Cure has clearly influenced—the Rapture, Hot Hot Heat, stellastarr*, et al.—the Cure is enjoying the comeback of the year.
Absurdly, this comeback was kick-started by what the band felt was a disappointing Coachella showing. “In fact, there was a lot of arguing among the band afterwards because we felt like we played very, very badly, actually,” Gallup says. “And sure enough, a show we thought was rubbish was given rave reviews in the U.K. press. But we could have played a blinder of a show four years ago and they would have said, ‘Oh, the Cure is too old and tired, they’re just regurgitating the same old goth crap.’ I’m not sure how it works, but I think that because we won’t give up and go away, a lot of critics figured they’d better come over to our side.”
The Cure’s current U.S. trek, its first in four years, is itself a mini-festival of sorts. Dubbed “Curiosa,” the quintet—Smith, Gallup, guitarist Perry Bamonte, keyboardist Roger O’Donnell, and drummer Jason Cooper (a lineup that’s been intact for a decade now)—handpicked bands, many of which are the Cure’s obvious progeny, to grace two stages. The Merriweather Post Pavilion stop includes Interpol, Muse, the aforementioned Rapture, Mogwai, Melissa Auf der Mar, Cooper Temple Clause, and Head Automatica.
“We just wanted to go out and not do a normal rock tour, and having other bands makes it more of an event,” Gallup says. “More now than ever, a good percentage of us in the group don’t really like leaving home, so we’re focused on playing great shows and keeping things interesting in order to make it all worthwhile. I know all the music from these bands but I don’t know a single one of them personally, so it will be a lot of fun just getting to know everyone.”
Which, he notes with a chuckle, wasn’t particularly easy during the first few dates of the tour, as most of the artists were fairly timid about approaching the members of the Cure. But surely, turning bashful in the presence of their biggest musical heroes is perfectly understandable, isn’t it?
“Well, I don’t really look at it quite that way,” Gallup says. “I just see us as another band on tour with the other bands. We’re not the wise old sages or anything like that, we’re sort of like the nervous limeys. We don’t go around thinking there’s any kind of aura around us or anything like that, mostly because we live these really insular lives. We never see ourselves as anything other than five very dodgy blokes getting away with things. And it’s not false modesty. I can honestly say that. We’re just sort of . . . we stumble through things. To be honest with you, every night I see all the other bands, all these great musicians, and then when I’m up there I look down at my bass and the minimalist stuff I’m playing and think, I’m just getting away with murder here.”
And then, a shuffling sound over the phone as Gallup begins laughing. “In fact, and I swear I’m not lying to you, in my bag right now I have a book for beginning bass players called You Can Do It . . . Play Bass Dammit!. It’s great—it’s got all these different bass lines to practice. You can even learn to play Latin rock at the end, so maybe one day when this is all over I’ll be joining Enrique Iglesias’s band.”
He’s joking, of course. The Cure will never break up. Right?
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