A quarter century after The Cure helped bring about the post punk movement in England, facing a 2004 where so many modern rockers reflect at least a trace of the band’s influence, the Robert Smith-led unit is still in heavy makeup and confounding critics whose reviews are double edged. In its review of their new self titled release—and first album in four years—the L.A. Times says the music “threatens to disintegrate into irresistible but directionless brooding, leading to a few songs that powerfully go nowhere.” Then just as quickly, the song “Taking Off” “is the ascendant Cure that brightens the pop skies with a ringing chorus.”
A few months after appearing on The Tonight Show and being inducted into the Rock Walk of Fame in front of Hollywood’s Guitar Center—yes, they’re now also Rock and Roll Hall of Fame eligible—the quintet headlined their own summer Curiosa Festival, featuring several bands that could almost be considered progeny, including Interpol and the Rapture. Smith’s optimism shines through when he says, “I don’t think there’s anything that’s more important than music to me because there’s nothing else that makes me feel anything like that.”
While The Cure was traditionally best known their slow, gloomy dirges and Smith's ghoulish appearance, the public image often hid the rich diversity of the Cure's music. Where they once played edgy pop songs, they ultimately evolved into a more textured ensemble whose use of guitar and synth layers helped lay the foundations of goth rock. Ironically, by the time goth caught on in the mid-'80s, the Cure had moved away from the genre.
The rock world discovered The Cure in Crawley, Sussex in 1978 as a mix of psychedelic beat and post-punk tradition. Robert Smith, Laurence Tolhurst and bassist Michael Dempsey joined forces and recorded their debut single Killing An Arab (1979), which was followed by their album Three Imaginary Boys. Dempsey left after an early tour and was replaced by Simon Gallup; keyboard-player Mathieu Hartley also joined.
The quartet had a success in 1980 with their album 17 Seconds (UK number 20). Without Hartley, they published the album Faith (UK number 7) in 1981. They continued on their road to success with a mix of punk and pop in the mid-80s. 1985’s The Head On The Door hit #59 on the U.S. album charts and paved the way for The Cure's seduction of America, but it was the singles compilation Standing On A Beach, released in May 1986, which heralded the band’s emergence as Stateside superstars.
The U.S. media were fascinated with the Robert Smith enigma, bizarrely referring to him as "the male Kate Bush," and getting mightily upset when he lopped off his spidery locks for a close crop. By 1987, the line-up had expanded to take in keyboards player Roger O'Donnell, and their Ten Imaginary Years were catalogued and celebrated in book form. The Cure had sold eight million records in their decade of existence.
The follow-up, a double album called Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, was so popular that the band quickly graduated from smaller theatres to arenas and stadium tours. In 1992, the Cure's released its most homogeneous album, Wish, but a few years later the band was in turmoil, with a long running legal battle instigated by Tolhurst against Smith and Fiction Records, and drummer Boris Williams’ decision to exit the band. By spring 1995 things had settled down, with Jason Cooper becoming the official drummer, and Roger O'Donnell being welcomed back on keyboards. In 1996, The Cure released Wild Mood Swings, which was followed by a successful world tour and first ever performances on David Letterman, SNL and Conan O’Brien.
In January of '97, Smith was one of the artists personally invited to perform with David Bowie (along with Lou Reed, Frank Black, Foo Fighters and Billy Corgan) at the legendary rocker's pay-per-view 50th Birthday bash at Madison Square Garden. Smith dueted with Bowie on a memorable acoustic version of the '70s classic "Quicksand." Summer of '97 brought The Cure back to America for a headlining appearance at perhaps the most important US radio festival, The KROQ Weenie Roast in Los Angeles, where they were top of the bill over such hitmakers as Oasis, Blur, Foo Fighters and Offspring.