Doing the Unstuck
A fan's recollection of 40+ years of The Cure
In Crawley, West Sussex, in 1973, a band that would eventually morph into the Cure as we know them today got together for the first time. That band was called The Obelisk, and it never got around to doing much or releasing any recordings. In this band were the three primary elements of The Cure towards the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s: Robert Smith (guitar, vocals), Michael Dempsey (guitar at first, then bass guitar) and Laurence "Lol" Tolhurst (drums). Also in that band were Marc Ceccagno (guitar) and Alan Hill (bass guitar). With this lineup in place by 1976, the band renamed itself Malice, which was short-lived owing to the departures of Ceccagno and Hill, lead Smith, Dempsey and Tolhurst to continue as a three-piece called Easy Cure. Guitarist Porl Thompson was added so Smith could concentrate on vocals, though he also played secondary guitar to Thompson's lead. That was 1977, and by the end of that year, Easy Cure had a record contract with Hansa Records, though they never issued a single recording through that label. From there they were discovered by a talent scout at a gig, which lead to a new recording contract with Fiction Records, a subsidiary of Polydor. Through Fiction, Easy Cure released their debut single, the still-controversial "Killing An Arab", in late 1978 (based on the book The Stranger by Albert Camus).
Around this time, Dempsey was fired from the band due to creative differences with Smith regarding the bass parts of some new songs. He was replaced by Simon Gallup, who would go on to become the second-longest serving member of the band, behind only Smith, the sole constant.
Now renamed The Cure, the band released their first album, Three Imaginary Boys, in 1979. The early 1980s were a prolific period for the band, releasing a new album every year from 1980 to 1985. After work on the first of those albums, Seventeen Seconds, was finished, the band went on tour as the opening act for Siouxsie and the Banshees. Mid-tour, Banshees guitarist John McKay abruptly quit; Robert filled the void opened by McKay by playing guitar with the Banshees. The Cure would play their opening set, and then Smith would join the Banshees on stage for the rest of the tour. This eventually lead to the formation of The Glove, a collaboration between Smith, Steven Severin from the Banshees, future Cure drummer Andy Anderson and an obscure singer called Jeanette Landray. The Glove released one album, the LSD-infused Blue Sunshine, in 1983.
In 1980, Matthieu Hartley was brought on board to play keyboards, just as the band began its first world tour. Hartley left the band shortly after the tour was over, though he and Robert maintained their friendship for years after.
In 1981, Smith adopted his trademark big hair look and started wearing makeup to accentuate his features under stage lighting, and the rest of the band followed suit. The period of 1981 through 1983 is considered by some to be the band's "goth phase", not solely because of the band's appearance, but largely due to the music they made during that time: the groundbreaking Faith in 1981 and the exquisite Pornography in 1982. These albums were followed up by the more pop-accessible works Japanese Whispers in 1983 and The Top, with Porl Thompson returning and Simon Gallup leaving, in 1984, for a spot in the band Fools Dance. He was replaced by the band's studio producer, Phil Thornalley, who Gallup replaced upon his return in early 1985. In 1986, a singles compilation album, Staring at the Sea - The Singles, was released to great acclaim.
Regarding the "goth phase" mentioned above, I consider it bunk. It wasn't a phase, as such. The Cure have been regarded as goth for most of their existence. The only real exceptions were at the start of their career in the seventies, and with the release of Wild Mood Swings in 1996, which is about as goth as a donkey (viz., not at all).
During all of this, Lol Tolhurst gradually seemed to lose his ability to play any instrument at all. He'd handed off the drum kit to Andy Anderson in 1983 in order to move to keyboards, and from there, not much else. He just kind of hung around, according to Smith. Eventually he barely contributioned to anything after 1986. Boris Williams was brought in to replace Anderson as the drummer and Roger O'Donnell (also a member of the Psychedelic Furs at the time) to handle the keyboards, and though Tolhurst didn't actually play any instruments anymore, he still appeared in various music videos, playing unlikely instruments that are barely heard in the songs (and in some cases not heard at all), e.g. "Catch" (a violin), "Hot Hot Hot" (a trumpet), "Lullaby" (a tuba), etc. According to Smith, during much of the recording of the follow-up to The Head on the Door, 1987's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, the only times Tolhurst would show up at the studio were to collect his royalties cheques. He didn't contribute a single note to the band's magnum opus, Disintegration, released in 1989. By then, Smith had had enough and showed him the door.
The Cure spent most of the 1980s either on tour or in the studio. Smith, known for his depression, made the first of many threats to the music media to break up the band after Tolhurst had been fired and Disintegration and its support tour had finished. Nevertheless, they kept chugging on, releasing Wish in 1992 and embarking on a world tour to promote it. (The live album Show consists of the recording of one of the concerts.) On Wish in particular, the lyrics for some songs ("Open", "Cut", "To Wish Impossible Things" and "End") hinted strongly that Wish was to be the Cure's final album. Despite these things, particularly the aptly-titled song "End" ("please stop loving me / I am none of these things") put a fine point on Smith's persistent wishy-washy attitude about continuing as a band or splitting up.
After the world tour ended in 1993, the band went on a well-deserved two-year hiatus, during which they produced only two songs, both for movie soundtracks ("Burn" for The Crow (1994) and "Dredd Song" for Judge Dredd (1995)).
Come 1996, after a four-year wait, a new album appeared: Wild Mood Swings. It received a mixed reaction from fans and critics alike, most likely because it didn't sound much like any of their previous albums. It contained a number of, well, happy-sounding songs like "The 13th" and "Mint Car". It did retain some of the gloom of the past on a couple of tracks, particularly the last two on the album: "Treasure" and "Bare". There were also a number of non-album tracks recorded to be used as b-sides on the album's single releases. These songs (which can be found on disc 3 of the "Join the Dots" boxed set, see below) are, IMO, much better than many of the songs that made the album. Had they been used instead of the aforementioned goofy songs, the album as a whole would've had a much darker, more Cure-ish feel. I suspect they weren't used on the album because it is, after all, entitled Wild Mood Swings.
By 1997, Smith had ceased his "stay together/split up" mindset and decided to keep going. In that year, another singles compilation, Galore, picked up where Staring at the Sea left off: all the singles from 1987 through 1997 plus a new song, "Wrong Number".
After another hiatus (four years this time), the album Bloodflowers was released in early 2000. It was intended to be the final (and, IMO, weakest) piece of a triolgy of sorts, with the first two parts being 1982's Pornography and 1989's Disintegration. Bloodflowers' lead single, "Maybe Someday", received moderate airplay on commercial radio, but many (myself included) thought it mediocre. Many of the songs deal with growing old, which clearly is something Smith wasn't looking forward to. The song "39", written in 1998 when he was 39 years old, is something of a eulogy for his wild youth, now lost. Since then, however, the band has been on a decade-long creative spree, putting out two new albums (2004's self-titled The Cure and 2008's 4:13 Dream) as well as two boxed sets: Join The Dots: B-Sides & Rarities 1978>2001: The Fiction Years, a four disc compilation of just about every b-side, cover song and film soundtrack ("I'm A Cult Hero" and "Carnage Visors") and Fade Away: The Early Years Vinyl Box Set in 2009, which contains seven vinyl LPs.
In 2005, Smith removed O'Donnell and Perry Bamonte (guitars, keyboards) from the band and brought Porl Thompson back in to fill both O'Donnell's and Bamonte's roles. The Cure then became a four-piece band, at least until 2011 when some more changes were made. Porl Thompson left again and was replaced by Reeves Gabrels. Roger O'Donnell returned for a second time after having been sacked in 2005. Lol Tolhurst briefly returned to play keyboards for a few shows—apropos of nothing—then departed again just as quickly. He was brought back, evidently after mending some fences with Robert, to play keyboards for the Faith portions of nine "Reflections" shows, which involved performing all of the songs from Three Imaginary Boys, Seventeen Seconds and Faith in the order they appear on those albums, similar to how 2003's "Trilogy" shows went down.
The Cure now maintains a fairly steady music festival tour each year and with one-off gigs in various countries now and then as well. Their recent output receives regular radio play (not that radio play is in any way a measure of success anymore...) and has attracted a number of other artists who want to remix various songs. These songs end up as B-sides on single releases. When Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, the preeminent emo band, wants to remix "Perfect Boy" from 4:13 Dream, you know you're as popular as can be, since Wentz is such a media celebrity/whore and the darling of the awful awful emo subculture. Still, the new stuff is actually quite good. It's definitely up to Cure standards.
The Cure is one of the most influential bands in the post-punk and goth genres of music, and although they made their best stuff in the early 1980s, during the height of the new wave movement, they never sounded cheesy or dated like a lot of their peers ended up. They did what they wanted, to the benefit of almost anyone who is able to appraise and appreciate good music. They've been doing this for 40 years.
Band members, current and former
As of 2020:
- Andy Anderson (drums; 1983-1984)
- Perry Bamonte (guitars, six-string bass, keyboards; 1990-2005)
- Marc Ceccagno (guitars; 1973-1976)
- Martin Creasy (vocals; 1976)
- Michael Dempsey (bass guitar, vocals; 1976-1979)
- "Gary X" (vocals; actual name not recorded; 1977)
- "Graham" (drums; actual name not recorded; 1976)
- "Graham's brother" (vocals; actual name not recorded; 1976)
- Matthieu Hartley (keyboards; 1979-1980)
- Alan Hill (bass guitar; 1973-1976)
- Peter O'Toole (vocals; 1977)
- Porl Thompson (guitars, keyboards, saxophone; 1976–1978, 1984–1992, 2005–2010)
- Phil Thornalley (bass guitar; 1983-1984)
- Laurence "Lol" Tolhurst (drums, keyboards, "being inept"; 1976-1989, 2011)
- Boris Williams (drums; 1984-1994)
Album discography (singles, live albums and EPs not included)
* denotes that a deluxe edition of that album has been released. Deluxe editions contain the album itself, remastered, and a second disc full of alternate mixes, demos, outtakes (some with alternate lyrics) and previously unreleased songs that weren't included in the Join the Dots boxed set.
The deluxe edition of Disintegration, curiously released in 2010, four years after all the other deluxe editions had been released, has three discs; the third is an expanded version of the out of print 1990 live EP Entreat.
The Glove's Blue Sunshine has also been released as a deluxe edition. Due to contract stipulations at the time, Smith could sing on just two tracks on the original release. The deluxe disc, however, contains release-quality studio demos of Smith singing on all songs, which gives the album a completely different (and IMO superior) feel from the album released with Jeanette Landray's vocals.
Mostly my own memory (The Cure is my favorite band ever)
Wikipedia - The Cure
Discogs.com - The Cure
the cure: stiff as toys and tall as men (somewhat obsolete now, but it kept me well-informed in the mid/late 1990s)
I've seen this band live once: Detroit, 1997