The Cure is a critically acclaimed British rock band with an uncompromising message of despair, frustration, and futility. Called “the masters of mope rock,” members of the Cure have attracted an international cult following for their post-punk, angst-ridden music; after years as an “underground sensation,” a 1989 tour saw the group playing its first stadium venues in America. The band is led by Robert Smith, a songwriter-singer who uses music to exorcise his personal existential demons. Rolling Stone contributor Michael Azerrad describes the enigmatic Smith as “a virtual messiah of melancholy, a guru of gloom…. Though Smith can write a catchy tune when he wants to, the Cure makes unlikely stadium pop—the sound relies on subtle seduction and the lyrics are profoundly self-absorbed.”
Indeed, Cure albums offer few chances to tap toes or clap to the beat. The music is challenging, and it demands sober consideration, especially from live audiences. “If self-indulgence is one of the chief themes,” writes Mark Peel in Stereo Review, “it is also one of its virtues. After all, ideas are what Smith is indulging in. … They may be disturbing, even distasteful ideas, but their savage eloquence makes … an intense and unforgettable listening experience.” Azerrad suggests that the Cure “makes music that is therapeutic, a musical catharsis for Smith, the band and its fans.”
The Cure established a presence in America in 1986, with the album Standing on a Beach. By that time Smith and his partners had been making music for more than ten years. A working-class youth who grew up in the dismal suburb of Crawley, Sussex, Smith found himself constantly at odds with his surroundings. Before he gravitated to music he suffered through difficulties with schoolteachers and with the law. “I find authority very difficult to deal with,” he told Seventeen magazine. “I couldn’t accept having to be responsible to someone, having to explain my actions.” At fifteen Smith formed his first band, with friends Laurence Tolhurst and Brian Dempsey. They called themselves the Cure, Smith said, because “there was a lot of negativity around at the time: the no-future brigade. Rather than just give in to it, we thought it better to try and change things—first music and then everything around us. We were an alternative. That’s always been my attitude, to be seen as apart from the mainstream.”
Rather than borrowing from the punk movement, then, the Cure was in it from the start. Smith loved the freedom that punk music offered, both lyrically and melodically. Between its 1978 debut album and the subsequent issues Boys Don’t Cry, Seventeen Seconds, and Faith, the Cure “went from being a sprightly pop band to being downbeat moodists, with songs such as The Funeral Party’ and The Drowning Man’ exuding a dark radiance,” to quote Azerrad. The band members also cultivated a punk look, with stiffly coiffed haircuts, red lipstick, and black clothing. Smith’s intense morbidity reached a nadir with the album Pornography, a work that mentions death in almost every song. “Everything I do has the tinge of the finite, of my own demise,” Smith told Rolling Stone. “At some point you either accept death or you just keep pushing it back as you get older and older. I’ve accepted it.”
The Cure’s membership has changed little over the years. Dempsey left the group in the early 1980s, and Boris Williams, Pori Thompson, Roger O’Donnell, and Simon Gallup joined. Occasionally one or another member will take a sabbatical, and Smith often threatens to disband the group—largely to fight complacency. O’Donnell told Rolling Stone: “Robert likes to [talk about breaking up], he likes to keep us nervous. But of all people, I think Robert doesn’t like change. Then again, he doesn’t like things to be settled, either—it’s a very difficult contradiction.”
The Cure was quite well established in Europe by 1986, when Standing on a Beach was released in America. Actually a compilation of proven singles, Standing on a Beach became a favorite of campus radio stations. That work was followed by a more mainstream album, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, which catapulted the Cure
Original members included Robert Smith (vocals, songwriting), born April 21, 1959, in England; Laurence Tolhurst (keyboards), and Michael Dempsey (bass). Other members include Simon Gallup (drums, bass), Pori Thompson (keyboards, guitar), Boris Williams (drums), and Roger O’Donnell (keyboards).
Band formed, 1976, in Crawley, Sussex, England. Signed with Fiction Records, 1978, recorded first album in Great Britain, 1978. Released first album in America, Boys Don’t Cry, 1980; toured America in 1987 and 1989.
Addresses: Record company —Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
into not-particularly-desired notoriety. Although the songs on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me are more catchy, they do not suggest any thematic compromise. Peel calls the work “bold, self-indulgent, outrageous, and unsettling—sure signs of a rock visionary at work.”
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was the Cure’s first best-selling album in America. It eventually sold two million copies worldwide and stayed on the Billboard Top One Hundred charts for over a year. The album Disintegration, released in 1989, did even better, placing two songs, “Fascination Street” and “Love Song,” on the Top Forty charts. Despite this success (or perhaps because of it), Smith has threatened once again to leave the Cure. “It was never our intention to become big at this,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The whole point was to enjoy what we were doing at the time. Most bands that reach our position have a retinue of people trying to keep them propped up so that the money keeps rolling in. We don’t have that.”
According to Azerrad, the Cure’s albums “have always been suffused with what can only be termed the Dread— an all-encompassing sense of futility.” Harsh, mocking, and energetic, the music of the Cure is intended to make listeners uncomfortable, to make them question any complacent acceptance of happiness, morality, or hope. Smith says that he hopes his work proves that one can descend to the depths and come back again, “that something can come out of nothing.” He told Rolling Stone: “Knowing that everything’s futile but still fighting, still raging against the dying of the light— that’s what motivates me all the time.”
Boys Don’t Cry, 1980.
Seventeen Seconds, c. 1981.
Faith, c 1983.
Pornography, c. 1984.
The Top, 1984.
Head on the Door, Elektra, 1985.
Standing on a Beach: The Singles, Elektra, 1986.
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Elektra, 1987.
Disintegration, Elektra, 1989.
Philadelphia Inquirer, August 22, 1989.
Rolling Stone, July 17–31, 1986; June 4, 1987; September 7, 1989.
Seventeen, April, 1987.
Stereo Review, October, 1987.
—Anne Janette Johnson
New Wave Goth band
The late seventies punk movement gave birth to an array of British bands whose music changed the face and form of rock. Like the Sex Pistols and U2, it seemed unthinkable during those spirited times that the Cure would endure into the late 1990s. Led by the uniquely styled and endlessly imitated Robert Smith, the phenomenally successful act has moved from punk to pop through ten studio releases, yet still manages to retain a distinct sound. Along the way, the Cure’s fan scene has become a semi-cult onto itself, with legions of teenagers in both North America and Europe copying Smith’s crimson mouth and souffle-like, jet-black coif.
The Cure formed around the nucleus of Smith and two friends from his early years. Smith grew up outside London in a town called Crawley and had known Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst since childhood. As a teenager, Smith befriended Crawley’s only other punk rocker, Simon Gallup, and the two often went in to London to catch live acts in the city’s thriving punk scene. “The bands were so awful I really did think ‘lf they’re doing
Members include Michael Dempsey (founding member, left band, 1979; reappeared on the 1986 “Boys Don’t Cry” video), bass; Simon Gallup (founding member), guitar; Roger O’Donnell (joined band, 1987; left band, 1990; rejoined band, ca 1993), keyboards; Robert Smith (founding member), guitar, lead vocals; Perry Bamonte (joined band, 1991), keyboards, 1991–93, guitar, ca 1993-; Jason Cooper (joined band, ca 1992), drums; Laurence Tolhurst (founding member, left band, 1989), drums, keyboards. Former band members include Matthieu Hartley (joined band, 1979; left band, 1980) keyboards; Andy Anderson (joined band to replace Tolhurst on drums, early 1980s; left band, 1984), drums; Vince Ely (joined band for fall 1984 tour only), drums; Porl Thompson (founding member of the Easy Cure, 1977; rejoined band, 1983; left band, 1993), guitar; Phil Thornalley (joined band, 1983; left band, 1985), bass; Boris Williams (joined band, 1984; left band, 1992), drums;
Smith, Gallup, and Tolhurst founded the Easy Cure in 1977; Anderson had played in a band called Brilliant with Youth from Killing Joke; Ely was a member of the Psychedelic Furs; Williams once played with the Thompson Twins; O’Donnell played with both the Psychedelic Furs and the Thompson Twins; Bamonte was a former crew member for Cure tours.
it, I can do it,’” recalled Smith in a Melody Maker interview with Simon Reynolds. He and Gallup formed a band they called the Easy Cure in 1977; its two other founding members were Tolhurst and Michael Dempsey. Still in school, the band talked their way into their first live performance by telling school authorities they were a jazz-fusion act, which they most certainly were not. “Everyone hated us and walked out,” Smith recalled about that night in Melody Maker. Despite the initial aversion, they built up a fan base by playing in bars and clubs in and around London, and were eventually signed to Fiction Records, an offshoot of Polydor.
Now calling themselves simply The Cure, the band made their recording debut in the United Kingdom with 1979’s Three Imaginary Boys; it was retitled in a slightly reworked form as Boys Don’t Cry for its 1980 American debut; for its Stateside releases, the band would issue some of their early work on A&M, then move to Sire, and finally land on Elektra. “Wire-derived power pop” is how Rob Sheffield described the Cure’s sound during this era in the Spin Alternative Record Guide. It was followed by a series of early eighties recordings that delved deeper into moodiness and near-minimalist sound at moments. According to Alternative Press’s Dave Thompson, Faith, released in 1981, remains “the perfect Cure album.” He termed it “a cathedral of dark sound.” It appealed to disillusioned teenagers on both continents, and is considered at least somewhat responsible for launching the goth movement. Pornography, appearing the following year, is “the sound of a band tearing itself to pieces and taking everybody with them,” according to Thompson, while Rolling Stone writer Michael Azerrad remembered it as “a monumentally depressing album that mentioned death in almost every song.”
Such doom reversed itself with the single “Let’s Go to Bed” in late 1982. It would become their breakthrough hit in the United States, winning over new legions of less depression-prone fans with its quirky, detached lyrics and upbeat hooks. Oddly, the track was only done as a joke by Smith and Tolhurst, who were trying to make a “disco” record. By 1983, Smith had become a rather semi-permanent member of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and would guest as a guitar player with the seminal British punk band—who also eventually took on a more pop persona—on several albums intermittently over the next dozen years. With 1984’s The Top, the bridge between depressing post-punk and breezy eighties pop was somewhat unsuccessfully spanned—it took a beating in the British press and was virtually ignored in America, though “The Caterpillar” did receive airplay on fledgling modern rock stations. Rolling Stone’s Azerrad noted that The Top —completed during a period of time when Gallup had left the band—is “generally regarded as a relative low point for the band.”
The Cure’s success in the United States was solidified, however, with their 1985 release, The Head on the Door, and the successful singles “In Between Days” and “Close to Me.” The album’s “zooming melodies,” wrote Sheffield in the Spin Alternative Record Guide, “confirmed that Smith had pledged his troth to a new muse, one who was feeding him straight lines such as ‘I wish I’d stayed asleep today’ and ‘Yesterday I got so old/It made me want to cry.’” An unlikely vehicle to introduce new legions of fans to their previous work appeared in 1986 with the singles collection Standing on a Beach. One track included from the band’s first album was “Killing an Arab,” a take on the Albert Camus novel The Stranger set in Algeria. Arab organizations took the song’s title at face value and Standing on a Beach was pulled from record stores for a time that summer. The band, their label, and the anti-defamatory groups came to an agreement that subsequent copies would be sold with a disclaimer sticker on the record. “It was quite pathetic,” Smith said of the debacle in the Rolling Stone interview with Azerrad. “I imagine Camus would have found it quite amusing.”
In 1987 the band released a live concert film, The Cure in Orange, which had been shot in Roman amphitheater in France. It was directed by Tim Pope, who would create most of their videos until the mid-1990s. Resigning with the Fiction/Polydor label in England improved their bank accounts considerably, and they were able to complete their next record, the double LP Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, in the south of France at a studio with its own vineyards, as they had done with The Head on the Door. Fans of the band either embraced or wholeheartedly despised Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. “No, no, no,” was Thompson’s assessment in Alternative Press, but Melody Maker’s Steve Sutherland called it “the Cure’s richest, most exotic and most accessible album to date, a veritable treasure trove of experiments boldly attempted and beautifully performed.” On it were definite pop songs such as the first single, “Why Can’t I Be You”—with Pope’s lighthearted video showcasing the band in outlandish getups (Smith wore a giant bear suit) and offering somewhat of a milestone in alternative rock annals with footage of the Cure actually dancing. Another upbeat single, “Just Like Heaven,” “is a song indie-rockers have been rewriting ever since,” according to Sheffield in the Spin Alternative Record Guide. Yet Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me also offered several lovesick dirges and some arty lyrical forays, such as “How Beautiful You Are,” which Smith penned after reading a short story by nineteenth-century French writer Charles Baudelaire.
Rumors had occasionally surfaced that the Cure were on the verge of disbanding, as they once again did following the release of the successful 1989 record Disintegration. Smith told Rolling Stone’s Azerrad that it would be the group’s last recording, and declared “nothing in the world will make me go out and tour again;” but Azerrad pointed out that such statements had been heard before from him and the band. However, they did fire longtime band member Tolhurst for his binge drinking, which had become increasingly disruptive; he was reportedly a terrible keyboard player, and Gallup explained to Azerrad that “it was fun to have him around, even though he didn’t contribute much to the music. He was a part of the Cure.” Tolhurst, however, sued, and in 1993 a court overturned his claim that he was entitled to more financial compensation for his longtime contribution.
Nevertheless, Disintegration was a phenomenal success—Azerrad contended that it “may be the Cure’s best. It’s a bleak record with no obvious singles”—and the band launched another serious world tour. By now, wrote Sheffield, “Smith settled into an enviable gig as a prophet of Shellyean isolation in one stadium after another, with a presold mass audience regarding itself as a cult.” For their next studio effort, the band again returned to the double-LP format with Wish. It would be their first effort to reach the Number One spot on the British charts, and sold over a million copies in the U.S. as well with its mix of cheery pop tunes and morose paeans to love gone wrong. Two live releases from 1993, Paris and Show, would grow out of their Wish tour dates; though they posted unimpressive sales, fans continued their worship and imitation of the band. But Smith knew their appeal was greater than just the visible legions of teenagers at the shows. At one point, Polygram execs even commissioned a profile on the band’s fan base, and were surprised to find that its scope was farther-ranging than morose teenagers. “The Cure are liked by some people I don’t even like!” Smith told Reynolds in Melody Maker.
In decadent rock-star fashion, the band lived together for a year at Jane Seymour’s manse in Bath, England, where they wrote two dozen songs for their 1996 release Wild Mood Swings. Fourteen of those made it onto the record, and despite the goth setting the songs evinced some expanded musical horizons. With far less gloomy moments than previous efforts, Wild Mood Swings dabbled in Mexican horns and percussion, a string section at one point, and even worked with an Indian orchestra. Sheffield reviewed the album for Details and gave it a mixed assessment, asserting it “whisks you off to a time zone where it’s always the ‘80s.”
Though the album failed to make a dent in the glut of alternative-rock releases that year, Wild Mood Swings nevertheless served to mark their longevity in the genre in a year that saw the reunion of the Sex Pistols, the return to the studio for Echo and the Bunnymen, and a release of cover songs of Joy Division. The Cure even had their own official Web site. Smith remained unmoved, however, by the rebirth of punk that year, as he told Alternative Press’s Thompson—“If it were my choice, we would have ended ten years ago.”
Three Imaginary Boys, Fiction, 1979; released in the U.S. as Boys Don’t Cry, 1980, Elektra, 1988.
Seventeen Seconds, 1980, Elektra, 1988.
Faith, 1981, Elektra, 1988.
Pornography, A&M, 1982, Elektra, 1988.
The Walk (EP), Sire, 1983.
Japanese Whispers, Sire, 1983.
The Top, Sire, 1984.
Concert: Cure Live, Fiction, 1984.
Concert and Curiosity, Fiction, 1984.
The Head on the Door, Elektra, 1985.
Standing on a Beach: The Singles, Elektra, 1986.
Staring at the Sea: The Singles, Elektra, 1986.
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Elektra, 1987.
The Peel Sessions, Strange Fruit, 1988.
Disintegration, Elektra, 1989.
Mixed Up, Elektra, 1990.
Wish, Elektra, 1992.
Show, Elektra, 1993.
Paris, Elektra, 1993.
Wild Mood Swings, Elektra, 1996.
Galore: The Singles 1987–1997, Elektra, 1997.
Spin Alternative Record Guide, edited by Eric Weisbard with Craig Marks, Vintage Books, 1995, pp. 100–101.
Alternative Press, June 1996, pp. 56–63.
Billboard, March 30, 1996, p. 18; July 13, 1996, p. 87.
Details, July 1996.
Melody Maker, December 18, 1982, p. 18; May 24, 1986, p. 14; April 11, 1987, pp. 28–30; December 19, 1992.
New York Times, May 26, 1996, sec. 2, p. 24.
Rolling Stone, September 7, 1989, p. 47.
Cure, The , doom-and-gloom gothic pop band. MEMBERSHIP: Robert Smith, voc., gtr. (b. Blackpool, England, April 21, 1959); Michael Dempsey, bs. (b. Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, Nov. 29, 1958); Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst, drm. (b. Horley, England, Feb. 3, 1959); Porl Thompson, gtr. (b. Wimbledon, England, Nov. 8, 1957); Simon Gallup, bs. (b. Duxhurst, England, June 1, 1960); Mathieu Hartley, kybd. (b. Smallfield, England, Feb. 4, 1960); Boris Williams, drm. (b. Versailles, France, April 24, 1957); Roger O’Donnell, kybd. (b. Oct. 29, 1955); Perry Bamonte, gtr., kybd. (b. London, England, Sept. 3, 1960); Jason Cooper, drm. (b. London, England, Jan. 31, 1967).
Brought up in suburban Crawley, Robert Smith started learning guitar from his older brother at the age of six. Ten years later, he formed the Easy Cure with a couple of schoolmates, including drummer Lol Tolhurst. Although they came together with a typical punk format at the tail end of the punk explosion, they took another route, creating atmospheric songs with bite, flavored by Smith’s distinctive vocals. That, and his distinctive look—he wore pale make-up, bright red lipstick, and his hair looked like a pitch-black haystack—set the band way apart from their contemporaries. Smith has been described as looking like an advance man for the apocalypse, but he has an unerring way of turning pain into pop, despite being happily married to a woman he has been with since they met in drama class when they were both 13 years old.
With the erudite irony that would inform Smith’s music over the next two decades, one of the group’s first demos drew inspiration from Camus’s existential classic The Stranger. Called “Killing an Arab,” the song came to the attention of Chris Parry, an A&R representative for Polydor. He saw to it that the record was released, and when he left Polydor to form his own label, Fiction, in 1979 he took the band—their sobriquet shortened to The Cure—with him as his first act.
In spring 1979, the band’s first album Three Imaginary Boys came out. It reached #44 in the U.K. After cutting a couple more singles, “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Jumping Someone Else’s Train,” the band hit the road with Siouxsie and the Banshees. Smith found himself playing both ends of the bill, as he filled in when Banshee guitarist John McKay left the band. It began a long-standing relationship with the band.
The decidedly dark album 17 Seconds came out in the spring of 1980. Bolstered by the single “A Forest” which landed them on the English TV show Top of the Pops and peaked at #31, the album rose to #20. In America, however, the Cure’s records were only available as imports. Between tours, they did some soundtrack work.
Almost a year to the day after 17 Seconds came out, the band released the even darker album, Faith. Building their base around fans of music now being called gothic, the album hit #14 on the U.K. charts.
Almost a year to the day after Faith came out, the band released Pornography, another salvo of gloom to darken the English spring. Regarded as one of the band’s masterpieces, it reached #8. And just when people thought the band couldn’t get any creepier, they unleashed the poppy, snappy, one-off single “Let’s Go to Bed.” While it stalled at #44, it attracted some attention in the burgeoning U.S. dance-rock clubs and among alternative radio stations. Through July 1983, the band released a spate of singles that did fairly well. “The Walk” hit #12 on the U.K. charts, and the light, jazzy tune “The Love Cats” rose to #7. All three singles were collected on the mini-album Japanese Whispers in December. The EP topped out at #26.
Meanwhile, Smith found himself working once more with Siouxsie and the Banshees. He recorded two 771 albums as a spot replacement for John McGeoch, the studio album Hyena and the live Nocturne. When The Cure regrouped in 1984, Smith and Tolhurst were the only original members remaining, and Tolhurst had switched from drums to keyboards.
After two years, they once again brought a salvo of sonic storm to the English spring with The Top. The single, “The Caterpillar” hit #14 and the album reached #10. In the fall, they put out a live greatest hits collection that hit #26.
The Cure had achieved cult status in the U.S., but never the acclaim that was theirs at home. That began to change when they got a new U.S. distributor for 1985’s The Head on the Door. The single “In Between Days” hit #15 on the U.K. charts that summer, and skimmed the Hot 100 in the U.S. that winter (coming in at #99) their first single to chart at all in the U.S. The album reached #7 in the U.K. and hit a respectable #59 in the U.S.
With their initial foray into American pop consciousness, the record company collected some of the band’s greatest hits and released Standing on a Beach. The record hit #4 in the U.K. and rose to #48 in the U.S., eventually going double platinum.
With their next album, 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, the Cure sprang from cult status to a headlining act in arenas. The double album ran the gamut from pop to outright horror. “Just Like Heaven” actually hit #40 pop. The album rose to #33 in the U.S. and sold platinum. In the U.K., it spun off three more hit singles and topped out at #6.
Tolhurst, who had been with the band from the beginning, left in anger early in 1989, leaving Smith as the lone remaining original member. Tolhurst sued the group, claiming that as a founding member, he was entitled to more royalties than he was getting. That same year, the band released the downhearted Disintegration. The single “Love Song” rose to #2 in the U.S. charts, for the first time eclipsing their #18 success at home. They toured the U.S. extensively to promote the album. In 1990 the Cure put out one of the first dance remix albums. Called Mixed Up, it featured extended dance versions of all their previous U.S. hits and many of their U.K. successes.
In 1992, they put out perhaps their finest record, Wish. Propelled by the remarkable pop single “Friday I’m in Love,” which hit #18 in the U.S. The album topped the U.K. charts, hit #2 in the U.S., and went platinum. While touring Wish, they recorded concerts in the U.S. and Europe. These came out as Show and Paris in fall 1993.
By this time, Smith had become Robert Smith, Esq., appearing in Debrett’s peerage. The band went on hiatus for a few years after that. In 1994, the Tolhurst case came to a conclusion, with the British High Court finding in favor of Smith, the Cure, and Fiction Records. As this blew over, the group’s drummer, Boris Williams, left. Smith placed an ad that read “…famous group requires drummer—no metal heads.” The album in progress, Wild Mood Swings was completed with seven separate drummers and released in 1996. The band performed on Saturday Night Live and David Letterman.
The album debuted at its peak of #12 and went gold. Their effect on popular culture became the subtext of the film Career Girls.
In 1998, the band put out yet another greatest hits collection, Galore, which compiled 18 of the group’s best-known tunes. Robert Smith threatened that he would disband the Cure on his 40th birthday, but they continue to tour and record.
Three Imaginary Boys (1979); Seventeen Seconds (1980); Boys Don’t Cry (1980); …Happily Ever After (1981); Carnage Visors (1981); Faith (1981); Pornography (1982); Concert/Curiosity (live; 1984); The Top (1984); Concert: Live (1984); The Head on the Door (1985); Standing on a Beach (1986); Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987); Peel Sessions (1988); Disintegration (1989); Integration (1990); Mixed Up (1990); Entreat (live; 1990); Wish (1992); Show (live; 1993); Paris (live; 1993); Wild Mood Swings (1996); Galore (1998); Blood/lowers (2000).
Formed: 1976, Crawley, England
Members: Perry Bamonte, guitar, keyboard (born London, England, 3 September 1960); Jason Cooper, drums (born London, England, 31 January 1967); Roger O'Donnell keyboard (born 29 October 1955); Robert Smith, vocals, guitar (born Blackpool, England, 21 April 1959); Porl Thompson, guitar (born Wimbledon, England, 8 November 1957). Former members: Michael Dempsey, bass (born Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, 29 November 1958); Simon Gallup, bass (born Duxhurst, England, 1 June 1960); Mathieu Hartley, keyboard (born Smallfield, England, 4 February 1960); Laurence Tolhurst, drums, keyboards (born Horley, England, 3 February 1959); Boris Williams, drums (born Versailles, France, 24 April 1957).
Best-selling album since 1990: Wish (1992)
Hit songs since 1990: "Love Song," "Friday, I'm in Love," "High"
The British alternative rock band the Cure slowly built up a cult following throughout the 1980s in their native United Kingdom and in the United States. The Cure achieved the biggest success of their career in the early 1990s with the albums Disintegration (1989) and Wish (1992). During their rise to popularity, the guitar-based band struck a chord with alienated teenagers and music fans who were tired of the same old thing.
The driving force behind the band is the songwriter Robert Smith. Because of the many who have found solace in his eccentric punk style and in the band's dark lyrics, the Cure have enjoyed a rabid fan base.
The Early Years
Robert Smith has been one of the few constant members in the lineup of the Cure, a band known for its rapid membership turnover, especially among keyboardists and drummers. Smith grew up in the suburban town of Crawley and started learning the guitar when he was six. A decade later he formed Easy Cure with his school friends Laurence "Lol" Tolhurst on drums and Michael Dempsey on bass. Although they came together with a hardscrabble, scruffy aura that prevailed during the punk explosion in Britain, the band distinguished itself from others with atmospheric touches of keyboards and an unusual vocalist with an unwavering ability to turn private pain into pop songs. The band caught the attention of an A&R man, Chris Parry, with their song "Killing an Arab," inspired by Albert Camus's classic novel The Stranger. With this remarkable single, which helped break them through to radio, the Cure found themselves in a similar category of ironic, literate guitar bands such as fellow Brits the Smiths.
Parry signed them to his new record label, Fiction Records, and the band released their follow-up single, "Boys Don't Cry," a midtempo tune with Smith crooning, "I would do most anything to get you back by my side / But I just keep on laughing hiding the tears in my eyes because / Boys don't cry." The tune, from their album Three Imaginary Boys (1979), was well received and helped land them a spot as an opening act for goth punk-rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees.
By the mid-1980s the Cure had released the commercially successful album The Head on the Door (1985); at this point the Cure consisted of Smith and Tolhurst. A couple of eccentric hits followed: the jazzy, piano pop song "The Love Cats" and the unusual "The Caterpillar," which featured Smith on violin. The Cure, firmly established as pop oddballs, toured South America and recorded their double album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1988), which reached the U.S. Top 40 and achieved platinum status. The album catapulted them from cult status in America to arena-filling popularity. The imminently danceable "Why Can't I Be You?" and "Catch" were popular, and the album's "Just Like Heaven" reached the Top 40 in the U.S. All of these tunes exemplified the quality that carried the Cure through the 1990s: offbeat, catchy, slightly eccentric alternative rock with intimations of the macabre.
Disintegration: A Foreshadowing
Before recording their next album, the band took off for a two-year hiatus and reconvened for Disintegration (1989), their most downbeat, depressing album to date. However, the album yielded several singles, including the creepy "Lullaby"; the yearning, sad "Pictures of You"; and the hopeless romanticism of "Lovesong." The personnel instability continued, with Tolhurst leaving to form his own band; the Cure then became a band of one, consisting only of Smith, the sole founding member.
Shortly after Tolhurst's departure, Smith announced there would be no more touring of America and went on to release Mixed Up (1990), a double album of remixes, reissues, and re-recordings of their singles. By 1992 the band consisted of Smith, Gallup, Perry Bamonte on keyboards and guitar, Porl Thompson, and Boris Williams. They released Wish (1992), their most vibrant and uncharacteristically sunny album. The upbeat nature of the singles helped Wish become the band's best seller. Reinvigorated, the Cure toured America and scored a series of hits with the giddy, celebratory "Friday I'm in Love" and "High." On Wish, the guitars are lighter, sunnier, and chiming rather than heavy, squalling, and laden with effects. There are still elements of bittersweet heartbreak, but overall Wish marked a psychological turning point for the band.
Infighting, drinking, and court battles plagued the band in June 1993, when Tolhurst unsuccessfully sued Smith for alleged unpaid royalties. The band staggered on, with Jason Cooper replacing Williams as drummer. The Cure recorded the unremarkable Wild Mood Swings (1996) and then Bloodflowers (2000), thus refuting Smith's proclamation that he would disband the Cure by his fortieth birthday. He did, however, declare it to be the band's final album, a statement he later retracted. The Cure played in Europe to much success in 2002 and in 2003 recorded another album, determined to perpetuate a legacy of gloomy beauty unrivaled by any other band of the 1990s.
Boys Don't Cry (1980); Standing on the Beach, Staring at the Sea: The Singles, 1978–1985 (Elektra, 1986); Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (Elektra, 1988); Disintegration (Elektra, 1989); Wish (Elektra, 1992); Wild Mood Swing (Elektra, 1996); Galore: The Singles 1987–1997 (Elektra,1997); Bloodflowers (Elektra, 2000).