I couldn’t stand The Cure in high school, man. Something about that dark, doomed gnome that caked his face white with red lipstick and teased his hair high to the sky that really bugged me. Robert Smith. Come on, man. What did he have to be so depressed about? He was making a living playing rock and roll(or mopey death rock?) I was a sophomore in high school trying to understand what the opposite sex was looking for in a boyfriend. From what I could tell they wanted a meathead to treat them like shit, or a guy that had one foot in school and the other in jail. I was neither a meathead or a tough guy, so I was doomed to walk the halls a lonely sap. I had more to be all doom and gloom about than Robert Smith did. Of course, one of my best friends was all about The Cure and every time I rode in his car it was Disintegration, Head On The Door, and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me on repeat and in no particular order. For a guy that was into speed metal, instrumental guitar albums, and Rush it was torture having to listen to this heavily reverbed, doom and gloom muck about love, death, and love that led to death. The summer after our senior year he asked me to go to Chicago to see The Cure with him for the Wish tour. I begrudgingly agreed to go, but about a week before the show I told him I couldn’t go. My girlfriend was heading off to college and I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could. This was true, but it was also an excuse to getting out of spending an evening with my best friend with white make up and lipstick on his face. I really didn’t want to see that.
Well, several years later and after my girlfriend and I ended up getting married, as well as my best friend and I reconnecting I made good on crapping out on my friend for not going to that Cure show with him and went to see Robert Smith and company once again in Chicago for the Bloodflowers tour. Over the years I started to acquire a taste for Robert Smith’s particular brand of morbid depressive gothic rock. By the time my pal and I had seen The Cure for the third time together in May of 2008 I considered myself a fan. I slowly began to amass a vinyl collection of my own, including remastered vinyl copies of Disintegration, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Entreat Plus, and the 2008 album 4:13 Dream. In the summer of 2014 I snagged first pressings of both Wish and Faith. On a trip to Schaumburg, Illinois I came across this out of the way record store called Rainbow Records. I found some great albums in there, including Brian Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets, Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien, and a first pressing of The Cure’s Pornography, probably one of the most maligned records in their discography(next to 4:13 Dream.)
This record seems to be the one album that solidified Smith’s doom and gloom character, as well as being the go-to goth record of the 80s. Despite that, it was also heavily panned when it came out. Finger-wagging critics panned it for it’s over-the-top darkness and pure nihilistic view of the world. Some even looking at Smith and The Cure as clownish rather than doomed romantics. Well I’m here to say I believe Pornography to be an absolute classic. This and Faith are my two favorite Cure albums(this week anyways.) These two albums were Smith’s point of total bottoming out and before the music started to cheer up a bit.
How can an album not be seen as a masterpiece when it opens with the magnificent “One Hundred Years”? It’s this beautifully constructed panic attack. A dread-soaked suicide note written in bloody laughs and desperate sex. Even if the rest of the album was shit I would still consider this album a classic because of this one song. It’s classic like “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and “Hip Priest”. “Waiting for the death blow”? C’mon! I don’t know what was happening in Robert Smith’s head around this time, but I can only imagine it was a cross between an alcoholic coma and a David Lynch sex fantasy soundtracked with nails down a chalkboard and nursery rhymes sung in German. And that was on his good days. “A Short Term Effect” sounds like Joy Division on Ritalin. Concise, rhythmic dread. This was the dreary sound of Robert Smith’s darkened, gothic UK. “The Hanging Garden” seems to be the seed of what would become The Cure’s prototypical heavy drum and bass sound. Songs carried by singing, ringing flanged bass lines and heavy tom-filled drum parts. It was inevitable that Robert Smith would write a song about Siamese twins, and call it “Siamese Twins”. It seems appropriate for him, really. And “The Figurehead”, once again conjuring up the sounds of what soon would be.
This album really is the next level for The Cure. I feel like Smith and Tolhurst had to reach these depths of despair and share those bloodied shadows and dreaded dreams in order to move on to a lighter, poppier sound. Pornography was an exorcism of sorts, at least for Smith. Tolhurst would be fired during the making of Disintegration due to his drinking. But on Pornography Smith and Tolhurst shared in the darkness. Granted, this isn’t an album I can listen to all the time. But for harrowing musical drama and doomed romantic bliss there isn’t much better than Pornography. I usually have to listen to this one by myself. The wife’s not much of a fan.
In June my old pal and I are making the trek once more to Chicago to see The Cure at the UIC Pavillion. This could very well be the last time we see Mr. Smith in his gothic regalia singing “Fascination Street” “High”, “A Letter To Elise”, “The Funeral Party”, and of course “One Hundred Years”. Last time we saw The Cure many beers were consumed(as well as rum and cokes) and that drive home the next day was a long and painful one. I don’t see that kind of ridiculousness this time around. I’m 8 years older, wiser, and not nearly as bulletproof as I was back then. But if my pal wants to wear white face, lipstick, and eyeliner I won’t stop him.
I quite like this video of The Cure playing on French TV. Robert Smith looks like he just woke up and is playing in his pajamas.