Here this reporter sits, drink in hand, trying to compose a piece on a musician you may know while at the same time trying to avoid cranking out “the same old thing” regarding said performer.
Having recently read a piece on the 80s, yours truly decided to do something on someone who had some good songs out back then: Robert Smith of The Cure.
Robert Smith has been in the music business literally for decades. Although your favorite scribe was aware of Smith’s hit songs with the Cure, Smith wasn’t of any personal interest until sometime in the late 80s. Somewhere in the Phoenix files, on a previously mentioned videotape are interview snippets of him speaking about his big hair while smoking a cigarette.
A short, humorous impersonation was soon added to this reviewer’s “had-just-enough-drinks-to-resurrect-my stand-up career” monologue. The snippets and the impersonation also found their way into my substitute teaching in the L.A. Unified School District. Kids seemed to find it strange that an adult authority figure could also be hip and entertaining.
Perhaps duality is what once again draws me toward the career of Robert Smith. As other rock journalists will tell you, Smith can be an incredibly active, energetic artist one moment and an unsatisfied, introspective individual the next. In fact, if you were to try to find a moment when the man seemed happy you would have to look at his moments outside of his work in The Cure.
In 1979 while this performing profiler was graduating from high school, going through the summer program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and finally beginning a post-high school writing career, The Cure was going through even more significant changes. They were moving from their spiky,post-punk beginnings to a more moody yet expansive sound. The band members were experimenting. The threw together a track titled “I’m A Cult Hero” (under the actual name of Cult Hero) with Frank Bell, their supposed postman, singing lead vocals.
While critics generally agree that the track was a simplistic two-chord throwaway, the band did manage to perform live in 1980 opening for a band called The Passions. Oddly enough, they played a block of top-40 tunes from 1973. Even odder, Smith admitted it was a “great night”.
A few years later, in 1983, as I graduated with one bachelors degree and began my work on the second one, Robert Smith was beginning to wonder about his own work. Singing sad songs of hip hopelessness to a bunch of blank-eyed goths became too much for him. He struggled with the idea of The Cure becoming a straight-out pop group (putting out now-classics such as “Let’s Go To Bed” and “The Walk”).
Other ideas were forming in his head and heart. He soon took to spending his nights holed up in a studio with the bass player from Siouxie And The Banshees, Steve Severin. They were working under the name of The Glove. The material was a bit different from his usual material and even “psychedelic”.
Someone at Fiction, the Cure’s label, got wind of this project and quickly reminded Smith that he was contractually forbidden to sing on any non-Cure record. Smith disputed this and a compromise was reached. Smith sang on two tracks that were not allowed to be released as singles.
The remainder of the album tracks featured the vocals of Jeanette Landray. Landray was a virgin to the recording studio and the girlfriend of Banshee drummer, Budgie. The end result was named “Blue Sunshine”.
It was (as one critic put it) “a gloriously loopy piece of work”. In fact, some feel it was this specific piece that inspired Smith’s performance on The Cure’s 1984 album, “The Top”. “The Top” was generally considered a hodgepodge of terrific tunes, sordid subject matter, instruments and ideas. A recent re-issue of the above-mentioned album features Smith’s original demos and deftly demonstrates how this project would have sounded had Smith not been bound by contractual red-tape.
Smith has nothing but fond memories of “Blue Sunshine”, however. He says “it’ll always be a special album” adding that the recording is “a souvenir of a long, hot psychedelic winter”. In Smith’s case, “Blue Sunshine” was truly “the cure”.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.