Record Collector
(Jan. 2004)

View images from Record Collector here


With The Cure back in favour, shock-haired frontman Robert Smith is delving into their archive for a box set of
B-sides. But, as Nick Turner discovers, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

You can’t fail to have noticed the likes of Duran Duran hogging the showbiz columns following their fabulous
reformation and name-checks from acts like The Dandy Warhols. And you can’t also have failed to note US bands
such as Hot Hot Heat and The Rapture’s almost slavish attention to the vocal style of Robert Smith, singer with
The Cure. It is, as many commentators have said, like the 80s are coming back.

However, there’s one problem with this theory where The Cure are concerned. For one thing, The Cure were
never your archetypal 80s band – for a start they began in the post-punk days, continued through the 90s and are
about to start recording their 12th full-length album with Slipknot and Limp Bizkit producer Ross Robinson. In
fact, sitting in a comfy West London studio, guitarist Perry Bamonte notes with pride that the group have already
completed a mammoth 37 demos for the new record. And he jokingly comments that they sound like “classic
Cure”, the songs have yet to be blessed by an idiosyncratic vocal from Robert Smith himself. “That’s when they
go from being just normal songs to Cure songs,” smiles Bamonte. “I’m always surprised when I hear the vocals,
because they’re never what I expect; they’re always made that bit more special.”

The other thing about The Cure is that they always seemed out of place, even during the 80s. Coming out of
Crawley in Sussex, they inhabited their own strange world, a world of blurry album covers, smudged lipstick,
intense introspection, anger, angst, love, fear, loathing and a bit of drunken fun, courtesy of Smith’s frequently
disarming lyrics. It’s this individuality that bands like The Rapture are paying homage to – as Americans are
traditionally not subject to the whims of British fashion, any accusations of The Cure not being “cool” will fall on
deaf ears. And if the coolest NYC bands rate The Cure, then The Cure are by association, “cool”. This is all part
of Smith’s plan, Bamonte assures RC. “It’s funny,” he says, “But if it wasn’t for Robert’s belief in what he does,
we could have sold out years ago and we wouldn’t be enjoying the acclaim we’re getting now. So he was right to
insist on that control all along. What goes around, comes around, as they say.”

It’s into this atmosphere of respect that The Cure are issuing Join The Dots: B-Sides And Rarities 1978 – 2001:
The Fiction Years, a 4-CD box set of 70 B-sides, outtakes, covers and rarities. Kicking off with the mighty 10.15
Saturday Night and winding up with a 2003 remix of the existential classic A Forest, it’s an eclectic tread through
the career of one of the UK’s best loved, respected and occasionally derided bands and heralds the start of a
major reissue campaign that will see all of The Cure’s albums released in 2004 with stacks of rare material from
the archives.

Over the course of several lagers, the garrulous and tousled-haired Smith deals with a multitude of business
queries and takes RC through the new box set and some of the treats in store for the reissues. And it couldn’t
have come at a better time, he says. “In some ways the box set is a vanity press kind of thing. I think we’re the
only band with a sizeable back catalogue that hasn’t had a B-sides collection. It’s taken us a long time to get
there, because there’s such a negative perception of The Cure in the UK – up until this year.”

Nevertheless, Join The Dots has something for everyone, from the staccato post-punk of Plastic Passion, to the
bonkers jazz of Mr Pink Eyes and the swooning romanticism of tracks like A Chain Of Flowers, This Twilight
Garden and 2 Late. For rarities fans, there’s the Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me outtake To The Sky, remixes of
tracks like the brilliant How Beautiful You Are and a couple of covers. “I think that the version of Purple Haze
is my favourite thing on the box set,” smiles Smith. “It still makes me happy that we did a Hendrix cover that
was actually good.”

The box set is definitely a labour of love for Smith. “I’ve proof read the artwork four times,” he claims.
“People ask does it really matter, but we’ve waited so long, it should be done right. Despite all that, there’s still
fucking mutterings on the internet about what I’ve left off… What people haven’t understood is that the extras
discs with the re-releases of the studio albums are going to contain the more esoteric stuff. I did the booklet with
Simon [Gallup, Cure bassist since ’79], so it will be the definitive version of events and some myths will be
exploded. I wanted to spend an evening reminiscing and always wanted to visit Crawley in Hampshire - I always
thought it would be a doppleganger town to Crawley in Sussex - so we met up in the only pub. The landlord
started serving us at 6 and pushed us out the door at four in the morning. That’s more hospitable than most
Crawley, Sussex barmen I’ve come across. Simon’s contributions were mostly unprintable, libellous anecdotes,
but I thought at least if I did it in tandem with him, it would give me less incentive to elaborate. But then he
started looking at me funny anyway - I think that was the beer...”

The Cure are a classic example of the post-punk band – raised in the suburbs and inspired by the do-it-yourself
spirit of ‘76. After tinkering around with various bands at school, Smith formed a group called Malice, who
performed Bowie and Alex Harvey covers, before moving onto the type of material John Peel was championing
as Easy Cure. The band – consisting of Smith, bassist Michael Dempsey and drummer Lol Tolhurst - successfully
entered a national talent competition held by German label Hansa – the company that inflicted top disco
lip-synchers Boney M on the world.

Hansa thought they had signed a fresh-faced teenage group. Smith thought they had bagged a record contract
that would enable them to record their original songs – snotty punk numbers with titles like Plastic Passion and I
Want To Be Old. Easy Cure recorded several demos, but the band insisted that they ignore the crappy covers
suggested by Hansa’s “top producers” and concentrate on songs like Killing An Arab, an ambiguous adaptation
of Albert Camus’ existential novel, The Outsider. “They made us do things like Rebel Rebel,” says Smith.
“We’d learnt standards for when we were playing places like Orpington Town Hall and someone would inevitably
say, ‘Play something we fucking know, you bastards!’ But the version of Plastic Passion is quite interesting,
because we did try to turn it into something that Hansa would like. It sounds like Roxy Music and later turned
into A Night Like This [from 1985’s Head On The Door], because it has a keyboard line doing exactly the same
chord sequence. So some good came out of it.”

Unsurprisingly, the band were swiftly dropped by Hansa. “Their parting comment to me was, ‘You’ll be sorry!’”
recalls Smith, ruefully. After kicking their heels for several months, The Cure (their name shortened to sound
more “it”) sent a demo tape to all the major labels in a last-ditch attempt to attract some interest. The only
positive answer came from Chris Parry, the Polydor A&R man who had narrowly missed out on the Sex Pistols,
but had signed both Siouxsie And The Banshees and The Jam. Intrigued by another suburban power trio in the
Weller mould, Parry snapped up The Cure for his new Polydor off-shoot, Fiction. Parry shoved them into the
studio in the autumn of 1978 and their first release was Killing An Arab that December, backed with the
awesome tale of weekend despondency, 10.15 Saturday Night.

Over the course of three days, the band had recorded a staggering 27 tracks, according to Smith. A couple of
outtakes – the “dire” Do The Hansa and Pillbox Tales – appear on the box set, but apart from the dozen tracks
that make up The Cure’s debut album Three Imaginary Boys, the rest have remained unheard for 25 years. “I
put my foot down on a couple of tracks, because even at that age, I knew they weren’t working,” says Smith.
“It’s the only time over the three nights that I had a row with Chris Parry. He was saying, ‘Give us all you’ve
got’, so we wheeled out songs we’d played nearly a year before. At that stage in a band, the change was rapid
and six months on, you’d hate it – ‘What, that old stuff?’

“There was a song called Winter, which is awful. It was part of this four-part concept thing we’d done the year
before – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. We used to do two sets in this pub – at the early evening set,
everyone was sober, so we’d try out stuff. Then a year later, we’re in the studio and Dempsey says, ‘Well, I
quite like the end of that four-part thing we did.’ I can remember thinking it was toe-curlingly awful and being
angry that Parry would even consider including it on the album – ‘It’s pastoral, it’s a nice counterpoint to the
spiky stuff’. But it’s fucking hippy, it’s shit! Now, I can probably afford to take the criticism, but then I

However, Do The Hansa finally emerged as a flip-side to 1986’s reworking of the early classic Boys Don’t
Cry – a cheesy disco track that’s The Cure’s revenge on the label that dumped them. “Dempsey didn’t think
Do The Hansa was funny,” says Smith. “But I needed to let off steam. I thought, we’ve got our first album
coming out, I’m going to rub their fucking noses in it! Michael got drunk on purpose, thinking he’d play so
badly, we couldn’t release it. The original master has got Lol ranting at the end, but because it was aimed at the
German people that were working at Hansa, it would be horribly misunderstood today. But I suspect the people
from Hansa are probably running the fucking world now.”

Join The Dots includes one of the final recordings featuring Michael Demspey – I’m Cold, the psychedelic
B-side to the mod-bothering Jumping Someone Else’s Train. Recorded at the end of 1979 with Siouxsie Sioux
on backing vocals, Smith had been standing in for The Banshees’ errant guitarist on tour and these
extra-curricular activities had partly inspired a change in direction for The Cure. “I’m Cold was potentially
where we were going to go next, but never did,” he says. “I remember Steve Severin from the Banshees saying,
‘This is what you should be doing’. Both Michael and I knew he was on his way out of the band, so it was an
uncomfortable period. I’d already written A Forest and the early demos of Seventeen Seconds have Michael
playing bass. He doesn’t enjoy playing them and he goes off and plays little tunes. I can hear myself as a
20-year-old thinking, ‘For fuck’s sake, stick to the bassline! That high bass is so 70s!’”

The stage was now set for a trio of intense albums that cemented the band’s reputation as a “long raincoat”
band at the time, but are now considered some of the most affecting work Smith has produced. The clean sounds
of Seventeen Seconds (represented on Join The Dots by the driving instrumental Another Journey By Train)
were inspired by Bowie’s Low and the introduction of new bassist Simon Gallup meant that the album and its
1981 follow-up, Faith, are impenetrable, atmospheric records, filled with semi-religious imagery and allusions
to classic literature like Franz Kafka and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast.

Not surprisingly, the pressures of performing such songs took their toll on Smith. By the time they returned to
America in the autumn of 1981, Smith was an emotional and physical mess, performing shows while being barely
able to stand up. But it was the next album that saw The Cure tip over the edge. “We rehearsed Pornography in
late autumn 1981,” recalls Smith. “On one of the tapes, I think Simon must be really out of it, because he’s
laughing all the way through it, yet we’re playing what’s going to turn into a doom and gloom classic. Lol can’t
play any of the beats and I’m screaming at them both. We only had two rehearsals and that was one of them,
but the intervening period before going in to record was a really big two months. So much happened, the
make-up of the band and the way we reacted to each other changed. The end had started for that line-up...”

Following a chaotic Christmas with new partner-in-crime Steve Severin, Smith’s chemical indulgence set the
tone for the stream-of-consciousness lyrics of the album. Holed up with producer Phil Thornalley, the sessions
degenerated into drunken bedlam - one corner of the studio was filled with a mountain of empty beer cans. This
period isn’t represented on Join The Dots – the only B-side of the time was a live take of Killing An Arab,
although Smith claims there is extra material: “There’s one other song we recorded called A Normal Story,
which has just got me singing phonetically. I didn’t have any lyrics.”

In June 1982, having taken the repressed rage of the album out on each other while touring, Gallup left the
band and The Cure ceased trading until Chris Parry persuaded Smith to try again. Smith wrote the song La
Ment for a free flexidisc with the short-lived Flexipop magazine and the embryonic version appears on Join The
Dots. The Cure – now Smith and Tolhurst – then recorded a series of “fantasy” singles that swapped gloom for
Smith’s more colourful flights of fantasy. Starting with Let’s Go To Bed in 1982, the band hit the top 20 the
following Spring with the electronics-heavy The Walk, before breaking the Top 10 with the perennial Love Cats
in the autumn.

The subsequent album The Top saw The Cure more popular than ever, but the period lacked focus for Smith –
largely because of his heroic intake of booze and drugs, and because he again tried to hold down a parallel
career as The Banshees’ guitarist, while producing a mind-rattlingly weird studio project with Severin, The Glove.
By the end of 1984, Smith had got himself discharged from Banshees duties by his doctor, welcomed Gallup
back into the fold and The Cure became a proper group again for The Head On The Door. The change is
noticeable on the box set.

“From Simon rejoining the band from late 84, everything was recorded as a potential album track,” explains
Smith. “So the quality definitely goes up. They were songs that had as much chance of getting on the album
as the others. With the Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me B-sides from ‘87, there are one or two that you think are
‘proper’ songs. A Chain Of Flowers is a song that I’ve not listened to for years and now it’s been remastered,
it sounds really good.”

By the time of 1989’s Disintegration, The Cure were the biggest “cult” band in the world. With a huge
following at home and in Europe and enough of a reputation in the US to enable them to fill LA’s Dodger
Stadium, Smith was at the top of his game - but not without some angst. Following the joyful miscellany of 1987’s
Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, Disintegration was a return to the intense, emotional Cure of old. Though not
without its lighter moments – the macabre nightmare of Lullaby was the band’s biggest hit to that point – the
record sees the old themes of relationships and mortality under the microscope again, but was accessible
enough to become one of The Cure’s most admired albums. The recording was traumatic, however – Lol
Tolhurst’s drinking had become a handicap, leading Smith to sack his friend at the end of 1988, a move which
later resulted in a bitter legal dispute over royalties.

The Lol problem notwithstanding, Smith had been increasingly inviting other members to contribute ideas. By
the time of 1992’s Wish, each musician was bringing in their own songs. “With the Wish B-sides, individual band
members had their favourites,” says Smith. “It was like you had that particular jockey on that particular horse,
and they were being ridden to the line. We’d keep coming back to songs like The Big Hand, which was [guitarist
Porl Thompson’s] particular favourite. This Twilight Garden is my favourite B-side of all - it’s got a lovely
atmosphere to it and I can’t understand how that didn’t get on Wish, while something like Wendy Time did. It
made me realise that when sequencing an album, a better song will get left off for the sake of the album as a
whole. I never thought Wendy Time worked, but whenever we tried to replace it, the album seemed to go soft.
But I think it was a mistake to leave This Twilight Garden off.”

Smith’s instincts were right – Wish became The Cure’s first number 1 album and spawned the monster hit,
Friday I’m In Love. But another huge tour (despite Smith’s annual promise that the latest Cure tour would be
the last) again caused casualties. Simon Gallup left temporarily, Porl Thompson quit following the final show
and drummer Boris Williams followed shortly afterwards. According to Perry Bamonte, there was one period
during preparations for the next album where only himself and Smith remained in the band. “I remember sitting
under a tree somewhere outside the studio we’d booked in the summer, thinking this is it - Robert and I are The
Cure,” he recalls. “It was a very traumatic period – the court case with Lol was underway and I don’t think
Robert knew what he wanted the album to be, really.”

“I wanted to take a year to make the album,” explains Smith. “We hired a house and it was a kind of social
experiment. But I wanted to have a huge array of songs to make it live up to the title Wild Mood Swings.” The
public were confused by the schizophrenic approach – when the album appeared in the Brit Pop world of 1996,
they were confronted by the weird Spanish stylings of lead single The 13th, although B-sides such as It Used
To Be Me are some of the best the group recorded.

The end of the 90s were a bitter time for Smith. A singles collection Galore was under-promoted by Polydor,
while his contract with Fiction effectively closed with the release of Bloodflowers, a stunning return to form that
slipped out quietly in 2000. The album was hailed as the third part of the “Dark Trilogy” that began with
Pornography and continued with Disintegration. “When we started Bloodflowers in Christmas 1998,” recalls
Smith, “we wanted hard electro pop and did a handful of tracks, including Coming Up and Possession, that were
used loops and synth bass. We sat around taking various kinds of drugs, thinking, ‘This is the future!’ Suddenly
in 1999, I had a road to Damascus moment. I thought, ‘This is fucking awful, this isn’t The Cure.’ I wrote Out
Of This World and decided, ‘This is what I want to do’, because that song had more emotion than the six tracks
we’d recorded up until that point. So we binned the other stuff - it’s hard to kill six songs, because you’re
halfway there, but it was a decision that had to be made. The others thought I’d lost it, but coming back I proved
them wrong!

“There was one track called Spilt Milk, which later came out as an internet-only release and another one called,
You’re So Happy You Could Kill Me, which strangely enough sounded like Fatboy Slim before he brought his
album out. I was glad, because if we’d have gone down that road, we would have been in big trouble, because we
were six months behind the game. I think it’s because I’d really got into that big beat thing that’s on a lot of the
early Skint stuff. We ended up making an album that sounded more like a band playing because I thought, if
we’re going to play these songs live, I want to play them as a band and the Bloodflowers tour in 2000 was the
best thing we’ve ever done, because there was a real sense of group effort, which hadn’t been there for a long

Now that Join The Dots is out of the way, Smith is concentrating on the reissues of the original albums, which
will come with an extra disc of mainly unreleased material from his own personal archive that’s been lying in
boxes for the past couple of decades. “There were some quarter-inch tapes that had complete songs on there.
That was quite a find, but a lot of them aren’t very good! That’s the problem with putting together extra stuff.
It’s like the Hendrix thing, the Axis: Bold As Love outtakes - it’s terrible! I mean, I’m the biggest Jimi
Hendrix fan and even I thought, ‘They were outtakes for a reason’. They were Hendrix seeing which blues
song to do and how they should do it and you can just imagine him sitting there, thinking, ‘Well, this isn’t
working’. It doesn’t interest me. It tears you.”

While Join The Dots and the reissues will be released by Polydor / Universal, the new Cure album will be
produced under the umbrella of Smith’s own company. The first fruit of this new arrangement was the Trilogy
DVD – a film of two shows recorded in Berlin in 2002. But this freedom has come with a price. When Chris
Parry sold Fiction Records to Universal it was without telling Smith, something that has rankled with the
singer, who has spent the last 18 months scrabbling back the control over his own material that he’d enjoyed
for the last 20-plus years. And to release Join The Dots, he’s had to give the label a few concessions, including
the use of In Between Days in a TV commercial.

“It’s left me with a very sour taste in my mouth,” he says. “I’ve fought so long to retain control over what we
do, because I hate music being used to sell products. I feel that what we do should mean more than that, and
it does, to a lot of people. I feel obliged to bring this box set out in an environment where I’m comfortable with
regards to the Cure back catalogue, because I could have easily given up 15 years ago and got more money! It
feels strange to feel… duped, really. For about a day, it destroyed me – knowing someone that long and being
sold out in that way. It wasn’t as though he didn’t make any money out of us when we were partners.”

As The Cure prepare to knuckle down on the new material with Ross Robinson, Smith finds himself in the
strange situation of living entirely in the past, “which is slightly worrying,” he says. “The negative aspect of it is
that everything I’ve written for the new album, I’m discovering I’ve already sung. The positive side is that I
can see what I like about what we’ve done, it reminds me of why I’m still doing it. I suppose in the past, I would
have been worried that people would think that the reissues would be confused with our new LP… maybe with
Winter as the title track of the ‘new’ Cure album…” And with that thought, Smith shudders visibly...

Five Top B-Sides From Join The Dots

I’M COLD, 1979
Spiteful psychedelia from the original Cure on the flip to Jumping Someone Else’s Train. An old song, given
some vari-speed underwater guitar effects and a weird vocal backing from Siouxsie that’s totally unlike anything
they’ve recorded before or since. Add some horrible lyrics, and it’s a potent brew.

Hypnotic drumming, harmonica and an obscure lyric based on a line from the book Charlotte Sometimes, this
1981 B-side points the way forward to Smith’s obsession with madness on the monumental Pornography album.

The soppier side of Robert Smith in a luscious ballad from the 12” of Catch. “I’ll never tell you of all the
different ways you make me so afraid,” sings Smith, turning him into the Pop Idol for a million goth chicks.

2 LATE, 1989
A wistful track from the Love Song single, which kicks off with the immortal line, “So I’ll wait for you where I
always wait, behind the signs that sell the news…” The persistent guitar riff makes this almost better than the

Fear and self-loathing in a serious counterpoint to the wacky single The 13th. The nagging doubts of the lyrics
are reflected in the way that the track appears to end, then starts up again.

Influences that put The Cure where they are today.

The first band that Robert Smith was “really into” and by his own admission followed around on tour. The Cure
finally paid tribute at last year’s Hyde Park show with a cover of The Faith Healer.

One of Smith’s elder brother’s favourites, the guitar maestro’s flashy technique appeared on many Easy Cure
songs, but by the time The Cure covered Foxy Lady for their debut album, skeletal sparseness was the key. When
Smith revived the song on 1992’s Wish tour, it was back to its former elaborate self, much to the amusement of the

Another mid 70s favourite, again honoured at Hyde Park in 2002 with a rendition of Don’t Believe A Word.

Folk singer whose suicide made him a modern icon and whose work influenced the sound of Seventeen Seconds.
“Someone gave me a cassette of some early Nick Drake stuff a few years ago, which eventually surfaced as Fruit
Tree,” recalls Smith “At the time I was really enamoured of it, because it kind of transported you back, and it
didn’t spoilt what he did, because the songs were always there.”

The shadow of The Dame also looms large over 1980’s Seventeen Seconds, particularly the Eno-esque
production. Smith and Bowie became showbiz mates in the 90s and it was the Thin White Duke’s full-length
revival of Low that inspired The Cure’s marathon Trilogy shows in 2003, in which the albums Pornography,
Disintegration and Bloodflowers were performed in full.

The legendary Mancunians supported the three-piece Cure at the Marquee in March 1979 and set the tone for
the Faith album. When Peter Hook accused Smith of ripping off Blue Monday for The Walk, the Cure man
retorted by claiming that the Technique track All The Way was a note-for-note rewrite of Just Like Heaven

After Smith stepped in to replace guitarist John McKay on their 1979 tour, the Banshees and The Cure followed
similar paths, with Smith again joining temporarily in 1983. Seventeen Seconds also bears the icy hallmarks of
Siouxsie’s 1978 debut The Scream and many of the rolling textures of Budgie’s drumming were to appear on
albums like Faith and Pornography. And then there’s THAT hairstyle…

Although musically dissimilar, a chance encounter at a 1979 show impressed Smith so much he ditched the
quirky pop of Three Imaginary Boys for the studied coldness of Seventeen Seconds. He was also inspired by
their black-and-white clothing and their confrontational stage show – something Smith revived for the
Pornography tour.

Who’s name-checking The Cure nowadays?

The New Yorkers whose vocalist Luke Jenner applies the patented Robert Smith melodramatic style. Their
track Olio is a kind of acid house update of A Forest.

Canadian ska revivalists, whose singer Steve Bays also brandishes the Smithsian yelp. They also do a song
called In Cairo. Any relation to The Cure’s Fire In Cairo?

Recently covered The Love Cats and presented Smith with an Inspiration Award at the recent Q Awards.
Much mutual back-slapping ensued.

An unlikely band to be name-checking The Cure, but Chino Moreno of the rap-metallers has cited
Pornography as a major influence, thanks to its dense sound and alarming imagery.

Billy Corgan is another showbiz mate of Smith’s but it was James Iha who took the lead vocal for the Pumpkin’s
quirky take on A Night Like This.

J Mascis and his landmark stoner band committed a ragged take on Just Like Heaven to vinyl in 1989. They
couldn’t work out the ending, which is why the track cuts off abruptly. Smith was so honoured, he was
photographed with Mascis for the cover of Melody Maker in the summer of ’89.

Also paying tribute… Alakline Trio (American goth metallers covered the B-side The Exploding Boy); Josh
Rouse (US singer songwriter covered Boys Don’t Cry recently); Tori Amos (the “Poor Man’s Kate Bush”
covered Love Song); and Idlewild (noisy Scots were another band to take on Boys Don’t Cry).