With Robert Smith there are always two sides to every story: his lyrics, his music, his style, his personality, his life – everything seems to be wandering in an air of mystery that surrounds The Cure frontman since he first entered the music scene with his untidy black hair and messy red lipstick. Being the driving force behind The Cure for almost 35 years, Robert Smith remains a unique case of artist, one of those that cannot be passed, even if one hates Goth punk in its early roots.
Robert Smith’s Goth Face
The debut album of The Cure, “Three Imaginary Boys” (1979), was the beginning of an unrestrained psychedelic euphoria in the wake of post-punk revolution in the UK. Along with groups like Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen, Bauhaus and many others, The Cure established their own style, building their myth on the dark side of life. During their success, Robert Smith evolved into a remarkable poet. His introvert verses and his peculiar, almost shy way to express himself, made The Cure the vehicle of his own explorations, but at the same time, one of the most influential post-punk groups in the history of music.
In their early years, in Sussex, the band and Smith himself experimented with dark, tormented music and lyrics. Being a dark personality himself, Smith wrote depressing lyrics, flirting with death and glorifying drama. Always dressed in black, always talking black, always feeling black, Robert Smith got himself in a relentless spin of melancholy reflected on his poetry.
In “A Forest” from “Seventeen Seconds” (1980), The Cure’s second album, Smith writes “It’s always the same, I’m running towards nothing, again and again and again and again..”
In “Primary” from “Faith” (1981), The Cure’s third album, Smith writes “The further we go and older we grow, the more we know, the less we show …”
In “A Hundred Years” from The Cure’s fourth album, “Pornography” (1982), Smith writes “It doesn’t matter if we all die…” and then continues “A prayer for something better, please love me…. A sound like a tiger thrashing in the water thrashing in the water, over and over, we die one after the other…”
Robert Smith’s Pop Face
Over the course of years, Robert Smith became more commercial, happier and more pop. He equally represents the pure pop of “Close To Me” (1985), the overflowing love of “Just Like Heaven” (1987), the deserted lover in “Disintegration” (1989), the happy lover in “Friday I’m In Love” (1992) and so many happy things that, for a moment, life seemed like a big party listening to The Cure. All that gloom, all that depression, all that misery had suddenly transformed into a happy hour. Smith was accused of converting the “Cure sound” into commercial pop crap betraying the Goth values and the post-punk sounds that so many fans had adored in the early days of the group and had religiously followed and worshiped.
How can suddenly the same person that was glorifying human existence and was influenced by French Existentialism (“Killing an Arab” is based on the “L’Etranger” of Albert Camus), write about love, life, and happiness? In “Just Like Heaven” from The Cure’s seventh album, “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me” (1987), Smith writes “I kissed her face and kissed her head, and dreamed of all the different ways I had to make her glow”. What does this have to do with tangoing with death in “Pornography” (1982)?
Robert Smith Remains Gloomy
Robert Smith has indeed many faces. Since 1976 he has been a songwriter, singer and guitarist of post-punk group, but also a cult hero, a video star, and a style leader. He has experimented with several sounds and has managed to bridge the gap between the punk and the pop. Although he has produced so many diverse sounds, the “Cure sound” has never really changed. Even in the most “poppish” songs the basic elements are bass lines, drums and synthesizers; keyboards, and acoustic guitars that make the sound kind of happier appear ad hoc.
As for the lyrics, it takes a bit of effort to read behind the lines and see that Robert Smith has never really stopped being melancholic. Even if he anchors his lyrics with a happier music, they remain sad and gloomy.
In” Close To Me”, from “The Head On The Door” (1985), The Cure’s sixth album, Smith writes “I’ve waited hours for this, I’ve made myself so sick, I wish I’d stayed asleep today, I never thought this day would end, I never thought tonight could ever be this close to me.”
In “Disintegration”, the title track from The Cure’s eighth album (1989), Smith writes “I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery, stains on the carpet and stains on the memory, songs about happiness murmured in dreams when we both of us knew how the end always is…”
How can possibly these lyrics be considered happy only because the music is pop?
With Robert Smith there are always two sides to every story. Yet, there is also one thing that remains stable all these years: Robert is still dark, melancholic, unconventional, and bizarre, bearing all those virtues that a person should have to be artistically creative. Maybe this explains why of all the changes that The Cure went through – bass players, guitarists, drummers – Robert Smith is the only constant element since 1976.
There is not much to say about Robert Smith. Only that with his lyrics he brought up whole generations and he made people think and feel. The “messiah of melancholy” is still here. Thankfully.
“It’s not a case of doing what’s right, it’s just the way I feel that matters, tell me I’m wrongI don’t really care…” – “Play For Today” (from “Seventeen Seconds” – 1980)