With their distinctive mope-rock sound — a mix of self-obsessed lyrics, minor-key melodies, and Robert Smith's pale vocal whine — the Cure rose from Britain's late-Seventies punk scene to become one of the most popular U.K. bands of the Eighties. Smith is known for wearing death-white facial makeup, crimson lipstick, and teased black hair; he is rivaled only by Morrissey as a heartthrob for the discontented.
Robert Smith grew up in working-class Crawley, Sussex, a suburb of London. He recalls his childhood years as difficult, a time of run-ins with his parents and the law. At 17 he formed the Easy Cure with childhood friends Laurence Tolhurst and Michael Dempsey as a sort of catharsis for his feelings of frustration. The group's music has remained therapeutic for Smith.
The Cure made its initial splash in the U.K. with the 1979 single "Killing an Arab," which stirred controversy when it reappeared on the mid-Eighties retrospective Standing on a Beach: The Singles. Some U.S. radio DJs used the song, which was inspired by Albert Camus' The Stranger, to advance anti-Arab sentiments; the group included a disclaimer with subsequent pressings stating that the song "decries the existence of all prejudice and consequent violence."
While the Cure toured in 1979 as the support act to Siouxsie and the Banshees, the headliner's guitarist quit the band. Smith was recruited to fill in on the tour, beginning an active collaboration with the Banshees. He ultimately devoted much of 1983-84 as a full-time member of the band, recording both the live Nocturne and a studio album, Hyaena. In 1983, he also joined Banshees bassist Steve Severin for a side project called the Glove, releasing one album, Blue Sunshine.
When Smith once again devoted himself to the Cure, the music evolved from the sparse punk pop of that song and other early singles ("Boys Don't Cry," "Jumping Someone Else's Train," "The Lovecats") to the dirgy, moody music of Faith and Seventeen Seconds, to the more focused hits on the later albums Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Disintegration, and Wish.
While the Cure had been a top hit-making indie band in the U.K. since the early-Eighties, it wasn't until the release of Standing on a Beach (and its CD-only counterpart, Staring at the Sea) (Number 48, 1986) that the band moved beyond cult status in the U.S. The double-album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (Number 35) debuted in June 1987, spawning the minor hits "Why Can't I Be You?" (Number 54, 1987), "Just Like Heaven" (Number 40, 1987), and "Hot Hot Hot!!!" (Number 65, 1988). In 1989, Disintegration reached Number 12 and included the group's biggest hit yet, "Love Song" (Number Two). Wish is the band's most successful album to date, reaching Number Two and including the surprisingly upbeat "Friday I'm in Love" (Number 18). The subsequent tour was documented on record and a film, both titled Show (an additional live collection, Paris, culled from the same tour was also released in 1993).
In 1996 the Cure released Wild Mood Swings (Number 12), which attempted to broaden the band's sound to include a track of Latin-flavored pop, earning mostly negative reviews, and with "The 13th" (Number 44) its highest-charting single. Another best-of, Galore (Number 32), followed in 1997. Three years later, Smith unveiled the Cure's best-reviewed album in years, Bloodflowers (Number 16), the third part of a trilogy they began with Pornography and Disintegration. That same year, the Cure launched a world tour by announcing it would be the band's last. But Smith soon began to hedge on that promise, saying all the subsequent attention and sudden acclaim made him strangely...happy. He chose to keep the band intact, but had designs on redesigning its future.
In 2001, the band released a greatest hits album and DVD on Polydor and toured extensively, doing a series of performances of Pornography, Disintegration and Bloodflowers for a set of DVDs, The Cure: Trilogy, released in 2003. The following year, the band released a four-disc, seventy-song boxed set, Join the Dots: B-Sides and Rarities, 1978-2001 (The Fiction Years) (Number 106, 2004).
Meanwhile, the Cure signed with Geffen Records and began its new life on the label with an album titled simply The Cure (Number 7, 2004). The record proved extremely controversial. Produced by Ross Robinson, best known for his work with rock bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, the album found the Cure leaning more heavily on guitars than recent outings. The resulting record caused Smith to take a defensive posture in interviews, arguing that the reinvention was necessary to preserve the future of the band. Of particular note was the song "Us or Them," where Smith lashed out at the American government for its xenophobia post-9/11. He acknowledged that the song did not sit well with other members of the band, who argued that he was "politicizing the Cure." That summer, Smith created the Curiosa festival, a touring package headlined by the Cure and featuring support sets by groups that cited the Cure as an influence — among them Interpol, the Rapture and Muse. Because the Cure were playing to mostly casual fans on these tours, their sets were shortened and focused mainly on the hits — further alienating the more devoted members of their fanbase.
Also that year, MTV honored the band with its Icon award. All was not well within the group, however, and following the tumultuous self-titled release the band, for all intents and purposes, broke up. The hiatus was short-lived — one year later a reconstituted Cure returned. Roger O'Donnell and Pery Bamonte were out, former member Porl Thompson was back in, and Simon Gallup and Jason Cooper remained intact. In 2005, the Cure recorded a version of John Lennon's "Love" for an Amnesty International charity album.
In October 2008, the Cure released their thirteenth studio album, 4:13 Dream. What began as a double album was gradually whittled down to 13 songs, and the group embarked on a world tour shortly thereafter, reinventing classic songs to suit the leaner lineup.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). J. Edward Keyes contributed to this article.