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Pop Music Review : Cure's Smith Shapes Up As New Idol

July 16, 1987|RICHARD CROMELIN

With his slash of red lipstick and eye makeup and wild tangle of hair, the Cure's Robert Smith looked like a prototype for a line of "Eraserhead" dolls on Tuesday night at the Forum. But as unlikely as it might seem from appearances, this chubby harlequin is shaping up as a major rock god.

Smith and company didn't quite claim the throne this time around--their stage instincts don't show the ambition and imagination of their musical instincts--but as far as consolidating territory and establishing a base for future expansion, Tuesday's show did the job.

The two-night Forum engagement caps the English band's decade-long progress from post-punk underground to the bright light of semi-mass popularity (Tuesday's audience was mainly mainstream, with a smattering of older fans with fanciful hairdos). Unlike the Psychedelic Furs and others who've gone that route, the Cure hasn't sacrificed its originality to pay its passage.

It took two songs to rid the sound system of its harshness, and from there on singer-guitarist Smith and his five cohorts dug into the amazing variety of styles that the Cure has explored over the years.

The heart of the show was material from the current double album "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me." As the title suggests, this music is largely an exotic, erotic celebration of the intoxicating power of love.

In the "Kiss Me" songs, Smith launches himself into a realm of instinctive, free-associating expression. He's out there taking chances, reveling in risks, delighting in dizzy imagery as he delivers giddy greeting cards from states of ecstasy.

By demolishing restraints, Smith opens out into areas of troubled sex-and-danger, playing the allure against the ominous mystery. At other times he's just plain playful and head-over-heels.

The disarming openness of his songs is paralleled in his singing. Smith sends his voice out there to slip and slide around in the buffeting instrumental storms, where he yelps and wavers as he fights to keep his pitch.

The slight uncertainty in his tone adds an edge of Eastern exotica to the Cure's eclectic blend. This band traverses styles from moody, murky opium-dream ballads to spicy Ango-funk to light pop. If the Cure has one signature blend, it's the rich mix of driving acoustic guitar laced with ribbons of sweet organ melody on songs like "In Between Days."

On Tuesday, Smith and the band presented all of this in a straightforward, natural, forthright manner, with none of the posturing you expect from English pop stars, and with a warmth that eludes some of the more serious English musicians. They rarely overplayed or stretched the songs out of shape, and there was really only one major extended jam--an intense energy build-up on "A Forest."

As appealing as the music was, and engaging as Smith could be, the Cure fell short of the special artist-audience bond that artists like early David Bowie and current Peter Gabriel have established. Smith remained slightly reserved, and didn't enlarge on what we already know from the records. When he decides to take the chances on stage that he does in his music, look out.

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