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POP MUSIC

He'll never be cured of his musical passion

Robert Smith still gets a charge making music. Fighting in the studio over the new album? Hey, whatever works.

June 27, 2004|Karla S. Blume; Dean Kuipers | Times Staff Writer

Twenty-FIVE years after the rise of the post-punk movement in England, the Cure still comes at us with spiky hair, heavy makeup and, despite millions of albums sold, music that feels like it's challenging the mainstream.

On the eve of the release of the band's first album in four years, leader Robert Smith, 45, talks about the Cure's legacy and why, for the first time, he handed the production reins to someone else.

This summer the quintet will headline their own Curiosa Festival, featuring several bands who have been influenced by the Cure, including Interpol and the Rapture. The festival will be at the Home Depot Center in Carson on Aug. 27.

It's an accomplishment to maintain a hold on your original fans as well as attract a generation of new fans. Why can so few bands do that?

I think it's because it's unusual for someone my age to still be passionate about music. You lose it for better or worse as you get older 'cause other things become more important. I don't think there is anything that's more important than music to me because there's nothing else that makes me feel anything like that. Everything that made me feel something when I was young is still the same now. I haven't got any children, so I think my perception of life and my place in it hasn't changed that much.

Cure fans might have been a little shocked to read that you were going to work with producer Ross Robinson on the new album. He's known for going into the studio with such bands as Limp Bizkit and Korn, whose hard-core music seems the direct opposite of yours. Ross is a big Cure fan, and he wanted to make an album that reminded him of what life was like for him growing up when he listened to our album from 1989, "Disintegration."

Even though the album lists you as co-producer, you gave most of the control to him. What was it like giving that up?

When we're in the studio, I only have one shot of doing a song correctly, so it's not really an issue of control so much as the thought that if someone's going to mess it up, it's going to be me, because otherwise I'll just get really angry about it. But I completely trusted Ross straight away because if I didn't, there was no point in doing an album. There's no second-guessing.

What was the atmosphere like in the studio?

It was quite surreal, some of the things that went on. Ross was chucking stuff at us, attacking us when we were playing. We filmed some of it because I was so outraged at first that I set up a video camera in the corner 'cause I thought, "No one's gonna believe this." He took one of my guitars and smashed it into the drum kit because he thought that we weren't playing with enough passion. But it's good because we all got mad and played better, and that helped him get the desired effect. Ross makes you think about why you are standing in this room playing and what the point is of hitting this first chord.

Now that you are eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, how do you feel about someday being inducted?

It doesn't mean anything to me. When I was young, I really despised [awards]. I thought that if I was ever offered a knightship

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Bright spots keep the Cure current

The Cure

"The Cure" (Geffen)

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At a moment when almost every band on modern rock radio seems to have been touched by the Cure -- including a thousand soggy emo singers with catches in their voices and 311 with its hit remake of "Lovesong" -- the Cure still inhabit an emotional space that's all their own.

With the opening track, "Lost," spinning open a dirgey, lightless morass, the band's first album in four years (in stores Tuesday) threatens to disintegrate into irresistible but directionless brooding, leading to a few songs, such as "(I Don't Know What's Going) On," that powerfully go nowhere.

But, as in the past, Robert Smith and crew seem to find themselves, and come up with their better songs when he's in love. "Taking Off" is the ascendant Cure that brightens the pop skies with a ringing chorus: "Tonight I climb with you / Tonight so high with you."

The Middle Eastern and flamenco touches that drove 1985's "The Head on the Door," turn up in "Labyrinth," with a wobbling bass figure and a high sitar-like note adding drama to an elusive fever rumination on identity. "Us or Them" is a real aberration for the Cure -- a protest song apparently commenting on the fundamentalism driving both sides of the war on terrorism, and though it's definitely Smith at his angriest, it's just not that rewarding.

The lyric invention of past Cure albums is missing, but the pop transcendence emerges in fits. It's on "Before Three," as Smith swings into a state of momentary bliss: "Every summer's sun I want again / And every winter's moon I want the same / My happiest day and my happiest night / Next to you...."

-- Dean Kuipers

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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