Since forming in 1976, the Cure has weathered punk, disco, new wave, five presidential administrations (soon to be six) and more lineup changes than former Astros skipper Phil Garner. Their sound — most often thickly knotted layers of despairing guitar and keyboard that builds from a whisper to a roar — is responsible for a good deal of alternative rock as we know it, spawning admirers and imitators across the globe in every imaginable style. The Cure is one of the few bands for whom it's possible to separate the many tribute albums recorded in their honor by genre: hardcore, electro, Spanish, all-piano, etc. Last month Pitchfork reported two more compilations are now on the way, with the Raveonettes, Rosebuds, Blonde Redhead and Houston's own Indian Jewelry among the latest groups to fall under the Cure's spell.
Dozens of others have become consumed enough to form tribute bands: San Diego's The Cured played Numbers May 31, and others include Seattle's Fascination Street, L.A.'s the Curse, the UK's Cureheads and Italy's Seventeen Seconds. What's more, established bands love to cover the Cure: famous covers include 311's "Lovesong," Deftones' "If Only Tonight I Could Sleep," Dinosaur Jr.'s "Just Like Heaven" and "A Night Like This" by Smashing Pumpkins. And Houston's Studemont Project does an excellent version of "Killing an Arab."
Founder, frontman and sole remaining original member Robert Smith has threatened to pull the plug for good several times over the last decade, but can't quite bring himself to do it. Instead he keeps making albums, even postponing last year's scheduled U.S. tour to complete the band's (un)lucky thirteenth. Still untitled, it won't be out until September, but the band plans to release one single a month until then. The first, "The Only One," is poppier than anything the Cure has done in years: a return, however momentary, to the giddy gallop of "In Between Days" and "Friday I'm in Love."
The Cure plays 7 p.m. Monday, June 9, at Toyota Center, 1510 Polk, 1-866-4HOUTIX.
Smith and company haven't been in Houston since 2004, so to welcome them back, here's a brief guide to some of the people, places, images and themes that have come into the Cure's orbit lo these many years.
Animals: References to our furry and feathered friends surface frequently in Smith's songs, especially early on when his general outlook on humanity was less than optimistic. His state of mind circa Pornography's "Hanging Garden": "Fall fall fall out of the sky, cover my face as the animals die."
In 1983, his fascination carried over to the Cure's first pure pop success, "The Love Cats." The period around 1984's The Top was especially turbulent — "In a way, [it's] the solo album I never made," Smith says in the liner notes to Rhino's 2006 reissue — and the album is a virtual menagerie: "Shake Dog Shake," "Birdmad Girl," "The Caterpillar," "Piggy in the Mirror," "Bananafishbones." Smith largely let the animals be in later years, though Disintegration's "Lullaby" stars a ravenous "spiderman" who walks on "candy-striped legs."
Crawley: Industrial suburb about 30 miles southwest of London, whose name derives from the picturesque Anglo-Saxon image of "a crow-infested clearing." Location of Gatwick Airport, the Hobby to Heathrow's Bush Intercontinental. Smith started an early version of the Cure with some classmates at Crawley's Notre Dame Middle School in the mid-'70s. Its typical suburban surroundings, and the spirit-crushing boredom they evoke, fueled Smith's early development as a songwriter — he wrote "10:15 Saturday Night," a highlight of 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys, at his parents' kitchen table. Though today Crawley's population is around 100,000, there still doesn't seem to be all that much to do, other than drink and fight. "At the last count there was about 14 drinking establishments in the High Street alone," says online travel guide Local Webs UK, "and that is only a couple of hundred yards long!"
Janus: Roman god of gates, doorways, beginnings and endings who lends his name to the month January and the word janitor. Janus famously had two faces, as does the Cure: The group best known for album-length thickets of dense, angst-ridden noise like Pornography and Disintegration can also summon the pop purity of "Let's Go to Bed" or "Just Like Heaven" seemingly on a whim. Few other bands in rock history have been able to do this at all, let alone as successfully as the Cure, but both the Beatles and Led Zeppelin also navigated the distance between playful and ponderous with great skill.
Siouxsie & the Banshees: Seminal UK band started by rabid Sex Pistols fan Siouxsie Sioux in London in 1976. Always leaning toward the Velvet Underground side of the punk spectrum, the Banshees became a profound influence on the Cure when they recruited the fledgling "Boys Don't Cry"-era group as their opening act for a 1979 tour. When Banshees guitarist John McKay quit shortly after the album Join Hands came out, Smith filled in for the duration of the tour, which led directly to the bleak tones of subsequent Cure LPs Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography. Regrouping from such psychologically shattering material, Smith rejoined the Banshees full-time between 1982 and 1984. In 1983, Smith and Banshees bassist Steve Severin formed a side project called the Glove and recorded the LP Blue Sunshine.
The Scream: The most famous of the "Frieze of Life" series of paintings and one of the most iconic images in modern art, Edvard Munch's masterpiece also provided the title of Siouxsie & the Banshees' first album. Unsurprisingly, references to screaming and crying pop up throughout the Cure's catalog: "Burn," "Fascination Street," "The Holy Hour," "Doubt," "A Short Term Effect," "Hanging Garden," "Figurehead," "Kyoto Song," "The Baby Screams," "The Love Cats," "Boys Don't Cry," "Watching Me Fall," "Just Like Heaven," "The Only One."
The Stranger: 1942 novel by Albert Camus examining the ramifications of existentialist behavior, in this case the protagonist's seaside shooting of an Arab. The source of one of the Cure's earliest breakthrough singles, 1979's "Killing an Arab," and title of 1986 singles compilation Staring at the Sea. Smith has turned to literature for inspiration several other times: Seventeen Seconds' "The Drowning Man" is based on Mervyn Peake's gothic Gormenghast series, while The Top's "Bananafishbones" takes its title from the J.D. Salinger short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."
Set List: May 26, 2008, Vancouver, British Columbia
The End of the World
Sleep When I'm Dead
Pictures of You, Lullaby
The Perfect Boy
From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea
Hot Hot Hot
The Only One
Friday I'm In Love
In between Days
Just Like Heaven
One Hundred Years
The Love Cats
Let's Go To Bed
Close To Me
Why Can't I Be You?
Boys Don't Cry
Jumping Someone Else's Train
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10:15 Saturday Night
Killing An Arab