In my freshman year of college I occasionally would encountered black clad pale faced boot wearing students. These people were often fashion or fine arts majors who ironically used their parents hand me down German luxury cars as billboards to denounce consumerism. Goth people were common at my art school campus. Very often this person looked like someone from The Dammed or more specifically Robert Smith of the Cure.
Fortunately for me, I befriended one who had excellent taste in music. She was a huge fan of Robert Smith and the Cure and was delighted to know that I had two Cure albums in the newfangled CD format! We auditioned everything from funk to jangle rock to darkwave. Despite all the musical styles and personalities we talked about and listened to, it all seemed to come back to Robert Smith of the Cure.
Smith would gradually become the poster child for the underbelly of alternative music as the 1980s began. There were other looks, but Smith had been a long enough fixture with The Cure to have built a solid reputation as a post-punk, goth and finally pop-rock superstar. Smith had crafted his image to the point of being the template for everyone from Edward Scissorhands to a sleuth of emo rockers.
I was always a casual fan of The Cure until the arrival of their 6th album The Head on the Door‘. The dark Gothic brooding of previous work had begun to lighten up. There was always a kind of perverse humor in the Cure’s music, but it would take a string of clever videos to show new audiences a more pop friendly band.
The big bright sound of ‘In Between Days’ masked it’s depressing lyrics (yesterday I felt so old I felt like I could die…) in a way that was becoming commonplace for songs written by Robert Smith. Similar bands like Souxie and the Banshees were still trying to figure out how they could translate goth to the charts, while Smith was already laying down the groundwork with Head in the Door.
With a look somewhere between a vampire and a cast extra from the Broadway play Cats, Smith used humor and irony to often cartoonist effect. His playful image and the bands new found pop smarts came partly as a result of using a former Thompsons Twins keyboardist. Whatever the reason Head in the Door hooked many new Cure fans.
Even a potentially terrifying moment introduced humor and innovative arrangements. The video for the single ‘Close to Me’ sounded like it could have been recorded in the doomed wooden crate featured in the video. With what really did sound like combs as instruments, ‘Close to Me’ was one of 1985’s most unconventional pop songs. It was as funny as it was funky thanks to a stripped down sound emphasizing rhythm.
There were still moments of shoe gazing goth present on Head in the Door as in the haunting ‘Sinking’. Gloom or no gloom, The Cure were becoming MTV and radio favorites, cracking the 100 album chart in America for the first time.
Clearly The Cure had figured out how to turn the kind of dark goth that was once relegated to people who thought they were vampires into top 40 radio fare. It would just be the beginning as The Cure along with U2 and Depeche Mode would go on to being some of the ’80s biggest rock acts. Years later as the ’80s came to a close and I was facing graduation, fashion and fine arts majors were still dressing like Robert Smith.