First Night: The Cure, NME Big Gig, The O2 Arena, London
Rock muscle keeps Smith's lost soul on the road
Friday 27 February 2009
The NME gave The Cure their "God-like Genius" Award this week. If the band's Robert Smith really was God, he could hardly need it less. The Cure are among a tiny number of UK bands since punk to maintain a global mass cult far beyond fashion. Anchored by the gravity of albums such as Disintegration (1989) – intended as the "most desolate" record ever – and kept afloat by feather-light, sexy singles such as "The Lovecats", nothing, it seems, can sink them.
Smith himself has Morrissey's existential angst, meanwhile. But it is softened by crow's-nest hair and a mask of make-up which makes him cartoonishly ageless, and reassuringly permanent: gloom's reigning crown prince.
Franz Ferdinand, second on this post-NME Awards bill, are struggling for such longevity. Third album Tonight, heavily featured here, has seen them try to stretch their tight post-punk pop template. The title song's mid-song breakdown, a la early Pink Floyd, and moments of indulgent noise as Franz thrash around the stage, show them clawing their way towards something new. Their Glasgow art-school roots gratifyingly mean more to them than pop success. But much more heedless daring is needed, if they're to survive.
Smith soon wanders on, wearing the sort of anonymous baggy clothes you can imagine him in if he'd never left the Sussex suburbs of his youth. He remains boyish, not blunted by fame. The opening chords of "From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea" retain the gloomy innocence of The Cure's own beginnings, too. But they have gained arena rock muscle, which has let them conquer the US, where more overtly anthemic peers such as Echo & the Bunnymen failed. The NME got keen young UK indie acts such as British Sea Power to cover The Cure for a tribute CD last week. But The Cure are nearer to thundering US nu-metal bands than such fey local types, these days.
The churning, hard rock clatter of the band's rhythm section is, though, belied by the coquettish spark in Smith's mascara-smeared eyes, and his private joy in picking at his guitar. The impression is of a man put at odds with his tortured songs, by the pleasure of playing them.
Though Smith sometimes feels the alienation and angst which has won him so many lost souls as fans, he has declared himself incapable of true despair, or suicide. Sometimes, far from the dark Goth lord of legend,he looks like a dizzy, dumbly happy brunette tonight. "I love, I love," he keeps moaning like a mantra, at the end of one song. The chiming, soaring pop of "Without You" confirms his band truly do offer a cure, not just the disease.
Thirty years in, The Cure are a tough tribe to join for the uninitiated. The pop highs are rare these days, amid the clanging heaviness and emotional murk. Smith's blank indifference to compromise is what has let his band survive so long. If that keeps the rest of the world out, you suspect that's the way he wants it.
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
- 2 Britain First 'acting like Ukip henchmen' by invading meeting of activists in revenge for pub protest against Nigel Farage
- 3 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 4 Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
- 5 Brixton squat flats now costing up to £3k per month show how out of control rent is in London
Zayn Malik releases first solo song 'I Won't Mind' in 'Zaughty' collaboration with Naughty Boy
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Menstruation-themed photo series artist 'censored by Instagram' says images are to demystify taboos around periods
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers