[13 December 2011]
Sound Affects Editor
Last week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the winning inductees this year from a 15-name strong ballot. So congratulations are in order for rock icons Guns N’ Roses (a major band, if overrated), Red Hot Chili Peppers (quite underrated, given its accomplishments), Beastie Boys (the Hall never followed the strictest definition for the rock genre, but it’s a bit late to backtrack now and the Beasties are certainly musical heavyweights who have stronger rock credentials than most hip-hop acts), Donovan (ok, we’ll mark this as a pass for a few cracking singles), Laura Nyro (uh . . . really?), and the Small Faces/the Faces (these aren’t the same band, people . . .). Just as notable are the names that weren’t voted in, which include Heart, War, Donna Summer (whom you’ll hear about in detail tomorrow here at Sound Affects), and the most important proper rock band that didn’t make the cut in 2011: the Cure.
Why is the fact that the Cure only made the ballot this year after years of eligibility an egregious snub to be filed among the baffling ranks of current Hall non-inductees that range from Kiss to Donna Summer to the Smiths? Ok, the long-running British group (led by Robert Smith, its only consistent member) was by no means the first post-punk band or even the most influential, and Bauhaus created and defined goth, the genre the Cure is most associated with. What makes the Cure worthy enough to belong to alongside the ranks of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and U2 is a combination of trailblazing inroads into the musical mainstream, an extensive influence over later musicians, and a diverse body of songs that could’ve formed the basis of the careers of four or five lesser groups.
While Bauhaus invented goth with its 1979 debut single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and the Cure didn’t begin to head in similar direction until the single “A Forest” in 1980, as the biggest act the genre ever produced Smith and his cohorts will forever remain the form and attending subculture’s poster boys to the greater public. Smith’s pale complexion, ghoulish makeup, and wild backcombed hairdo represent the face of goth, and his frequently gloomy songs and pitch-black wardrobe further enhance his already melancholic image, one that is an instantly recognizable cutltural archetype around the world. In the 1980s, goth was one of the bridges between the post-punk movement and what became alternative rock, and the Cure was right there at the juncture, representing both an elegy for rock with its splintered death dirges and a new means by which to perpetuate the style without relying on clichés cribbed from the Guide to Stardom According to the Rolling Stones. In the process, the ensemble became one of the largest fish in the immense yet little-illuminated pond that was that decade’s underground rock scene. A core artist of college and modern rock radio playlists, the Cure broke internationally just before R.E.M.—its only true commercial rival in ‘80s alt-rock—did, and by the time Nirvana and the grunge wave made alternative mainstream, Smith and Co. had already shifted millions of records around the globe all on their lonesome, with hit singles like “Just Like Heaven” and “Lovesong” the sublime garnish atop that success.
Just as Smith’s visage has left its imprint in the eponymous protagonists of the 1990 film Edward Scissorhands and Neil Gaiman’s landmark The Sandman comic book series, his group’s musical influence has disseminated throughout more than one generation of rock musicians. Be it the Smashing Pumpkins or AFI, Jane’s Addiction or the Deftones, Blink-182 or Korn, some of the most popular and innovative names in rock’s past three decades in a myriad of substyles bow at the altar of the Cure, taking cues from its ghostly guitar lines, mournful moodscapes, and darkly romantic lyrics. To even macho nu metallers, the Cure has been an exemplar of how to combine sadness with pop charms, and beautiful sonic textures with ferocious bite.
But where would the Cure be without the output to instigate that legacy in the first place? Quite simply, Smith is one of the finest songsmiths of the last 30 years. Though pigeonholed by the unfamiliar as author of punishingly grim soundtracks for angsty brooding and funerals, he’s a stylistic chameleon who dabbles in anything and everything, including psychedelia (his Glove side-project with Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Steve Severin), jaunty jazz (“The Lovecats”), synthpop (“The Walk”), uptempo horn-driven R&B (“Why Can’t I Be You?”), acid house grooves (“Never Enough”), and giddy guitar pop (“Friday I’m in Love”, “Mint Car”). Few bands since the classic rock era have sought to balance such a range over their bodies of work with a masterful command of how to craft the perfect pop song. Who else would make such an indelible hook out of a line like “Yesterday I got so old / I felt like I could die” in “In-Between Days”, or make the percussive slaughterhouse nightmare of “The Hanging Garden” so alarmingly catchy?
Mark my words: now the Cure has made the important step of making it onto a Rock Hall ballot and other ‘80s groups have paved the way, it will make it into the Hall itself someday, possibly soon. It’s just a matter of time. And once one begins delving into their astonishingly consistent singles compilations and essential albums like Pornography, The Head on the Door, and Disintegration, the scope and quality of the Cure’s songbook becomes refreshingly clear.