In 1987 Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me threatened to make them into a pop band. The gothic weight of Disintegration saw Robert Smith taking control of his band's destiny. An Eyewitness special goes into the hows, whys, and what?
With 1987’s sprawling pop, goth and funk double LP Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, Robert Smith’s bipolar chartbusters from Crawley found US success and beckoning stadia across the world. Two years later, the hypnotising gloom of Disintegration turned up the chill to mark the group’s commercial zenith. But what sparked this retrenchment, and who were the casualties?
Keysman Lol Tolhurst and Fiction label boss/de facto manager Chris Parry recall luxury, booze and meet’n’greets.
LT: I’ve always thought there were two Cures – the original trio and what fans call the ‘Imperial Cure’ with Boris [Williams, drums] and Pearl [Porl] Thompson (guitar), which made The Head On The Door (1985). The five-piece Cure could be more musical, with the luxury to spread out. It wasn’t like we were out at goth clubs every night, our tastes were far more universal than that. We’d showed that on The Head On The Door, and when we started what became Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, Robert said to bring everything we’d all been working on – we all had little home studios by then. It was a way to open things out further, and it turned into a double album. We’d got together at Boris’s house in Devon, we installed a pool table in one room, the gear in another, and a cask of scrumpy between them, and drank loads. Simon [Gallup] called Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me our K-Tel album – it came out of being happier and less concerned with the outside world. I felt I was the custodian of the spirit of The Cure. Whoever came in, I’d engage the side of them I thought would further things for us. I’d known Pearl since we were 17, which helped, and Boris had a similar outlook, and a good sense of humour. We were like a gang, that’s why it worked. On tour, we’d roll into town each night, unapologetic, hope you like it. But by the time we toured the US for Kiss Me…, being all on one bus got a little chaotic, so we had the ‘cup of tea, read a book, go to bed’ bus and the ‘crazy motherfucker’ bus, which I admit I was on almost all the time. But audiences had really caught on to us by then. For Kiss Me… live, it sounds Spinal Tap, but the production values were the best we’d had. Each show started with us playing [Kiss Me… intro] The Kiss behind a kabuki curtain, so the audience couldn’t see us, and they only slowly realised it was us playing, and just when Rob [Robert Smith] started singing, the curtain would fall, and people went nuts, every time. You needed a spectacle to impress bigger audiences, and because Pearl’s guitar allowed Robert to wander around more, he could engage with audiences, which helped with playing bigger venues. It was a convergence of different important factors, up another level.”
“WE HAD THE ‘CRAZY MOTHERFUCKER’ BUS, WHICH I WAS ON.” Lol Tolhurst
CP: [1982 single] Let’s Go To Bed had done the initial hard work for The Cure in America, but what broke them there was Inbetween Days in 1985. America had never been on Robert’s horizon, they’d never done a big tour there, and never any meet’n’greets or that side of stuff. They were still a cult band, with mystique, though they’d begun to impregnate even pop radio, but then we had a good US label in Elektra, run by Bob Krasnow, a real Anglophile, who loved the idea of The Cure breaking the US, as I did. Lots of British bands had been going over, like New Order and The Psychedelic Furs. They were different to US bands – very exciting, and the kind of bands that American kids didn’t want to share with their parents. It was right place, right time. Standing On A Beach [The Cure singles compilation] had come out after The Head On The Door, and [1978 debut single] Killing An Arab was upsetting some Americans even then. But that issue aside, it was a really happy period for The Cure. They demoed Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me in Miraval in the south of France, and Rob was writing songs like Why Can’t I Be You? and Hot Hot Hot – it was a bit of a love-fest, slightly cocaine-driven, with lots of estate rosé wine… it was good they had good livers – with lots of joie de vivre and ‘let’s do this and that, and make a double album’. Whereas Disintegration, which followed, was more ‘let’s get into ketamine’. I mean, it wasn’t that particular drug, but it felt more down. It took few prisoners.”
Hot! Hot! Hot!!!: (main) pale boys The Cure (from left) Simon Gallup, Robert Smith, Lol Tolhurst (top), Boris Williams and Porl Thompson, Brazil, March 30, 1987; (right, from top) recent albums and singles; Smith readies for his closeup; live in February ’87; old pals Thompson and Tolhurst; Fiction boss Chris Parry with Cure sales award.