Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Cure for Love

In honor of the 20th wedding anniversary of Robert Smith and Mary Poole Smith, this post is all about the love songs of the Cure.

Robert and Mary were married on August 13th, 1988 at Worth Abbey near Crawley. It was a very private affair, and journalists were banned from covering the ceremony. In the book "Never Enough, the story of the Cure" by Jeff Apter, Robert is quoted as saying that the wedding was an excuse to have "a nice day so that Mary could walk down the aisle in a white dress and we could have all the aunties and uncles there". Now, 20 years later, that nice day has turned into a legendary moment in time.

Robert famously penned his most successful hit "Lovesong" as a wedding present for Mary, and it was subsequently released on the album Disintegration, to widespread acclaim. "Lovesong" went on to become the Cure's highest-charting US single to date, although many of their other love songs have reached great popularity as well, such as 1987's chart-topper "Just Like Heaven" and the cheery mood swing captured in "Friday I'm In Love" from 1992.

Although the Cure's music has often been labeled as depressing, morose or aloof, there are a multitude of songs which can be easily classed as outright love songs. We do not have access to Robert in order to confirm the inspiration for all of these songs, but it is easy to imagine that many of them are inspired by his love for his lifelong soul mate and partner, Mary. From the light and optimistic lyrics of "Mint Car" to the complex emotions contained in "Same Deep Water as You", the thirteen visions of love presented here are a celebration of their inspiring, life-long love affair.

Starting out with the as-yet-unreleased track "Underneath the Stars", this song, with lyrics about floating with your lover and looking up at the stars as the waves of the ocean break nearby is considered by many fans to be one of the finest of the tracks from the forthcoming album, and by some, to be one of the best Cure songs ever written. In a poll taken during the 4Tour of the summer of 2008 on the website "A Chain of Flowers" blog, this song garnered so many votes (ending at over 48% of the votes) that a new poll was released, saying: "BESIDES Underneath the Stars, which new song is your favorite?". A reading of many of the lyrics to these love songs shows that for Robert, romantic love is very intertwined with his love of the ocean and stars, as well as water in general, and these themes are grandly displayed in the soaring, emotive poetry and music of "Underneath the Stars".

As a B-side to one of the most popular Cure love songs, the 1987 single "Just Like Heaven", which has been called by Robert "the most perfect pop song" he ever wrote, the song "Snow in Summer" has garnered little attention in the intervening years. However, the playful sensuality of the song has long been a personal favorite of mine. It's companion B-side, the well-known track "Sugar Girl", is a sparkling little gem of a love song as well, but to me, the "Snow in Summer" track is a lusty vignette of a summer afternoon spent in the mountains with a lover, as expressed in the lyric "Sleek and deep, And salty sweet, You come, And close in me, Just like the snow in summer".

The same era that brought us "Just Like Heaven" also produced popular single "Why Can't I Be You", which shows us a person so in love with their partner that they wish to merge with them, a theme often explored elsewhere in love songs the world over. A giddy, over-the-top song notable for its video filled with amusing double-entendres and the Cure dancing in choreographed, costumed unison, it embodies the optimistic side of love where you feel that your partner can do no wrong. In live shows, the song was often used to incorporate lyrics from sources as diverse as the Disney film the Aristocats and the Frank Sinatra song "Young at Heart", thus serving as a very early version of the current mash-up fad.

Moving to present a more mature version of love, the Bloodflowers track "There is no if" shows us a couple who has been together since they were young, and the evolution of their love as it has gone through a transition from the first heady flush of young love to the steady, quiet and bittersweet reminiscences of adults. The simple lyric "If you die" you said, "So do I" you said is repeated in both instances of the story, but takes on different meanings, on one hand inducing tears of joy, and on the other, tears of the pain of the understanding of mortality.

Our next track, "Mint Car" is a happy romp through a day full of joy and abundant sunshine, a day where anything is possible. Starting out with the lyric "The sun is up, I'm so happy I could scream", this song is a cheery picture of exuberant, youthful optimism and love. This often-overlooked track from 1996's Wild Mood Swings initially charted as high as #14 on the US Modern Rock Tracks listing, showing that the fans appreciate a happy pop love song as much as they do a more solemn one.

The collaboration of Junkie XL and Robert Smith on the song "Perfect Blue Sky" is included as an example of how the songwriting talent of Robert is not limited to Cure songs, and as a demonstration again of the "vignette" style of song writing that he utilizes to perfection when writing a love song. In this song, we are invited to imagine ourselves standing "hand in hand under a perfect blue sky" with our loved one. The most successful love songs are those that allow the listener to feel the emotions of the singer, and put themselves "in the picture" of the songs, and the lyrics here are a wonderful example of this skill.

As the arguably best-known and most popular love song from the Cure, "Lovesong" as has been noted before, was written by Robert as a wedding present for Mary in the summer of 1988. A simple, accessible and straightforward song professing his love for her, "Lovesong" has become a romantic staple among Cure fans and non-fans alike. I have heard of several couples who became engaged while this song was being played during a Cure concert, and I am certain that countless dates, weddings and engagement parties have been enhanced by the song as well.

A Wish-era love song, "From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea" is a complex, layered ballad exploring the themes of love, loss and yearning, and effectively displays the extreme emotional depths so common in Cure lyrics. Like "Underneath the Stars", it builds on the story of lovers alone at the edge of the ocean that is woven through so many Cure love songs, but here the feeling is poignant and intense, without the confident maturity of the latter. The driving guitar chords intensify the meaning behind the lyrics and increases the sense of "distance within closeness" that characterizes the song. An intimate look at the multifaceted relationship between lovers, this song is a perennial live concert favorite of the fans and the band alike.

From the same time frame, and yet vastly different in feel and intensity, "Friday I'm In Love" hit #1 on the US Modern Rock Chart and was a Top 40 mainstream single as well. Although at a passing glance, it would seem to be a simple, fluffy love song, the lyrics actually display an interesting sense of ambivalence that tends to get lost on more casual listeners. Lyrics such as "Thursday I don't care about you, It's Friday I'm in love" seem to be an almost callous dismissal of the lover's feelings for his object of affection, however in the later part of the song, the callousness is cast aside in favor of the affectionate lyrics remarking on the gorgeousness of seeing "you eat in the middle of the night". Again, more complex emotions are displayed, and "Friday I'm In Love" could almost be seen as the classic example of a "love-hate" relationship.

In the box set booklet for Join the Dots, Robert describes the song "This Twilight Garden" as "one of the best love songs we've ever done", and as an attempt to distill the feeling of being in a beautiful garden at twilight in the summertime with the one you love. He masterfully captures the visual poetry of such a night in lines like these:

"I lift my lips from kissing you
And kiss the sky wide deepest blue
And slow the moon swims up
Into your golden words for me"

making it a staple on the playlists of amorously-inclined fans everywhere.

Another mood shift, and a return to the dramatic, majestic album Disintegration, "Same Deep Water as You" is a heart-wrenching exploration of love and despair, and became an instant classic "dark" love song when it was released. In this song, the lover is desperately trying to connect with his soul mate, and despairing that he cannot swim to the same depths as she. The nearly-abstract quality of the lyrics present moments that slip away as soon as they are grasped, and beautifully illustrate how difficult it can be to distill powerful emotional moments into words.

Returning to 1992, and the B-side to "Friday I'm In Love", "Halo" is a perfect Cure love song, suffused with delight and wonder and celebrating the brief and yet ecstatic moments when everything is perfect, where love is buoyant and there is only happiness. "Halo" replaces the ambiguity and callousness of the A-side track with bubbly, effervescent affection. It's a champagne glass full of sweet sips of devotion and tenderness, captured in song format.

Rounding out our album's worth of Cure love, the final track and first single from the Cure's forthcoming album, "The Only One" is a somewhat explicit ode to the physical side of love as he enumerates the many ways in which his lover pleases him. Never terribly shy about recounting his love relationship, as we saw in the lyrics to "Snow in Summer", here Robert lays all of his cards on the table, so to speak, and lets us know in no uncertain terms what he really likes!
A song that is certain to have male and female fans alike singing along, albeit for slightly different reasons, "The Only One" is a melodic and straightforward accounting, literally from the top down, of what goes on behind closed doors.

I hope you enjoyed this little trek through some of the love songs of the Cure, and that you'll join me in wishing Robert and Mary a VERY happy 20th anniversary! May they love each other eternally, and may Robert keep writing songs inspired by their amazing relationship.


goinghometime said...

Thank you for that beautiful post. I enjoyed reading every word of it...I truly enjoy the dark 'love songs' of The Cure..."There Is No If..." is truly one of my favorite songs EVER and a haunting and underrated gem by the most inspirational band in the universe...

cure_kitty said...

Another lovely post Rev! Thanks for sharing your thoughts & feelings about The Cure's Love songs! Your interpretations are excellent! :)

With a few of the songs, I had the same feelings as you did but with some of the others I did not. However, your post has opened my eyes to see beyond my thoughts, feelings & impressions and see what else Robert could be saying with his lyrics. We all take something different out of each song & I truly enjoy what you had to say! I wish I could express my feelings about the lyrics as good as you do.

Thanks once again! Keep on posting! I love your blog!

jarbee said...

Enjoyable article. However, I think that Disintegration and This is a Lie are more typical of Robert's views on love. I love the "love" songs, but there always seems to be the underlying feeling of fragility or futility of love as something that can only disappoint in the end.