'Love' Story: The Cure's 'Disintegration' and Robert Smith's Romance, 25 Years Later
Twenty-five years ago this week, the Cure released the magnum opus that Kyle from "South Park" once rightfully declared "the best album EVER!" While the Cure's epic eighth studio effort, "Disintegration," was among the band's gloomiest and doomiest (frontman Robert Smith always considered it an unofficial companion to 1982's intensely, brutally dark "Pornography"), it ironically yielded the band's sweetest — and most commercially successful — single, "Lovesong."
The Cure broke out of the post-punk underground in the mid-'80s with "The Head on the Door" and its double-disc follow-up, "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me." But it was 1989's "Disintegration" — the culmination of all of Smith's stylistic experiments, simultaneously gorgeous and raw, melancholy and exuberant, grandiose and intimate — that transformed the Cure into stadium headliners. After slugging it out with a revolving Cure lineup since 1976, Robert Smith — with his spidery hair and trademark smeared scrawl of crimson lipstick — had somehow become one of music's most unlikely and reluctant rock stars.
And all along the way, a girl named Mary, who inspired "Lovesong" and soon after that became Mrs. Smith, had been by Robert's side.
Smith met Mary Poole when he was just 14 years old at St. Wilfrid's Comprehensive School in Crawley, England, when he drummed up the nerve to ask her to be his partner in a drama-class project. "I just struck lucky early on," he told The Guardian in 2004. According to an interview he conducted with the publication Lime Lizard in 1991, it was Mary's lack of confidence in his future as a musician that instilled in him the drive to make the Cure (originally the Easy Cure) successful. And almost 15 years after they met, a very successful Robert penned "Lovesong" as his wedding present for Mary. The two exchanged vows on Aug. 13, 1988, and are still together, their rock 'n' roll marriage bucking the odds and showing no signs of, well, disintegrating.
"It's an open show of emotion," Robert told journalist Jeff Apter at the time of "Lovesong's" release. "It's not trying to be clever. It's taken me 10 years to reach the point where I feel comfortable singing a very straightforward love song."
While not much is known about the reclusive Smiths' personal lives, Mary seems to be as eccentric as her husband; Robert once told The Face magazine that she "used to dress as a witch to scare little children," and he described her as "mental." More seriously, he told Pop magazine in 1996: "Mary means so incomprehensibly much to me. I actually don't think she has ever realized how dependent I've been of her during all these years we've been together. She's always been the one that has saved me when I have been the most self-destructive, she's always been the one that has caught me when I have been so very close to falling apart completely, and if she would have disappeared — I am sorry, I know that I'm falling into my irritating, miserable image by saying it — then I would have killed myself."
But Robert's other occasional comments about his wife to the press have been — and this isn't a word most would usually employ to describe the spooky, frightwigged singer — downright adorable.
"I love her, I adore her… She's my Cindy Crawford," he told Top magazine in 2004. When asked in 1990 by Cure News what one experience in the past he'd like to go back and repeat, Robert answered, "My first dance with Mary." (Incidentally, Mary isn't in the "Lovesong" video, but she did make a cameo dancing with Robert in the video for 1987's "Just Like Heaven," another sweet Cure song that she inspired.)
Robert's wedding present to Mary, sometimes known as "Love Song," hit No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart on Oct. 21, 1989; it was the Cure's only U.S. top 10 hit. It was also the band's biggest British single, peaking at No. 5. And the song was the wedding gift that kept on giving, no doubt creating a nice nest egg for the Smiths with royalties from later hit cover versions by 311, "American Idol" winner Candice Glover, and especially Adele, who recorded it for her "21" album, which sold 26 million copies worldwide.
Ironically, "Disintegration" as a whole wasn't a very lovey-dovey album at all; it was actually a concerted effort to return to the more claustrophobically depressing, and presumably less mainstream, sound of the Cure's earlier material. "After the 'Kiss Me' album, we got our first real taste of big-time success in America. My reaction to it was to make 'Disintegration,' which was at the time considered to be commercial suicide," Robert admitted to Yahoo Music in 2000.
The recording of "Disintegration" was plagued by Robert's preoccupation with his looming 30th birthday, by his discomfort with his increasing fame, by his regular LSD use, and by original member Lawrence Tolhurst's alcohol abuse. (Tolhurst left the band midway through "Disintegration's" recording.) The album's first single, not "Lovesong" but the brooding "Fascination Street," was hardly a formulaic radio hit, featuring nearly two-and-half minutes of anticipation-building guitar noodling before Smith's pained vocals even kicked in. Other tracks, unlike the perfectly precise 3:30 "Lovesong," clocked in at seven to nine minutes, and dealt with Smith's favorite obsessive hot topics, like death, drowning, aging, unraveling relationships, rain, and killer arachnoids. This was not a shiny happy pop album.
And yet somehow, owed at least in part to "Lovesong's" unexpected success, "Disintegration" became the Cure's biggest release, going triple-platinum and helping define "alternative music" long before Seattle's flannel-swathed '90s revolution swooped in and rendered the term "alternative" mostly meaningless. But "Disintegration" didn't just mark the Cure's commercial peak; many critics would argue that it was the band's greatest artistic achievement as well. And interestingly, "Lovesong" wasn't even the album's best cut. Real Cure diehards (no pun intended) would likely cite the title track, "Plainsong," or "Prayers for Rain" as better representations of the "Disintegration" experience.
Some of those fans, not to mention music critics, have only half-jokingly attributed the Cure's commercial and/or creative post-"Disintegration" decline to Smith's increased contentment as an older, wiser, more settled married man. While the Cure went on to release other successful albums, notably 1992's "Wish," and the group is a headlining fixture on the festival circuit to this day, the Cure's output since "Disintegration" has been frustratingly sporadic. The Cure issued eight iconic studio albums between 1979 and 1989 (nine, if you count the B-sides/singles collection "Japanese Whispers") — practically an album a year — but have released only five uneven full albums in the entire quarter-century since. The band's last album, "4:13 Dream," came out nearly six years ago. A new Cure release is tentatively scheduled for this year, but it almost seems like Smith had nothing left in him after he laid something so massive and ambitious as "Disintegration" to tape, since the band never totally recaptured that album's glory.
These days, Robert, who just turned 55, lives a quiet between-tours life with wife Mary in London, seemingly a different man from that neurotic 29-year-old whose early-onset midlife crisis spurred "Disintegration." But his landmark album, like his marriage, has endured. And when longtime fans listen to that timeless album, to loosely quote "Lovesong," it makes them feel like they are young again.
Follow Lyndsey on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Amazon, Tumblr