Thirty years ago this week, on May 2, 1989, 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 their 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 Poole, 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 Smith 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. In the past, I’ve always felt a last-minute need to disguise the sentiment. ...I couldn’t think of what to give her, so I wrote her that song — cheap and cheerful. She would have preferred diamonds, I think, but she might look back and be glad that I gave her that.” (Mary’s wedding gift to her new husband was reportedly a platinum heart.)
Robert Smith & Mary Poole's wedding day (1988) pic.twitter.com/xZPNvl0VmM
— Classic Alternative (@altclassic) September 1, 2016
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. Their first dance, as teens, was to David Bowie’s “Life on Mars.”)
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 21, an album that sold 31 million copies worldwide.
However, 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 Entertainment in the 2000 interview seen above.
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 Lol Tolhurst's alcohol abuse. (Tolhurst left the band midway through Disintegration's recording, and while Tolhurst blasted the album at the time, he has since changed his mind.) 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 noise 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 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 double-platinum and helping define "alternative music" long before Seattle's flannel-swathed revolution of the 1990s. 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. True 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.
However, the band seems to be experiencing a resurgence, three decades after that album’s release. The Cure were just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; they’re planning special concerts at which they will play Disintegration in its entirety, including one at the Sydney Opera House on May 30 that will be live-streamed; Smith just re-recorded a string-quartet version of the Disintegration track “Pictures of You” for the film Dead Good; Smith is working on a Cure documentary with longtime video director Tim Pope, while Tolhurst is planning a doc about the Gothic music scene; and the Cure are planning to release a new studio album (their first since 2008) some time this year. Smith has described the new record and “dark” and “incredibly intense,” so it sounds like it will be perfect companion piece for Disintegration.
These days, Smith, who just turned 60, lives a quiet between-tours life with Mary in Britain, 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 play that masterwork, to quote "Lovesong," it makes them feel like they are young again.
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