After over 40 years, The Cure have nothing left to prove - few bands have a catalogue as strong or respected as the Brits led by Robert Smith. Yet when it comes to the songwriter's own standards, they're sometimes unassailably high.
In a recent interview with The Times (opens in new tab) alongside Chvrches (opens in new tab)' Lauren Mayberry (Smith has collaborated with the Scottish band on excellent new single How Not To Drown) Smith was candid in the difficulties he's faced in finishing the Cure's 14th album.
“I’ve struggled more with finishing the words to these new Cure recordings than at any other point," Smith reveals with unflinching honesty in the interview. We recorded 20-odd songs and I wrote nothing. I mean, I wrote a lot, but at the end I looked at it and thought, ‘This is rubbish.’ The difficulty is I’ve become such a harsh critic of myself I think, ‘Who’s going to be interested in that?"
"It is really that bad. I was listening, thinking this is the best music this band has made and my words are drivel."
While reports emerged in 2019 of Smith working on up to three albums, his challenges became enough to halt work completely for a period. Until this year.
“Last year I just gave up. I thought, ‘I can’t do it'," Smith explained. "They can all be instrumentals.’ And this year I sort of came back to it. Last year was difficult for a number of reasons, not least the pandemic, but what I wrote this year I have enjoyed.”
While some fans might expect the creative process would get easier, Smith raises the challenge of having such a huge back catalogue.
“You write a certain number of songs and, honestly, you repeat yourself,” he says. “How many things are there to write about? Seven stories or something? You try to find different words for something and it steps out of your normal use of language and sounds terrible.
" I want to sing as I speak and my vocabulary is reasonably OK, so I thought, ‘I’ll put “undulating” in a song.’ That is one I tried. Then I think, ‘You’re not singing f***ing “undulating”!’ ”
It's rare to hear a musician so honest about their struggles with their craft – especially one of the greatest British songwriters. But it sounds like when it does arrive, Cure fans could be in for a treat with their new material. Though it may also be a goodbye, of sorts.
“The new Cure stuff is very emotional,” Smith reveals. “It’s ten years of life distilled into a couple of hours of intense stuff. I can’t think we’ll ever do anything else.”