“It’s really hard to keep hold of your younger self. When you’ve written about it, it’s like a diary when you write songs, and you sort of think, ‘F*** me, was I that sad when I was that young?’ I had no idea.”
So uttered the Robert Smith on the first night of the Cure’s sold-out, three-show run at Los Angeles’s 17,500-capacity Hollywood Bowl, speaking to an adoring generation that has grown up — and grown older — listening to his anguished, angsty confessionals over the past four decades. During each evening’s nearly three-hour set, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-inducted post-punk band’s gloomier selections (especially “A Thousand Hours,” with its opening gut-punch, “For how much longer can I howl into this wind?/For how much longer can I cry like this?”) certainly hit different in 2023. But it was the six unreleased songs from the Cure’s long-delayed and much-anticipated 14th studio album, Songs of a Lost World (which will be their first LP release since 2008’s 4:13 Dream), that were especially dark — even by Cure standards — as Smith, now age 64, grappled with his mortality in a way he simply couldn’t in his twenties and thirties.
“I’ve experienced more of life’s darker side, for real. Before I used to write about stuff that I thought I understood. Now I know I understand it. The lyrics I’ve been writing for this album, for me personally, are more true,” Smith told Britain’s NME in 2019, when he first teased plans for the new record. “They’re more honest. That’s probably why the album itself is a little bit more doom-and-gloom. I feel I want to do something that expresses the darker side of what I’ve experienced over the last few years — but in a way that will engage people.” That same year, Smith told the Los Angeles Times that Songs of a Lost World would be “very much on the darker side of the spectrum. I lost my mother and my father and my brother recently, and obviously it had an effect on me. … It’ll be worth the wait. I think it’s the best thing we’ve done, but then I would say that. A lot of the songs are difficult to sing, and that’s why it’s taken me a while.”
Smith, one of the most instantly identifiable voices in rock, actually sounded flawless as he dug deep into the Songs of a Lost World material. Debuting one new album track, “Another (Happy) Birthday,” he wailed: “And your birthday is the worst day/I’m singing to a ghost/’Happy birthday’… I forget how it goes…” Though that song’s origins can be traced all the way back to 1997, Smith could have been singing it for his recently departed musician parents, or for his late brother, Richard. Richard, who was affectionately known as “The Guru” and was 13 years Robert’s senior, was hugely influential on the Cure’s formation, teaching Robert how to play basic guitar and introducing Robert to his expansive record collection in the early ‘70s.
“I Can Never Say Goodbye” was introduced each night as being specifically about Richard, and included the heartbreaking chorus: “Something wicked this way comes/From out the cruel and treacherous night/Something wicked this way comes/To steal away my brother’s life.” Each night’s other Songs of a Lost World previews were “Alone,” “A Fragile Thing,” “And Nothing Is Forever,” and the fittingly titled pre-encore closer “Endsong,” in which Robert sang: “And I’m outside in the dark/Staring at the blood-red moon/Remembering the hopes and dreams I had/All I had to do/And wondering what became of that boy/And the world he called his own/And I’m outside in the dark/Wondering how I got so old.”
The Cure’s music is in fact ageless, and their Shows of a Lost World Tour wasn’t all death and despair. As one of the most shape-shifting bands of all time, their nightly setlists veered from the spartan punk-pop of Three Imaginary Boys, to the effervescent Eurodisco of “Let’s Go to Bed” and “The Walk,” to the bad-acid-trip psychedelia of The Top’s “Shake Dog Shake,” to blissful 120 Minutes-era classics from The Head on the Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me… and then back to the funereal dirges of the two albums that seem to have the most in common with the forthcoming Songs of a Lost World, 1982’s Pornography and the 1989’s Disintegration.
Smith has been crying wolf and claiming every album will be the Cure’s last since the release of Disintegration, which many fans (including the South Park kids!) and critics consider to be the band’s career high point. (Ironically, Smith wrote that claustrophobically depressing record with the intention of it being “commercial suicide,” as he once explained to Yahoo Entertainment, but it ended up being the Cure’s biggest release, selling 3 million copies and yielding a hit single, “Lovesong,” that went to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was later covered by 311, Adele, and at least two American Idol contestants.) However, it seems like Songs of a Lost World might truly be Smith’s final, defining statement.
In 2020, keyboardist Roger O’Donnell told Classic Pop that he’d advised Smith, “‘We have to make one more record. It has to be the most intense, saddest, most dramatic, and most emotional record we’ve ever made, and then we can just walk away from it.’ He agreed. Listening to the demos, it is that record.” A year later, Smith himself told the U.K.’s Sunday Times, “The new [album] is very emotional. It’s 10 years of life distilled into a couple of hours of intense stuff. I can’t think we’ll ever do anything else. I definitely can’t do this again.”
But regardless of what the future holds for the Cure, the lyrics of the new song “And Nothing Is Forever” resonated deeply this week with the band’s loyal L.A. fans, many of whom had attended all three nights of the Cure’s Hollywood Bowl run. “My world has grown old/But it really doesn’t matter/If you say we’ll be together,” Smith pleaded. “Promise you’ll be with me in the end… You will remember me tonight.”
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