Cureation review – scenic-route excursion through the Cure's career

Robert Smith brings Meltdown festival to a close with a chronological journey through his exquisite, oddly commercial melodies

It might represent the grand finale of this year’s Robert Smith-curated Meltdown festival, but by the Cure’s standards at least, the show titled Cureation counts as the height of understated minimalism. In recent years, their live performances have become legendary for their length: if you catch them on a night when their frontman is enjoying himself, you can find yourself wondering if you’ll ever see your home and loved ones again. But tonight, hemmed in by strict curfew, they play for a little over two hours.

Whether you find that a relief or disappointment doubtless reflects the depth of your devotion to the band. There are people here whose loyalty is visibly fathomless. Gentleman of a certain age still express their fealty by getting themselves up like Smith in the mid-80s, which means that even before the usual eruption of disagreements about whether to enjoy the band standing or seated, there are people struggling to see the stage past extravagant examples backcombing. Still, they don’t seem to feel too shortchanged by a set that offers a chronological journey through their album catalogue: two songs from each, the first half moving forward from their debut, the second starting with the unreleased Step into the Light and ending in 1979. It’s a journey largely conducted via b-road, until they break out a string of early singles at the end of the set, the only hit on offer is the perennially lovely Pictures of You. No matter, the audience are so devoted they greet album cuts as deep as Alt.end like hit singles.

Unlikely stadium fillers ... the Cure performing at Robert Smith’s Meltdown at London’s Royal Festival Hall, 24 June 2018.
Unlikely stadium fillers ... the Cure performing at Robert Smith’s Meltdown at London’s Royal Festival Hall, 24 June 2018. Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

It all offers an intriguingly concise insight into the band’s development, from their beginnings as post-punk’s leading purveyors of suburban wet-weekend ennui – if you didn’t know they were from Crawley, you might have guessed they came from somewhere like it on the basis of Three Imaginary Boys’ etiolated vocal and mood of box-bedroom angst – to something richer and stranger: the misty, twilit atmosphere of At Night; the chaos of Bananafishbones, the latter, Smith notes, representative of a moment in their career “where the drugs really kicked in”.

Along the way, they gradually became stadium fillers, a state of affairs that no one expected in the early 80s when critical consensus sniffily concluded they were Joy Division’s poor southern relations. It seems less inexplicable with the benefit of hindsight. On the surface, the gulf between A Strange Day, taken from 1982’s famously bleak Pornography, an album that opens with the line “it doesn’t matter if we all die” then gets progressively less jaunty from thereon in – and the widescreen gloss of 1985’s A Night Like This seems immense, but played in close proximity, you can see the roots of the latter in the former: even when staring into the nihilistic void, Smith couldn’t stop himself writing exquisite, oddly commercial melodies.

The devotees would doubtless tear you limb from limb for suggesting it, but the structure of the show also means it lags in the middle. It’s not that the Cure’s more recent albums are without highlights, as evidenced by a buoyant version of The Hungry Ghost from 2008’s largely unloved 4:13 Dream; more that the songs feel laboured, as if what once came naturally started becoming harder work and the lightning of inspiration flashed less frequently, although the unreleased and airily beautiful Step into the Light suggests it may have struck again.

If the forthcoming album Smith vaguely intimates between songs proves variable, well, there’s always the back catalogue, which as tonight’s scenic-route excursion proves, is a deep, varied and frequently wondrous thing.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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