The Cure: Faith

Released in 1981, the third album from the UK kings of Gothic rock built upon the stark sounds of its predecessor, added even more melancholy, and contained a song that the band's leader and singer Robert Smith would later describe as 'life-changing'

From 1976, UK punk produced such a surge of energy that it was like riding a wave, both for musicians and fans alike. The Cure began in earnest in Crawley that year, as The Easy Cure, having grown out of a number of other bands dating back to their schooldays. Robert Smith was on guitar and vocals, Lol Tolhurst on drums and Michael Dempsey on bass. Their sound was sparse and urgent, fuelled by punk but with a finger on the pop pulse.


Lineup from 1983 (l-r): Phil Thornalley, Paul Stephen Thompson, Smith, Andy Anderson and Tolhurst

Existential Angst
Okay, 'pop' is probably a fairly loose description of their debut single, 'Killing An Arab', which is based on French existentialist Albert Camus's 1942 novella, L'Étranger. The main character, Meursault, has moved from France to Algiers and murders an Arab on a beach after an earlier altercation, and once arrested ponders his guilt and his fate. Although it's not easy to condense a major literary work into a two-and-a half-minute song, Robert Smith's lyrics brilliantly capture the chilling pointlessness of the act.


Label of Side 1 of the original LP on Fiction

Previously, The Cure had secured a record deal with Ariola-Hansa by winning a talent contest, but the label wanted nothing to do with the song and freed them from their contract. The band inked a deal with Chris Parry's label Fiction Records instead, which put the single out in December 1978 as a double A-side with '10:15 Saturday Night'.

This debut release was followed by the irresistible 'Boys Don't Cry', which led to Melody Maker describing The Cure as 'The no-image band who do more with less to charismatic effect' – back then the group looked pretty much like their audience, although on the cover of their 1979 debut LP, Three Imaginary Boys, they would be drolly portrayed as a fridge, a standard lamp and a vacuum cleaner.


The Cure in 1981 (l-r): Robert Smith, Simon Gallup and Lol Tolhurst

Dark Tales
Seventeen Seconds, The Cure's follow-up album, arrived in 1980. Bass player Simon Gallup replaced Michael Dempsey and often played the lead melody lines. The record found the group exploring space, with each instrument seemingly occupying its own zone, while making vital, subtle contributions to the whole.

The atmosphere was cryptic and shadowy, with many of Smith's lyrics referencing the dark. 'At Night' is a rewrite of the story fragment of the same name by Franz Kafka, while the single 'A Forest' is a Gothic tale in which the protagonist is drawn into a crepuscular woodland by hallucinatory glimpses of a girl. It reached No 31 in the UK chart while the album peaked at No 20. It seemed that whatever The Cure released, it would sell.


Smith live on stage at the 2009 Coachella festival

Into the '80s, with their teens behind them and with the impetus provided by punk fading, groups had to establish their own identity and also try to make a living. U2's 1980 debut album Boy reflected these rites of passage, illustrating the journey from child to man.

And all this took place against a background of high unemployment, which went hand in hand with social unrest. Smith had claimed he was happy to be on the dole listening to music rather than working, and explained that he saved money by brewing his own lager at home. But after Seventeen Seconds he began to seriously question himself, without finding the answers he was looking for. He had been brought up as a Catholic, but looking back in 2012, when interviewed on the French TV programme Télérama, he said, 'I hate all religion. I think religion is at the heart of so much discontent, and idiocy in the world. I think all faith is terror'.


Tolhurst and Smith in a still from the 'Lovecats' video from 1983

Lacking Faith
In 1980, he was also experiencing a personal crisis exacerbated by the death of his grandmother. Smith wanted to find something to believe in, but was unable to do so. He made a point of visiting churches with a notebook, looking around at the worshippers. 'I realised I had no faith at all, and I was scared', he told The Face. 'I was 21, but I felt really old. I had absolutely no hope for the future. I felt life was pointless.'