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Music

40 years of 'Pornography' The Cure's chrysalis moment

@jackwhatley89

Not many bands can feel as progressive and fresh as The Cure do forty years after the fact. However, when diving into Pornography, the 1982 album that saw the group become a swashbuckling band of goth-doom buccaneers, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the tense production, scything lyrics or powerful stylistic sonic experience. The biggest surprise, though, listening back in 2022, is just how uniquely original it still sounds to this day.

The reason for that is that, despite several trying, no group has come close to matching The cure in their particular division of gloomy pop brilliance. Having started out as a vibrant and voracious post-punk group, Robert Smith and the rest of the group travelled along a path towards pop stardom before once again circling back to the darkest sides of musical creativity. Pornography, for that reason, acts as a bit of a stepping stone.

In 1982, The Cure were still establishing their sound, and with this album, Pornography, the group did a great job at rounding it all out. If you wanted a quick summary of exactly what the band were all about in ‘82, then you need only hear one of the first lines of the album: “It doesn’t matter if we all die…” That song, ‘One Hundred Years’, is one of many songs highlighting The Cure’s new direction and purpose. Having followed a similar path to Siouxsie and The Banshees (emerging from punk to find a new artistic channel), the group use their post-punk sensibilities to capture the intense feeling of the band’s regeneration.

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The album is only eight tracks long but every aspect of gothic rock is covered. There are the themes of sex through the track ‘Siamese Twins’, drugs on ‘A Short Term Effect’ and the impending dread of death on pretty much of every song. The group brings their single-minded vision to record and prove that they were a band capable of defining whatever scene they drifted into. It just so happens that they’re happiest when sad. However, the album’s brilliance actually hid the real-life difficulties that the band were dealing with when making the album.

Robert Smith had some choice words about the record when speaking about the band’s discography to Rolling Stone: “During Pornography, the band was falling apart, because of the drinking and drugs. I was pretty seriously strung out a lot of the time, so I’m not sure if my recollection is right. I know for a fact that we recorded some of the songs in the toilets to get a really horrible feeling, because the toilets were dirty and grim. Simon doesn’t remember any of that, but I have a photo of me sitting on a toilet, in my clothes, trying to patch up of some of the lyrics. It’s a tragic photo.”

The idea has similarities to the notion of method acting and The Cure seemed intent on ensuring a similar creative feat was completed: “We immersed ourselves in the more sordid side of life, and it did have a very detrimental effect on everyone in the group. We got ahold of some very disturbing films and imagery to kind of put us in the mood. Afterwards, I thought, ‘Was it really worth it?’ We were only in our really early twenties, and it shocked us more than I realised – how base people could be, how evil people could be.”

Of course, with time and space, some of the intricacies of a release like Pornography can be airbrushed out; Smith recalled: “There is a certain type of Cure fan who would hold Pornography in greater esteem than anything else we’ve ever done, but, at the time, most people hated it. They’re the only songs we’ve ever played where people would walk out or throw things. But then we probably were not that good on stage [laughs].

I don’t have particularly fond memories of Pornography, but I think it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done, and it would have never got made if we hadn’t taken things to excess. People have often said, ‘Nothing you’ve done has had the same kind of intensity or passion.’ But I don’t think you can make too many albums like that, because you wouldn’t be alive.”

The record not only showed that the band were far more than a punk hangover, it helped lay the foundations for their sound for decades to come. It also helped cement the goth subculture in the realm of music and provided The Cure with their most visceral moment of self-discovery. This is the moment the cure caterpillar broke out of its cocoon to become a beautiful if dark, butterfly.

Pornography – The Cure