Today is the 32nd birthday of one of The Cure’s most enduring gothic lullaby’s, ‘Lovesong’. Released on 21 August as the third single from the band’s hit album 1989’s Disintegration, ‘Lovesong’ is a touching tribute to frontman Robert Smith’s long time partner Mary. Carrying the album’s introspective sentiment, ‘Lovesong’ is perhaps Smith at the barest he has ever been. There are no tacit implications to the lyrics, just explicit declarations of Smith’s love for his longtime partner.
The song is such an ode to Mary that Smith wrote it as a wedding present for her in 1988, who, at the time, was his fiancée. The pair met at school when they were fourteen, and Smith has always been steadfast in explaining how she has saved his life on numerous occasions by pulling him from the brink in some of his darkest chapters. The lyrics were inspired by the long periods of touring Smith embarked on with The Cure, where he and Mary would be separated. Missing her, he wanted to affirm to her that no matter how far away he was, or for how long he was away, his love for her was undying.
In 1991 Smith told Select magazine “I gave Mary a tape of it for a wedding present.” He recalled her reaction, “She went away to the other room to listen to it, then smothered me with kisses.”
His lyrics are straightforward. The repetition of the lines “Whenever I’m alone with you/You make me feel like I am home again” and “However far away/ I will always love you” truly drives the song’s feeling home. Furthermore, each verse has the same structure, and when added to the narcotic, dream-like production, it creates the feeling that the listener is truly embedded in Smith’s prefrontal cortex.
The song is also somewhat of a juxtaposition. Not only is it rather simplistic in composition, it also has a strangely upbeat feel compared to the seriousness of the narrative and music on the rest of Disintegration.
The album has a dark, trippy feel inherent to it. This is largely down to the fact that Smith had started taking hallucinogens again. After the fame that The Cure’s earlier efforts in the ’80s brought, Smith found it hard to cope with his newfound “pop star” status. He turned back to LSD as a way of forgetting about the anxieties of being in one of Britain’s biggest rock bands.
When coupled with how Smith was already highly frustrated with the way he felt that the band were being misunderstood, he took to exploring The Cure’s dark underbelly on Disintegration. Demonstrating this juxtaposition, Smith also told Select, “It’s the most upfront, true, frank and honest thing I’ve ever sung. It’s about love, but also the inability to ever really know someone.”
When you compare ‘Lovesong’ to the album’s lead single, the synth-driven goth-rock classic, ‘Lullaby’, it provides a stark lyrical contrast. There is no mention of the sinister Spiderman having its victims “for dinner tonight”. It is just plain old, soppy love. Looking back on ‘Lovesong’, Smith opined: “It’s an open show of emotion. It’s not trying to be clever. It’s taken me ten years to reach the point where I feel comfortable singing a very straightforward love song.” When you think about the romantic sentiment that is central to ‘Lovesong’, it really stands out. Particularly when compared to Smith’s comment in a 1989 interview that Disintegration was “about the sense of falling apart that I can’t ever seem to shake off.”
In the same interview, the interviewer calls it the “most traditional” song The Cure have ever written. For this reason, he asks Smith if he is proud of it. He hilariously replies that it was simply a “cheap and cheerful” wedding present to Mary.
How can we forget the iconic music video that accompanied ‘Lovesong’. Featuring Smith in a dark cave, it is one of the band’s most memorable visual delights. However, it turns out that Smith was not a fan of the final product. He charged: “The idea was of a fairy cave going on forever, but it looked very cramped and posed. The opening shot is terrible, this lingering shot of a huge phallus that makes no pretensions to be a stalagmite at all.”
Regardless, ‘Lovesong’, video and all, is one of The Cure’s most well-known songs. Ironically, it seems that the jump from the darkness of alternative music endeared the band to fans worldwide. It spent seven weeks on the UK charts and even reached number two on the American singles chart. In The Cure’s Join The Dots compilation in 2004, Smith lamented, “I have to admit that I was actually a bit upset that it stopped at No 2.” He admitted, “I never got to see what I would really have done with a No 1 single!”
Never one to mince his words, Smith has also been critical of his ‘Lovesong’ since its release. When relating it to Disintegration, he explained: “I thought it was the weakest song on there, and suddenly it went to number two in America. It was kept off the top by, like, Janet Jackson. I thought, Of all the songs I’d written, this is the one that cracks through. It was quite disappointing.”
Listen to Robert Smith’s ultimate ode to love below.