Monday, October 10, 2016

Never Enough: The Story of the CureNever Enough: The Story of the Cure by Jeff Apter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Smith was on such a high at Glastonbury that when he wished the masses a 'happy tomorrow', the persistent rain actually stopped falling. Only a star could do that."

Two of my most cherished memories of the 1980s: my wife and I totally mesmerized watching Close to Me, The Cure's music video on MTV in 1985. Then, two years later, my five-year-old daughter and I dancing like crazy to The Cure's Just Like Heaven in our small rented apartment.

Fast forward 13 years: in 2000 my then grown-up daughter takes me to The Cure's concert at the SDSU Open Air Theater, where - at the age of about 50 - I was the oldest person in the huge crowd of young people. They thought I was a journalist on an assignment: such a geezer could not like that kind of music. 16 years further into geezerhood I still often listen to The Cure's music to interrupt my usual rotation of Bach, Coltrane, and Sonic Youth. (And both my wife and my daughter are here on Goodreads. Hi!)

Jeff Apter's Never Enough (2005) fully delivers on the promise of its subtitle - "The Story of The Cure." Of course it is mainly the story of Robert Smith, the band's "creative force and focal point," author of music and lyrics of the majority of songs, guitarist, vocalist, front-man, and the visual symbol of the band. Mr. Smith has also been the only permanent member of the band, since their first concert in 1973 when they were still in high school and performed under the name Obelisk. Forty-three years later The Cure still perform and Mr. Smith still fronts the band. (By the way, I have a lot of respect for him for non-music-related reasons, but that's a topic for another story.)

Mr. Apter patiently and in meticulous detail leads the reader through all twists and turns of The Cure's artistic and personal biography. We learn about the band's beginnings when, after five years of performing at obscure venues, they got their first break thanks to music that combined "urgency and futility of punk with bittersweet melodicism." Then came the limited success of their dark-period music: The Cure's second album Seventeen Seconds (1979) was called "a study in sorrow and bleakness" and the enormously influential fourth album Pornography (1982) contained songs that sounded as "odes to nothingness" and conveyed "pure self-loathing and worthlessness." Of course Robert Smith's creativity was the driving force that engendered the band's moderate success in the early 1980s, but the author is right to point out The Cure's luck in finding the right people at the right time. First they happened to find the tireless and clever manager, Chris Parry, and later they received support from the hugely influential BBC DJ, John Peel, who recognized the quality of an early song by The Cure - Boys Don't Cry - perhaps the best post-punk-influenced pop song ever.

But The Cure's greatest breakthrough - when they metamorphosed from an ambitious, post-punk, goth-influencing, alternative music band into the world's pop stardom - came with the video age, when they met an extremely talented video maker Tim Pope, and when Mr. Smith began writing ambitious pop songs (no, it is not an oxymoron), such as The Walk, Just Like Heaven or the memorable superhit Lullaby, that were accompanied by top-quality music videos by Mr. Pope. The Curemania began sweeping the world in 1985 and reached its peak in 1987. In 1989 The Cure's probably best album ever, Disintegration, was released, to be followed by several others. While The Cure's story, told in the book, ends in 2005, the band is still active and performs on worldwide tours, but their most recent - and likely the last - album, 4:13 Song was released in 2008.

Never Enough is a solid, extremely informative, balanced, objective, and well written (!) biography of the band and of Robert Smith's undaunted creative leadership for over 40 years. Mr Apter credits a lot of the band's success to Smith's "ability to pen killer tunes," and his "unshakeable approach to his craft." I will not dwell on various other aspects of the band's career - particularly the issues of extreme boozing, drug use, and personnel changes - one needs to read the book to learn about all that.

Obviously The Cure's music is not the highest form of art, but while their early period, the time of searching for their own voice and making their own imprint on the post-punk movement, yielded interesting if imperfect results, their pop period produced some of the most ambitious and compelling popular music ever written, far, far above the usual "cookie-cutter pop."

Four stars. (Of course, five stars for Robert Smith.)

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