The Cure - Lovesong
Once a song ingrains itself in the historical record of Pop—once it becomes part of the landscape of Pop, helping define and expand its boundaries—we are often incapable of ever listening to it again without at once recognizing it as a milestone, memory, or at base, a “classic.” You’re all but guaranteed to hear “classics” in the course of your life, whether you want to or not. Most songwriters will never pen a classic. Memorable acts—the ones critics and attuned fans invoke whenever they’re asked about a particular style or sound—will write two or three. A select set of masters have individually concocted dozens of timeless tunes.
Robert Smith never cracked that canon, but owing to endurance, the Cure is more than simply memorable. The Cult is memorable. Love and Rockets are memorable. The Cure posted two Top 10 hits in America, despite wearing a great deal of makeup and Smith’s quizzical and on occasion even feminine affability. “Lovesong” and “Friday I’m in Love” have established themselves as FM-stroke-licensing standards in America, but the latter is a day-of-week novelty romp, and has endured more as a giddy drive-time bit of sunshine.
Owing to recent covers by Adele and Blake Lewis, “Lovesong” has enjoyed a substantial resurgence, and we are far enough away from the Cure’s heyday that it no longer plays (as I once put it) as one of those “great grey Anglican classics,” like “Pretty in Pink,” “I’ll Melt With You” and “The Killing Moon.” For Smith, “Lovesong” was the most personal and honest composition in a then ten-year discography of self-loathing, antisocial dejection, and see-saw silliness. It was written for and very publicly dedicated to his wife, Mary Poole, who has been by his side since they were fifteen years old.
One test of whether a song has really achieved classic status is whether or not it can be ruined. Hundreds of artists have probably covered “Lovesong” in concert—as a singer-songwriter standard, as emo treacle, as a pop-punk gag—but it wasn’t until 311’s infamous tiki torch rendition of 2004 (from the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore vehicle 50 First Dates) that “Lovesong” demonstrated its impervious eternality. It worked as dorm-room reggae. The identical-twin pro-lesbian hip-hop duo Nina Sky fashioned a sort of Rihanna redux of “Lovesong” during a fallow period spent battling their record label, and even that worked quite well.
“Lovesong” has all the elements of a classic single: a smooth, memorable guitar lick, a haunting, yet hummable verse melody, and even a fairly ripping solo. Oddly—and this is the case with nearly all of the Cure’s upbeat singles—it was never very good live. “Charlotte Sometimes” was probably the closest thing to a single that the Cure made better in concert. As with “Close to Me” and “The Walk”, “Lovesong” always suffered for the grating, untreated synthesizers that failed to recreate the finessed studio ambience, and sunk the whole piece.
Despite Smith’s assertion that “Lovesong” was an anniversary present to his wife, it plays for the rest of us like a letter to the one that got away, to that dream girl or boy we gave ourselves to, whether in the boundless naivety of young love, or as part of a commitment we hoped would last a lifetime, but somehow disintegrated.
— Chris Ott
Chris previously appeared on OWOB also writing about The Cure. His Shallow Rewards video series is essential watching.