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Like an Animal: Robert Smith in Wonderland

Robert Smith’s first duty as a full-time Banshee was a November 1982 appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test, kicking off the second leg of the Kiss in the Dreamhouse tour. After eleven dates, the British run was book-ended by a second TV performance, for the Oxford Road Show in December. The difference is subtle, but you can hear more of Smith’s signature seagulls-and-teardrops sound in that second clip. 

Being a Banshee was psychologically invaluable to Robert Smith. Siouxsie Sioux might have been the only person on Earth that could have overshadowed him on stage in 1982. Preferring to lose himself in a support role, Smith stayed on for the rest of the tour, through Europe and the Pacific Rim (despite the panicked reassurance—surely from Chris Parry—that he would “resume activity with the Cure when John is well again”).

During the January 1983 break between the European and Pacific legs of the tour, Siouxsie and Budgie, who in 1981 began a remarkable lifelong relationship, flew to Hawaii to record the basic tracks for Feast, as the Creatures, a side-project that tracked their romantic involvement. Left to their own devices, Smith and Banshees co-founder Steve Severin revisited a demo they’d recorded in late 1982, and booked studio time in view of a meta-pop side-project aimed at Japan.

Five months later, in May 1983, the scope of their work changed.

Having enabled one another’s worst excesses on tour, and actually experiencing Japan’s darkest, post-cultural entertainment, they locked themselves in a studio, ingested a staggering amount of drugs (mostly speed and LSD by their account), watched dozens of disturbing films like The Brood, Bad Timing and Don’t Look Now, and produced one of the most fascinating albums of the 1980s.

Blue Sunshine, released in August 1983 under the name the Glove, was a commercial flop, but unlike many Banshees and Cure albums, still sounds fresh thirty years later. The Glove perfected and probably invented psychedelic synth-pop, at a time when synthesizers were viewed only as a means to club (read: New Order) or chart (read: Wham!) success. Against the pulsating digital carousel we ride in 2012, Blue Sunshine is positively Promethean.

Unfortunately, you will notice Robert Smith is not the band’s lead singer. This is down to Chris Parry’s indignation over Blue Sunshine coming out on the Banshees’ new, self-directed Polydor imprint, Wonderland. His own Fiction label wasn’t explicitly a Polydor shop until 1990, but the parent corporation, whom he worked for, was certainly keeping the channels open for him. Polydor saw in Siouxsie & the Banshees & Robert Smith a pin-up supergroup for the raincoat set, and decided the Wonderland label would nicely underscore their status. Parry was irate that his label’s only star was recording for another outfit, and threatened to sue if Smith sang on Blue Sunshine. He eventually agreed to two tracks with Smith leads, as long as they weren’t released as singles.

Severin and Smith then recruited Jeanette Landray, a featured dancer from Top of the Pops’ Zoo troupe with limited singing experience. Clearly, she picked up what she brought to the project from parroting Banshees records, and nearly every critic commented on her apprentice-like similarity to Siouxsie Sioux.

Smith regretted not singing everything and locking the tracks in a vault for posterity. He attempted to rectify the situation for a 2006 reissue of Blue Sunshine, but played dumb as to whether the tracks were recorded during the original sessions, or specially for the reissue. Fans quickly realized it was the latter, and the duo fumbled through various excuses for their exploitative ambiguity.

With Blue Sunshine and the Creatures’ Feast in pre-production, the Banshees spent all of February 1983 touring Australia and Japan, after which Robert Smith was due to record his next proper Cure single with Steve Nye, very much in-demand for his work on Japan’s Tin Drum. Emerging from the disorienting Glove sessions, Smith dashed off three blurry drum machine salvos: “The Walk”, "The Dream" and “The Upstairs Room”. “Lament”, from the previous year’s Flexipop! handout, was polished up and re-recorded. With a 12” of decent material in hand, Chris Parry relaxed, and prepared “The Walk” for a summer release.

Also in May, the Creatures released Feast, and the lead single “Miss the Girl”. Both sold briskly, at first, but quickly dropped from the charts. Adding in Siouxsie and Budgie’s disapproving view of the Glove project, the initial June sessions for what would become the only Siouxsie & the Banshees studio album to feature Robert Smith were fraught. Old ideas, like “Take Me Back”, the main riff in ”Swimming Horses”, and a Severin bass-line from the Kiss in the Dreamhouse session (“Belladonna”) were the only fruit.

Robert Smith walked out of the Banshees’ unproductive first sessions at Angel Studios to find that the mock-disco track he’d cut with Steve Nye was in the Top 20. “The Walk” was the Cure’s first major pop hit, and stayed in the charts for ten weeks.

Siouxsie tried to take this in stride, as the Creatures had made Top of the Pops with “Miss the Girl” without complaint from Smith or Severin, but after a second session in Stockholm, working up a cover of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”, the Glove’s Blue Sunshine was issued, and promotional obligations for "Like an Animal" and "Punish Me With Kisses" kept the Banshees adrift. Sioux and Budgie sought to extend the shelf life of the Creatures’ Feast, and dashed into the studio with erstwhile Cure/Banshees producer Mike Hedges to record a version of the Mel Torme hit “Right Now”.

The song was a bona fide smash in England in August 1983, but almost nobody in America has ever heard it, to this day. Which is quite funny, given American awareness of Robert Smith’s tit-for-tat response to “Right Now”:

This performance of “The Lovecats”, which I posted earlier in the week as evidence of Robert Smith becoming “Robert Smith”, was only his first of the night. Later, he appeared with Siouxsie & the Banshees, to mime the version of “Dear Prudence” they’d honed over the summer, and which reached #3 on the UK pop charts in the fall of 1983.

If you can believe it, Robert Smith’s appearance on this December 29, 1983 Top of the Pops was a scheduled break from the ongoing sessions for the Cure’s careering 1984 drug disaster The Top.

One year from now, I hope to overtake OWOB again, and take you even deeper into this imaginary world. For now, my time is up, and I leave you with the most hallucinogenic, incoherent document of Robert Smith’s time with Siouxsie & the Banshees: