A preacher at the dear old Baptist church I used to frequent said of John 1:1 that it was such a perfect piece of writing that one could not possibly comment on it, and then added, “And our closing hymn is…”
Well, of course, he found an hour’s worth of material in it anyway, but it puts me in mind, 10 years down the road, of the Cure’s A Forest (FF 1980 #5, 1981 #8. and All-Time 1982 #5). I think John got a little peeved by the popularity of this quite frankly astonishing piece of music because over twenty years after it came out, he was still getting requests for it, and religiously putting them in the bin. Yet it’s still good to be reminded of its unsettling, sinuous chord changes, that much lampooned voice, and above all Lol Tollhurst’s svelte swooshy drumbeats, even if the lyrics contain the seeds of the upcoming Goth scene (“it’s always the same/Running towards nothing/Again and again”) and the band would plunge even further into the murk, out Joy Divisioning-Joy Division, in works such as Pornography which my best mate Paul referred to as ‘a really miserable album’.
But let’s not get sidetracked here: That song. It was a fair hit in the UK (number 31), was their first to come out as a 12 inch (which John always played in the FF, from Seventeen Seconds, and which is the one you have here today), and was their first appearance on Top Of The Pops.
It’s shot through with the idea of chasing a siren-like vision only for it to recede and get further away the more one searches. It certainly struck a chord with a public disaffected with a moribund punk scene and desperately searching for a new sound and a new hope, which seems to me to describe the music scene of the last few decades pretty well. Before rock’n’roll, there was nothing. After the Cure, there was a steady, difficult climb towards the light.
The Peel Session they did that year showcases the LP, with all four tracks containing the zeitgeist of that year in microcosm, and not at all “sitting in cold rooms, watching clocks” (one wonders if that reviewer had taken notice of what was actually happening at the time). Listening to these recordings now, there’s a freshness that time cannot diminish, and a savvy of both what we had accomplished and how far we had yet to go.
There is a small part of what we do that is quite dark in contemporary music terms; it is quite desolate, there is no hope and I love that side of what we do, but I also realise that if that’s all we did then we’d be fucking awful. I’ve always been aware enough to know you’ve got to sugar the pill a little bit, but not in a banal way. (Robert Smith, NME, 2008.)
Cure, Peel Session 1980-03-03
A Forest/Seventeen Seconds/Play For Today/M