And Finally Artist News Beef Of The Week

CMU Beef Of The Week #201: The Cure v The Guardian

By | Published on Friday 4 April 2014

Robert Smith

The Cure played a gig. The gig was long. This should not have been a surprise for a number of reasons. First, Cure gigs tend to be quite long these days. Second, Robert Smith said up front that they planned to make their performances at the recent Teenage Cancer Trust’s annual Albert Hall residency three hours long.

Anyway, some reviewers were sent along to write up what they saw, and a number of them saw a gig that they felt was a bit on the long side. To be fair, I think three hours (three and half by the time they’d actually finished) is a bit long to watch a band – any band – play live. But if they said up front that that was what they were going to do, I would at least have prepared myself for the long haul.

Not so, The Guardian’s Caroline Sullivan. Nor other reviewers, but it was she who The Cure took most offence to this week.

The conclusion of Sullivan’s review was that “condensed into 90 minutes this would have been one of the gigs of the year”. It’s not a negative review, per se, she has positive things to share, but her main critique was that the length of the show meant that it ended up being a procession of songs, rather than a cohesive performance that built up to a dramatic conclusion (something also asserted in the far more negative Telegraph review).

It seems fair, and that’s her opinion. But other people who attended did not agree – because that is how opinions work – and they flocked to the comments section to tell her so.

To her credit (or possibly not), Sullivan engaged with this, and argued back with many of the people tearing into a review that had been neither damning nor glowing. At one point, she told one commenter that she had it “on good authority that the band have read the review and liked it”.


Calling Sullivan’s critique “lazy nonsense”, he argued for the length of the show (caps lock softened for readability), saying: “We play too many songs! Doh! But is it not very obvious that we play our own shows (as opposed to festival headlines) for fans of the band? That is why we play a mix of songs, and why we play for as long as we do”.

He continued: “When we go to see an artist we are fans of, we don’t want the performance to end. That’s what being a fan means… isn’t it? We had two fantastic nights, playing to great crowds for a wonderful charity – the Guardian ‘review’ was sad bitter junk”.

Now, you might think that this review of the review would be where this story could end. But we’re only just getting started. The next stage in this disagreement – a disagreement which, when boiled down, is one between a band and an audience member about whether a show was quite good with faults or just excellent – was for Sullivan to write a follow-up on Guardian Music’s blog.

She wrote: “It doesn’t obtain that the best gig experience is the longest. Compared to the inventiveness of artists who chop and change, playing full-band shows one tour, then acoustic story-telling gigs the next, it’s hard to feel excited by the all-you-can-eat ethos. The Cure’s stature in British rock has never been in doubt, so surely now is the time for them to cut loose and experiment with a different approach to gigging. They’ve already staged themed tours with their ‘Trilogy’ concerts, playing three complete albums at each gig. Another Trilogy series has been announced for the end of this year. But what about something outside the usual parameters?”

Responding on Facebook once again, Smith said that his initial response was not even about the review, actually. It was purely about her “lying” in a comment on her review about the band liking what she had written – the critique of her critique was just for larks.

“Having exposed the lie, we figured we would at the very least get some kind of a hands in the air ‘it’s a fair cop guv’ from her for attempting such a banal self serving deception”, he wrote. “We thought there might even be a faint chance that she would be moved to apologise to her readers for making stuff up!”

He also took exception to her signing off her blog post by offering to buy him a drink. Which, to be fair, did come across a bit odd. He then concluded with a quote from Walt Disney: “We are not trying to entertain the critics; we’ll take our chances with the public”.

If he’d started with that quote, this whole situation could probably have been avoided. Because, of course, reviews aren’t written for bands. Or at least shouldn’t be. And bands are in no position to judge how good a show is for the people watching it. And while the shows may indeed be designed with Cure fans in mind, not every Cure fan is going to want the same show.

Still, actually, I find it quite comforting that a review can still stir up such a level of caps lock rage in Robert Smith. It’s nice that he gives a fuck. And gives it so entertainingly.

Though my favourite Cure response to a review remains this version of ‘Grinding Halt’, recorded for a Peel Session and re-titled ‘Desperate Journalist in Ongoing Meaningful Review Situation’, featuring Smith replacing the original lyrics with quotes from Paul Morley’s review of the band’s debut album, ‘Three Imaginary Boys’: