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COMPARE & CONTRAST
WITH SMOKEY CAMPBELL
ROBERT POLLARD of Guided by Voices VS. ROBERT SMITH of The Cure
When the leaves fall, I like to curl up with one of the many eccentric
works of our two contestants. Both men and the groups they lead (The
Cure and Guided by Voices) make me think of rainy days, cold nights and
Halloween. They both make me think of alcohol and humour. What else
could the Ď80sí number one teenage angst poster boy have in common with
Americaís ambassador of brevity and inebriation?
Background: Born within two years of each other in very different
circumstances (Sussex, England and Dayton, Ohio) Smith and Pollard
displayed musical ability in their teens. For Smith and some school
friends it resulted in winning a German record contract which came to
nothing, due mainly to Smith not wanting to turn The Cure into a
squeaky-clean pop group. The Cure opted to play speed-pop not unlike the
Buzzcocks instead. For Pollard it resulted in being the lead singer of
the most popular heavy metal band in town. Fortunately for the rest of
us he was kicked out of the band for displaying punk tendencies picked
up from a school friend. The Cure went onto worldwide popularity,
Pollard went into relative obscurity as a fourth grade teacher.
Commercial Tendencies: By the early 80s, The Cureís sound evolved into
an increasingly depressed but quite beautiful (in a barren landscape
kind of way) pop sound. By the time of Pornographyís release (1982),
Smith sounded like he was completely off his rocker with his colourful
evocations of despair and decay. Even though it was their biggest hit up
to that point, they immediately followed that angst-fest with the
singles "Letís Go To Bed" and "Lovecats", some of the best fluff ever
recorded. By the early 1990ís, Guided by Voices sound had evolved away
from R.E.M. worship to an unoriginal but unique study in pop song form
stoked by plenty of beer, summers off and total isolation from the
industry machine. When those outside of Ohio finally heard Bee Thousand
(1994) and Alien Lanes (1995), Guided By Voices began recording in
studios and have been getting slicker and drunker ever since.
Line-up: Both bands have a constantly rotating cast of characters
working to further the musical vision of the frontman. From tour to
tour, The Cure and GbV can be quite different bands due to the
revolving-door approach that Smith and Pollard have adopted. Pollard and
Smith have their foils in Tobin Sprout and Lol Tolhurst, respectively.
Presentation: Robert Pollard comes across as part reckless athlete, part
drunken lout and part sensitive poet. GbVís record covers are collages
that often feature airplanes. Robert Smith wears smeared lipstick and
favours sweaters. Cure record covers are often soft focus shots of the
band or Mr. Smith. Cure videos are often charming and fanciful, some
involve cliffs over raging seas. Both Roberts have big hair. Never a
Common Ancestor: Maybe The Beatlesí White Album. Both started doing
music at the same time, motivated by punkís arrival. Dayton, Ohio was
probably not the best locale to start a band whose goal was to sound
like Beatlesí bootlegs.
Sister Bands: The Grifters are GbVís whiskey-drinking, prog-rock-loving
Southern cousins. Robert Smith played an instrumental role in many
Siouxsie and the Banshees tours and albums, quitting when the strain got
Probable Drug Use: Guided by Voices are very rightly referred to as the
Grateful Dead of Beer, their drunkenness as legendary as Pollardís
prolific songwriting. I canít help but thinking that acid and red wine
had something to do with Pornography, but I could be wrong.
Smokey Highly Recommends: The Cure: Boys Donít Cry (1977), Pornography
(1982), Standing On A Beach (1986, singles comp), Disintegration (1989).
Guided By Voices: Vampire on Titus (1993), Bee Thousand (1994), Alien
Lanes (1995), King Shit & the Golden Boys (1995, part of Box boxed set).