From Blink-182 to Crystal Castles, we're diving into the the grandfather of goth's most interesting and explorative musical collaborations to date.
Robert Smith, front-man of the iconic West-Sussex formed band The Cure, is an individual whose legacy has never been up for debate. From his bleeding heart lyricism, to his knack for crafting genius pop hooks and the singular jet black bird’s nest and smears of lipstick and eyeliner he sports on stage – the man is a peerless force who changed the course of rock music irrevocably.
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Developing an obsession with The Cure is effectively a right of passage, an inciting incident, for musicians and music fanatics; and Smith? One of those iconic titans of song, those who inspired so many of us to brood behind an instrument in a garage with our friends, or seek out more music with a similarly alternative ethos. In an interview with Alternative Press, Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 recalled:
“‘Just Like Heaven’. That’s where it all began for me. It was the summer after junior high and my friend loaned me a cassette of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss me. The first song she had me listen to was ‘Just Like Heaven’. That song and the album became immediate favourites … their music became the soundtrack to my life … I even started dressing like Robert Smith.”
The key part that Smith has played in the genesis of so many important acts and artists that followed in his footsteps makes his various musical collaborations and features, not only with peers of his generation, but with acts who emerged in subsequent decades, all the more pleasurable to explore; a testament to the unpredictable yet harmonious intersections that can occur when artists of diverse genres and eras converge in creative collaboration. Today, we’re diving into some of the very best songs featuring Robert Smith.
Crystal Castles “Not in Love” featuring Robert Smith
The ethereal collaboration between Robert Smith and now defunct electronic duo Crystal Castles resulted in the hauntingly captivating song “Not In Love.” The track, which is a reimagining of Crystal Castles’ original version, showcases Smith’s iconic vocals intertwining with the band’s euphoric electronic soundscapes.
The genesis of this collaboration emerged from mutual admiration and a serendipitous connection. Crystal Castles initially sampled Smith’s voice from a live recording of The Cure’s “Killing An Arab” without formal permission. Impressed by the result, they reached out to Smith to secure his approval for the sample. Instead, Smith offered to re-record the vocals, leading to the creation of “Not In Love.”
CHVRCHES “How Not to Drown” featuring Robert Smith
Scottish electronic pop outfit CHVRCHES relayed just how their collaboration with Smith came to be in a conversation with Mark Hoppus facilitated by Brooklyn Vegan, revealing:
“Our manager called us one day and was like, ‘Guys, I don’t know how I’ve done this, but I’ve accidentally over-hustled something I didn’t mean to.’ And he’d been talking to a friend who mentioned Robert Smith and Campbell, our manager, had said, “Well, maybe you could give me… Put me in touch with the manager, I’d love to pitch the guys, trying to get them on a tour support or something, years down the line.”
And then he got an email from Robert Smith that was like, ‘Campbell, I heard you were looking for me.’ And he was like, ‘What? What’s happening?’ We’re all like huge, huge Cure fans, our manager included, so we were like, ‘Oh, now, what do we ask? What do we say?’ And then we just sent him some songs…”
After hearing a song that drew clear inspiration from The Cure’s guitar sound, Smith made the band a real pinch-me proposition, playfully asking, “Do you want me to play on this? Do you want to just go to the source instead of trying to rip me off?”
“And then on Halloween,” Martin Doherty of CHVRCHES continued, “no joke, we just got this email being like, ‘Here’s my vocal. Let me know what you think.’ I’m not like brave enough to admit that there was tears in my eyes that night, because it was quite emotional. And this felt like such a special moment.”
Blink-182 “All Of This” featuring Robert Smith
Like the second single “I Miss You” from the self titled album on which it features, “All Of This” took sonic inspiration from The Cure’s 1983 single “The Love Cats.” However the band decided to transcend mere homage with the track, enlisting Smith himself to sing on the track. Blink bassist Mark Hoppus explained:
“We are all huge fans of the Cure. Having Robert Smith collaborate on a track is a total dream come true for us. We recorded this song in a rather unconventional manner. Travis recorded the kick and snare together, then went back and overdubbed the high hat, then overdubbed the ride cymbal, then overdubbed the ribbon crasher. Tom went in and recorded the acoustic guitars and the electrics. I went in and recorded the bass, using a new discovery for this album, which is a 1973 Fender Bass VI. It is exactly like a guitar, in that it has six strings but is tuned an octave lower. It wasn’t amplified. We plugged it directly into the board. Then Roger came in and added keyboards.
Tom sang the lead first two lines for the chorus, and then we sent the track to Robert over in England. He recorded his vocals there, and sent the track back to us. We added drum fills and harmonies and added Mellotron. The song was recorded in four different studios in two different continents and is one of the best on the record.”
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Blink-182 guitarist Tom DeLonge also went on to reveal that the band was uncertain as to whether Smith would give them the tim of day, considering that their catalogue was chock-full of thrashy pop punk belters and crude-humoured lyrics, telling Billboard, “who knew what his perception was of our band in the past?”
But Smith’s response came as an extremely pleasant surprise. DeLonge continued, “But what he said was, ‘Nobody knows what kind of songs you are going to write in the future and nobody knows the full potential of any band. I really like the music you sent me,’ and he wanted to do it. And it was just amazing.”
Gorillaz “Strange Timez” featuring Robert Smith
For Damon Albarn, front man of Blur and the creative mind behind Gorillaz, collaboration has been the name of the game in recent years. In fact, the 2020 album Song Machine on which this song features, boasts between one and two collaborators on every track. The track was the first of Song Machine to be recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Albarn having told BBC Radio 6 Music: “We did this tune with Robert completely by email.”
Smith added: “I loved it! I thought it was excellent. I felt ripples in the force and I thought, ‘I better get this done’.
Junkie XL “Perfect Blue Sky” featuring Robert Smith
Junkie XL, also known as Tom Holkenborg, is a prolific composer and producer renowned for his boundary-pushing electronic music. With a knack for blending cinematic grandeur and innovative soundscapes, Holkenborg has scored numerous films and collaborated with iconic musicians; his work embodying a dynamic fusion of technology and emotion. Being a huge fan of Smith’s work, Holkenborg decided to approach the legendary musician with the idea of collaboration. The resulting track is a mesmerising amalgamation of Smith’s evocative voice and Holkenborg’s skillful production, weaving a tapestry that blends atmospheric electronic textures with Smith’s signature emotive delivery.
Tweaker “Truth Is” featuring Robert Smith
The collaboration between Tweaker, the brainchild of Chris Vrenna, and the legendary Robert Smith produced the enchanting song “Truth Is.” This unique partnership saw Smith once again lending his unmistakable vocals to an ambient and atmospheric electronic composition outside of the realms of the rock music for which he is best known.
This partnership between Tweaker and Robert Smith demonstrated the transformative power of collaboration, as their distinctive styles converged to create something utterly entrancing. “Truth Is” serves as a testament to the enduring impact of Smith’s voice and his willingness to venture beyond musical boundaries, leaving an indelible mark on music history in the realms of alternative rock and beyond.
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