''Pornography'' is the fourth studio album by English rock band The Cure, released on 4 May 1982 by Fiction Records. Preceded by the non-album single " Charlotte Sometimes", it was the band's first album with new producer Phil Thornalley, and was recorded at
RAK Studios RAK Studios is a recording studio complex with residential facilities located near Regent's Park Regent's Park (officially The Regent's Park) is one of the Royal Parks of London. It occupies high ground in north-west Inner London, administrativel ...
from January to April 1982. The sessions saw the band on the brink of collapse, with heavy drug use, band in-fighting, and frontman Robert Smith's depression fueling the album's musical and lyrical content. ''Pornography'' represents the conclusion of the Cure's early dark, gloomy musical phase, which began with their second album '' Seventeen Seconds'' (1980). Following its release, bassist Simon Gallup left the band, and the Cure switched to a much brighter and more radio-friendly new wave sound. Although it was poorly received by critics at the time of release, ''Pornography'' was the Cure's most popular album to date, reaching number eight on the
UK Albums Chart The Official Albums Chart is a list of albums ranked by physical and digital sales and (from March 2015) audio streaming in the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom ( ...
. It has since gone on to gain acclaim from critics, and is now considered an important milestone in the development of the style of music known as
gothic rock Gothic rock (alternately called goth-rock or goth) is a style of rock music Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, developing into a range of dif ...

Background and recording

Following the band's previous album, 1981's ''
Faith Faith, derived from Latin ''fides'' and Old French ''feid'', is confidence or trust in a person, thing, or In the context of religion, one can define faith as "belief in a god or in the doctrines or teachings of religion". Religious people often ...
'', the non-album single " Charlotte Sometimes" was released. The single, in particular its nightmarish and hallucinatory
B-side A-side and B-side are terms used to refer to the two sides of phonograph records and Compact cassette, cassettes, and have often been printed on the labels of two-sided music recordings. The A-side usually features a recording that its artist, ...
"Splintered in Her Head", would hint at what was to come in ''Pornography''. In the words of Robert Smith, regarding the album's conception, "I had two choices at the time, which were either completely giving in ommitting suicideor making a record of it and getting it out of me". He also claims he "really thought that was it for the group. I had every intention of signing off. I wanted to make the ultimate 'fuck off' record, and then sign off [the band]". Smith was mentally exhausted during that period of time: "I was in a really depressed frame of mind between 1981 and 1982". The band "had been touring for about 200 days a year and it all got a bit too much because there was never any time to do anything else". The band, Smith in particular, wanted to make the album with a different producer than Mike Hedges, who had produced '' Seventeen Seconds'' and ''Faith''. According to Lol Tolhurst, Smith and Tolhurst briefly met with the producer Conny Plank at Fiction's offices in the hopes of having him produce the album since they were both fans of his work with Kraftwerk, however, the group soon settled on Phil Thornalley. ''Pornography'' is the last Cure album to feature Lol Tolhurst as the band's drummer (he then became the band's keyboardist), and also marked the first time he played keyboards on a Cure release. The album was recorded at
RAK Studios RAK Studios is a recording studio complex with residential facilities located near Regent's Park Regent's Park (officially The Regent's Park) is one of the Royal Parks of London. It occupies high ground in north-west Inner London, administrativel ...
from January to April 1982. On the album's recording sessions, Smith noted "there was a lot of drugs involved". The band took LSD and drank a lot of alcohol, and to save money, they slept in the office of their record label. The musicians usually turned up at eight, and left at midday looking "fairly deranged". Smith related: "We had an arrangement with the off-licence up the road, every night they would bring in supplies. We decided we weren't going to throw anything out. We built this mountain of empties in the corner, a gigantic pile of debris in the corner. It just grew and grew". According to Tolhurst, "we wanted to make the ultimate, intense album. I can't remember exactly why, but we did". The recording sessions commenced and concluded in three weeks. Smith noted, "At the time, I lost every friend I had, everyone, without exception, because I was incredibly obnoxious, appalling, self-centred". He also noted that with the album, he "channelled all the self-destructive elements of my personality into doing something". Polydor Records, the company in charge of Fiction, was initially displeased with the album's title, which it saw as being potentially offensive.

Music and influences

Regarding the album's musical style, ''NME'' reviewer Dave Hill wrote, "The drums, guitars, voice and production style are pressed scrupulously together in a murderous unity of surging, textured mood". Hill further described it as "Phil Spector in Hell". ''Trouser Press'' said about the track "A Short Term Effect": It "stresses ephemeralness with Smith's echo-laden voice decelerating at the end of each phrase". Ira Robbins observed that "the song closest to basic pop" is "A Strange Day": It "has overdubbed backing vocals plus a delineated verse and chorus wrapped in some strangely consonant guitar figures". The journalist also commented: the song "Cold" "gets the full gothic rock, gothic treatment", with "grandiose minor-mode organ swells". Describing the title track, writer Dave McCullough said that it "tries to copy Cabaret Voltaire (band), Cabaret Voltaire, all shuddering tape noise". Smith said that "the reference point" for ''Pornography'' was the Psychedelic Furs' The Psychedelic Furs (album), self-titled debut album, which he noted "had, like, a density of sound, really powerful". Smith also cited Siouxsie and the Banshees as "a massive influence on me [...] They were the group who led me towards doing ''Pornography''. They drew something out of me". In 1982, Smith also said that the "records he'd take into the bunker after the big bang", were ''Desertshore'' by Nico, ''Music for Films'' by Brian Eno, ''Axis: Bold as Love'' / ''Are You Experienced'' by Jimi Hendrix, ''Twenty Golden Greats'' by Frank Sinatra and ''The Early Piano Works'' by Erik Satie.

Release and reception

''Pornography'' was released on 3 May 1982. The album debuted and peaked at No. 8 on the
UK Albums Chart The Official Albums Chart is a list of albums ranked by physical and digital sales and (from March 2015) audio streaming in the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom ( ...
, staying on the chart for nine weeks. Fiction owner Chris Parry (producer), Chris Parry found "The Hanging Garden (song), The Hanging Garden" to be the album's only potential single, and after being "polished" by Thornalley and Smith, it was released as a single on 12 July, reaching No. 32 on the UK Singles Chart. Despite the commercial performance of the album, ''Pornography'' was not well received by most music critics upon its release. ''NME'' reviewer Dave Hill was ambivalent towards the album, writing that while he found the lyrics "tiresomely self-analytical," the album "portrays and parades its currency of exposed futility and utterly naked fear with so few distractions or adornments, and so little sense of shame. It really piles it on. The Cure have applied themselves to catching a related collection of the very purest feelings endemic to their age, and holding them right on the spot in their intangible, unspecified, unmanageable and most unpleasantly real form." Adam Sweeting of ''Melody Maker'' wrote: "It's downhill all the way, into ever-darkening shadows... passing through chilly marbled archways to the final rendezvous with the cold comfort of the slab". Dave McCullough of ''Sounds (magazine), Sounds'' felt that despite a "genuine talent still at work", ''Pornography'' "has too much music too cluttered a backing for Smith's well-intended observance [...] Robert Smith seems locked in himself, a spiralling nightmare that leaves The Cure making a pompous sounding music that is, when all's said and done, dryly meaningless". Robert Christgau, writing in ''The Village Voice'', derided Smith's "glum" lyrics: "Cheer up; look on the bright side. You got your contract, right? And your synthesizers, bet you'll have fun with them. Believe me, kid, it will pass." ''Rolling Stone'' critic J. D. Considine commented that the lyrics seem "stuck in the terminal malaise of adolescent existentialism", concluding, "''Pornography'' comes off as the aural equivalent of a bad toothache. It isn't the pain that irks, it's the persistent dullness". ''Trouser Press'' Charles McCardell, on the other hand, found that the Cure "imposes an order that at first seems contrary to the basic preconceptions of rock 'n' roll" – noting that "for them, lyrics are everything" and that instruments had been relegated to "merely creating atmosphere" – and hailed ''Pornography'' as an "uncompromising and challenging" work.


Retrospective views of ''Pornography'' have been more favourable. In his biography of the Cure, ''Never Enough: The Story of the Cure'', Jeff Apter wrote that it "turned out to be the kind of album—just like Lou Reed's ''Berlin (Lou Reed album), Berlin'' or David Bowie, Bowie's cocaine, coke-fueled ''Low (David Bowie album), Low''—that required some distance and a good few years of music history to be really appreciated". In 1995, Mark Coleman of ''Rolling Stone'' noted that ''Pornography'' had come to be "revered by Cureheads as a masterstroke", while noting that "normal listeners will probably find it impenetrable". Stewart Mason of AllMusic found it to be "much better than most mainstream critics of the time thought", but at the same time "not the masterpiece some fans have claimed it to be" and "just a bit too uneven to be considered a classic". In 2004, Jaime Gill of BBC Music singled out the album's "sonic depth and sheer relentless conviction" for praise, adding that without these qualities, its "extraordinary misanthropy would be laughable". ''Uncut (magazine), Uncut'' called ''Pornography'' "a masterpiece of claustrophobic self-loathing." In 2000, ''Pornography'' was voted No. 183 in Colin Larkin's ''All Time Top 1000 Albums''. In 2005, ''Spin (magazine), Spin'' cited the album as a "high-water mark for gothic rock, goth's musical evolution". ''NME'' described ''Pornography'' as "arguably the album that invented goth". ''Slant Magazine'' listed the album at No. 79 on its list of the best albums of the 1980s. In 2011, ''NME'' listed ''Pornography'' at No. 6 on its "50 Darkest Albums Ever" list. ''Mojo (magazine), Mojo'' placed it at No. 83 on its list of "100 Records That Changed the World". In his review for AllMusic, Stewart Mason also described the record as "one of the key goth rock albums of the '80s". According to Apter, ''Pornography'' would prove to be "enormously influential", and has been cited as an influence by bands such as Deftones and System of a Down.

Live performances

In the period preceding and following the release of ''Pornography'', the band started to develop their trademark image of big hair, smudged makeup and black clothes. Smith applied lipstick smeared around the eyes and the mouth. Under the lights, the lipstick melted, making it look, as Smith later put it "like we'd been smacked in the face". It was supposed to symbolise the violence of the new material but backstage, another kind of violence had begun to surface from the first dates of the tour. The band performed in the UK in April 1982. ''NME'' considered that the show "was all very skillfully deployed: a bruisingly clear sound of scathing force, a clockwork, Pavlovian lightshow, a variegation of light and shade in the song order that builds to the unmitigating force of 'Pornography' itself as the climax". However, the mood on stage was not good: The journalist noted that Smith looked "dejected and tired" for his birthday. Behind the scene, Smith's relationship with Gallup was deteriorating. When the tour reached Europe, tension was so high between the two musicians that they had a fight after a concert in Strasbourg. Tolhurst found out the next day that his two partners "had both gone back to England". At home, Smith heard his father telling him: "Get right back out on that tour! People have bought tickets!" After two more weeks of touring, the band played their final show in Brussels. Tolhurst later related: "I remember sitting in the dressing room thinking, 'oh well, that's the end of the band, then' [...] I went off to France for a bit. I guess I ran away. Escaping from the reality of The Cure". Back in England, Smith took a rest with a month's camping holiday to the Lake District to "clean up".

Track listing

All songs written by The Cure ( Robert Smith, Simon Gallup and Lol Tolhurst) Side A #"One Hundred Years" – 6:40 #"A Short Term Effect" – 4:22 #"The Hanging Garden (song), The Hanging Garden" – 4:33 #"Siamese Twins" – 5:29 Side B #"The Figurehead" – 6:15 #"A Strange Day" – 5:04 #"Cold" – 4:26 #"Pornography" – 6:27


The Cure * Robert Smith – vocals, guitar, keyboards, cello ("Cold"), production, engineering * Simon Gallup – bass guitar, keyboards, production * Lol Tolhurst – drums, keyboards ("One Hundred Years"), production Technical * Phil Thornalley – production, engineering assistance * Mike Nocito – engineering * Michael Kostiff – sleeve photography * Ben Kelly – sleeve design



External links

(Adobe Flash) at Radio3Net (streamed copy where licensed) * {{Authority control The Cure albums 1982 albums Fiction Records albums A&M Records albums Elektra Records albums Rhino Records albums Albums recorded at the Hammersmith Apollo Albums recorded at RAK Studios