For most of the last decade, the Cure has seemed a band for which breaking up would not be that hard to do.
It's not as if the band has been beset with rampaging egos or romantic complications. Apart from keyboardist Lol Tolhurst, who was forced out of the band in 1988 and later filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against front-man Robert Smith, the Cure has been relatively free of internal strife in its 20 years of existence.
If anything, Smith, bassist Simon Gallup, guitarist Porl Thompson and drummer Boris Williams always have seemed more like buddies than band-mates.
Even so, rumors of the band's demise cropped up with regularity -- in part because Smith himself has often insisted that he never saw the Cure as a permanent fixture on the rock landscape.
In 1989, after dubbing the group's 10th album "Disintegration," Smith worried that some fans might take the title as a sign that it was the Cure's last album. "But then," he says, "I always think it's the last album, so I don't see why everyone else shouldn't get that feeling."
That feeling got a lot stronger, though, after the band's 1992 album, "Wish." As a rule, the group cut a new album every other year, but when 1994 rolled around, not only wasn't there a new Cure album, Thompson had signed on for an album and tour with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Moreover, Williams announced he was leaving at roughly the same time. Suddenly, the band's silence seemed even more pointed. Could the Cure have finally called it quits?
Not hardly. As Smith explains, the Cure's membership may have changed over the last two years, but its basic principle remains the same.
"The group -- it's really much more like a social thing," he says over the phone from the house in Bath, England, where the Cure recorded its new CD, "Wild Mood Swings" (Elektra 61744, arriving in stores Tuesday).
"Boris left a couple years ago, but has actually been back to where we're recording and played drums with us," he says. "And then Porl's my brother-in-law, so it's no kind of acrimonious departure. On both counts, they left because, after such a long span of time in the Cure, they just wanted to try something else."
Thompson's spot was filled by Perry Bamonte, who had played keyboards on "Wish" -- keyboardist Roger O'Donnell, who left before "Wish" was recorded, is now back in the fold. Williams was replaced by newcomer Jason Cooper. Only Smith and Gallup remain in the roles they held on the last Cure album.
But that's not the only reason Smith calls the current Cure "a very different group to the one that made the 'Wish' album."
Where previous Cure albums took a closed-shop approach to music making -- that is, if Smith and his band-mates couldn't make the sounds themselves, they weren't made -- "Wild Mood Swings" boasts a broad assortment of guest musicians.
"On the new record, we've used an Indian orchestra, and a jazz quartet, and a string quartet, and Mexican trumpet players," Smith says. "Everything on the album is real. In the past, I would have tried to keep it in the family, so to speak, and tried to attain a realistic sound through emulation or simulation. Now I feel much more comfortable having people around who are really good musicians.
"I suppose deep down I must feel that we've kind of reached that level where they're not going to laugh at us."
Laugh at them? Well, the Cure is a product of the punk era, and neither Smith nor any of the band's early members considered themselves serious musicians in the early days. But that, says Smith, was less a matter of aesthetics than of experience.
"I've never held that disingenuous punk ethic that we won't play our instruments properly," he says. "Boris, particularly, is a phenomenally good drummer, and replacing him was the most difficult thing. Not only did we have to find someone who would fit, who would get on with us and understand what the Cure is about; [he] also had to be as good a drummer as Boris, and it took months finding someone.
"Because once you've had someone that's that good, you can't really take a backwards step. The audience expects us now to have a certain standard of playing. I like the idea of being able to play. I think it's to be applauded. I despise people who revel in the ignorance of not being able to play their instrument. I think there's a kind of pathetic side to it, really.
"I have limitations," he adds. "It's just that I accept what they are. Porl is a far more fluent guitarist than me, much faster, much more able to have a range of styles, but ultimately, people equate my guitar playing with the Cure. So in some ways he was kind of isolated. Although he could play a lot of things, a lot of what he played didn't really fit -- which was proved when he walked into Page and Plant. His style was far more suited, and he was given free rein to express himself, in that set-up.