Drums: Jason Cooper
Jason Cooper, who has been the Cure’s drummer for longer than anyone else, has gotten an inordinate amount of stick from fans, and a massive slight from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who failed to mention him at all in their nomination of the Cure. As far as the fans go, this is pure bias, borne of loyalty to and preference for the Cure’s idealized 1985-1993 phase.
If I’m honest, I suspect lot of it has to do with the band’s good looks, which peaked during the period Boris Williams drummed for the Cure. His departure in 1993 coincided with an undeniable physical slide (due to aging and probably drink), which took a heavy toll on Robert Smith en totalement, and Porl Thompson’s hair. Oddly, bassist Simon Gallup is hotter at 52 than he was at 32, and has absorbed most of the feminine (and I suppose masculine) lust previously reserved for Robert Smith.
Simon, please gain some weight. Give the guys in Mastodon a chance.
These things shouldn’t matter, and in many cases don’t. Nobody gave the Pixies a hard time for being overweight during their reunion bid, but the Pixies never explicitly relied on physical beauty, and therein lies the problem. Barring Lol Tolhurst, the Cure were very foxy young men, and traded heavily on their looks during their oft-celebrated late-’80s peak. Some of the promo shots are positively George Michael status.
By now, Smith’s looked rather haggard for more than a decade, and the easy jokes about it have grown so tired that people have simply accepted it, and are again happy to celebrate the band at roll-out-the-barrel festivals all over the world. Two recent major engagements—the 2011 Reflections tour (during which the band performed its first three albums sequentially), that year’s Bestival set and their 2012 SummerCure festival dates (at right)—have shown a renewed sense of purpose. Both Robert Smith’s vocals and Jason Cooper’s drumming have improved a great deal, and by “improved” I mean “aligned with audience expectations.”
Jason Cooper is an academically-trained drummer, he’s not some metalhead that won a contest. The problem with his playing, for fans anyway, was twofold. First and most regrettably, the Cure began employing percussion loops to augment and more accurately replicate their material. This ties Cooper to a click-track, and makes it extremely difficult for the band to…”rock out”, for lack of a better term. When you’re playing to a computer, the whole performance is anaesthetized. Fans took this to mean Cooper needed padding, or training wheels; that he couldn’t handle “100 Years” or “Disintegration”, the two biggest stamina tests for any drummer in the Cure’s catalog.
For any casual or new fans—and there are hundreds of thousands who have no idea who Boris Williams even is—it’s hard to appreciate how this could be such an issue for dyed-in-the-wool fans of his turn with the Cure. The most succinct answer I can offer is the band’s performance of “Push” from the 1986 concert film in Orange:
At that time, the Cure seriously ripped in concert, and anyone who was there went absolutely insane with joy. It’s really difficult to explain. I mean the guys in my Cure cover band, we used to watch in Orange once a week—at least. And just watching this VHS tape, we’d get so amped up we’d run downstairs to practice, with the echoes of this show ringing in our heads (and our miserable playing echoing around the neighborhood).
For some, Boris was still fighting the memory of Andy Anderson, whose tenure with the band was sadly cut short by emotional and substance-abuse issues. It hurt Robert Smith a great deal to boot him out of the band, but apparently he’d used up all nine lives, as it were. Here’s Andy destroying another snare in a 1984 performance of “Primary” (the same show as featured on the 1984 live LP Concert).
Listening to “Disintegration” at its typical tempo under Boris Williams, one sympathizes with the rest of the band, who are doing all they can to keep up. This is not a common situation, and not one to lay at Jason Cooper’s feet. The Cure happened to have two of the strongest 4/4 rock drummers in recent memory in their lineup at different times: Andy Anderson, and Boris.
There is no arguing that the Cure have slowed down certain numbers under Jason Cooper, and that he’s put a kind of John Bonham thrust to things, especially the fills he’s inserted in “100 Years”, and the song “Watching Me Fall”, which is so classic rock as to invoke “When the Levee Breaks”. That’s his style, as a drummer, and the Cure songs he’s inherited weren’t written with him in mind, versus say “Out of This World”, the winning introduction to 2000’s return to form, Bloodflowers.
This Glastonbury 1990 performance of the 1983 gem “Lament”, during which Boris Williams plays every piece of percussion you hear live, is a dearly-held moment for serious Cure fans. They played it on a number of festival dates that year, and blew everyone’s minds.
The 2012 equivalent of that sort of trainspotter’s reward is “Just One Kiss”, which has never been played live before, and is not, by any measure, an easy task for a rock drummer tasked with delivering a three hour set. And Jason Cooper absolutely fucking nails it.
An interesting summary of the Cure’s drumming history—I’ve never followed their career closely enough to track all of the personnel changes (apparently, they have Reeves Gabrel on guitar now??). But I was happy to pitch in when some good friends needed a drummer for a one-off Cure tribute act (that subsequently became a two-off Cure tribute act).
My theory on Boris Williams’ speedy pace on “Disintegration”: it’s a fantastic song for listening purposes, but playing is another matter, at least for a certain type of drummer (of which I’m one). When you’re locked into that single groove (with very few variations or fills, since the song’s power is dependent on that repetitive foundation) for 8 minutes, all you want to do is finish the damn thing. Plus, it doesn’t sound bad fast, so why not bump it up a few BPM?