Pornography is the fourth studio album by English alternative rock band The Cure, released on 3 May 1982 by the record label Fiction. Preceded by the non-album single "Charlotte Sometimes" late the previous year, Pornography was the band's first album with a new producer, Phil Thornalley, and was recorded at RAK Studiosfrom January to April. The sessions saw the group on the brink of collapse, with heavy drug use, band in-fighting and group leader Robert Smith's depression fuelling the album's musical and lyrical content. Pornography represents the conclusion of the group's early dark, gothic rock musical phase which began with Seventeen Seconds in 1980.[1]

Following its release, bass guitarist Simon Gallup left the band and The Cure switched to a much brighter and more radio-friendly new wave sound.[2] While poorly received by critics at the time of release, Pornography was their most popular album to date, reaching number 8 in the UK charts. Pornography has since gone on to gain acclaim from critics, and is now considered an important milestone in the development of the gothic rock genre. The band has performed the album live in its entirety as part of the Trilogy concerts.


 [hide*1 Background and music

Background and music[edit]Edit

Following the band's previous album, 1981's Faith, the non-album single "Charlotte Sometimes" was released. The single, in particular its nightmarish and hallucinatoryB-side "Splintered in Her Head", would hint at what was to come in Pornography.[2]

In the words of Robert Smith, regarding the album's conception, "I had two choices at the time, which were either completely giving in [committing suicide] or 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]".[2] Smith was mentally exhausted during that period of time: "I was in a really depressed frame of mind between 1981 and 1982".[3] 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".[4]

The band, Smith in particular, wanted to make the album with a different producer than Mike Hedges, who had produced Seventeen Seconds and Faith. The group settled with Phil Thornalley.[2] Pornography is the last Cure album to feature founding band member Lol Tolhurst as the band's drummer (he then became the band's keyboardist), and is also the first time he played keyboards on a Cure release.[2] The album was recorded at RAK Studios from January to April 1982.[5]

On the album's recording sessions, Smith noted "there was a lot of drugs involved".[2] The band took LSD and drank a lot of alcohol, and to save money they slept in the office of their record label.[3] 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".[3] According to Tolhurst, "we wanted to make the ultimate, intense album. I can't remember exactly why, but we did".[2] 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-centered". He also noted that with the album, he "channeled all the self-destructive elements of my personality into doing something".[2]

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".[6] 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".[7] 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".[7] The journalist also commented: the song "Cold" "gets the full gothic treatment", with "grandiose minor-mode organ swells".[7] Describing the title track, writer Dave McCullough said: it "tries to copy Cabaret Voltaire, all shuddering tape noise".[8]

Polydor Records, the company in charge of Fiction Records, the label under which the album was released, were initially displeased with the album's title, which it saw as being potentially offensive.[2] Following the album's release, Simon Gallup left the group.[2]

Release and reception[edit]Edit

Pornography was released on 3 May 1982.[9] The album debuted and peaked at No. 8 in the UK Albums Chart, staying in the chart for nine weeks.[10] Fiction owner Chris Parry found "The Hanging Garden" to be the album's only potential single, and after being "polished" by Thornally and Smith, was released as a single on 12 July, reaching No. 32 in the UK Singles Chart.[2]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic [11]
BBC favourable[12]
Robert Christgau C[13]
NME mixed[6]
Pitchfork 8.4/10[14]
Rolling Stone [15]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide [16]
Sounds [8]
Trouser Press favourable[7]

Despite the commercial performance of the album, Pornography was not well received by most music critics upon its release. Rolling Stone gave the album one-and-a-half stars out of five, with reviewer J. D. Considine commenting that The Cure's lyrics "[seem] stuck in the terminal malaise of adolescent existentialism". Considine concluded, "Pornography comes off as the aural equivalent of a bad toothache. It isn't the pain that irks, it's the persistent dullness".[15] Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, derided Smith's "glum" lyrics and felt that he should "cheer up".[13] NME reviewer Dave Hill was ambivalent towards the album: "The Cure have collected the very purest feelings endemic to their age, and [hold] them right on the spot in their most unpleasantly real form [...] This record portrays and parades its currency of exposed futility and naked fear with so few distractions or adornments, and so little sense of shame. It really piles it on".[6] Melody Maker's Adam Sweeting shared a similar point of view, saying: "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".[17] Sounds wrote that despite a "genuine talent still at work", the album "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".[8] At the opposite, Trouser Press was one of the very few magazines to write a favourable review. Writer Ira Robbins observed that "The Cure imposes an order that at first seems contrary to the basic preconceptions of rock 'n' roll. For them, lyrics are everything. Instruments may set the scene, but they seldom stray from merely creating atmosphere". Robbins finally hailed Pornography as a "uncompromising and challenging" work.[7]

Retrospective view of the album has been favourable. Uncut called the album "a masterpiece of claustrophobic self-loathing".[2] In their 2004 review, BBC opined, "Indeed, were it not for its sonic depth and sheer relentless conviction, Pornography's extraordinary misanthropy would be laughable".[12]

In his biography of The Cure, Never Enough: The Story of The Cure, Jeff Apter explains: "Pornography turned out to be the kind of album—just like Lou Reed's Berlin or Bowie's coke-fueled Low—that required some distance and a good few years of music history to be really appreciated".[2] Mark Coleman of Rolling Stone opined in 1995: "Though Pornography is revered by Cureheads as a masterstroke, normal listeners will probably find it impenetrable".[2]


In 2005, Spin cited the album as a "high-water mark for goth's musical evolution".[18] NME described Pornography as "arguably the album that invented goth".[19] Slant Magazine listed the album at number 79 on its list of the best albums of the 1980s.[20] In 2011, NME listed Pornography at number 6 on its "50 Darkest Albums Ever" list.[19] Mojo placed it at number 83 in their list "100 Records That Changed the World".[21]

According to Jeff 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.[2]

Live performances[edit]Edit

Preceding and following the release of Pornography, it was in this period the band started to develop their trademark image of big hair, smudged makeup and black clothes.[2] Smith applied lipstick smeared around the eyes and the mouth.[3] 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.[3]

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.[22] 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 inStrasbourg.[3] Tolhurst found out the next day that his two partners "had both gone back to England".[3] 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".[3]

In 2002, twenty years after the release of Pornography, The Cure performed the album live in its entirety, along with Disintegration and Bloodflowers, as part of the Trilogy concerts.[23]

Track listing[edit]Edit

All songs written by The Cure (Robert SmithSimon Gallup and Lol Tolhurst)

Side A
  1. One Hundred Years - 6:40
  2. A Short Term Effect - 4:22
  3. The Hanging Garden - 4:33
  4. Siamese Twins - 5:29
Side B
  1. The Figurehead - 6:15
  2. A Strange Day - 5:04
  3. Cold - 4:26
  4. Pornography - 6:27


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


Country Date Peak


UK 15 May 1982 8[10]
Netherlands 29 May 1982 17[24]
Sweden 1 June 1982 47[25]
New Zealand 4 July 1982 9[26]
France 27 June 2004 81[27]
Wallonia 7 May 2005 70[28]
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