COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Thirty years in the music business is no prevention for writers' block.
That is the problem facing The Cure frontman Robert Smith, who is struggling to come up with lyrics to some of the 33 new songs the band has recorded for its 14th studio album.
The record's release has already been pushed back to May and the group goes on tour in March, so the pressure is on for the 47-year-old, who does not want to his legacy to be an ageing band that gradually fades into the background.
"I want them (the words) to mean something, it's not enough that they rhyme," Smith told Reuters in a recent interview. "I find myself stopping short and thinking I've done this before, and better.
"I've given myself a deadline to finish the words before Christmas. If I don't I should be shot," he said.
Smith founded The Cure in 1976 and made an early splash with tight three-minute post-punk songs like "Boys Don't Cry".
Adding keyboards and layered guitars, he developed a taste for epic arrangements and took the band to the top of the charts in the 1980s with dark albums of melancholic grandeur like "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me" and "Disintegration" that also contained snappy pop hits like "Just Like Heaven" and "Lovesong".
His confessional lyrics made it acceptable for male rock singers to express feelings of vulnerability, and opened the path to a plethora of "emo" bands like Thursday or minimalist 1980s revival bands like Interpol.
The new album is shaping up to be a mix of mournful songs alongside more energetic and upbeat cuts.
"I tend to favour this option, more in the style of the 'Kiss Me' album, with different things happening instead of being a mood piece," Smith said. "But the art of that is to get it to all hang together."
For the first time in more than two decades, the band has no keyboard player after Roger O'Donnell quit last year. Original Cure guitarist Porl Thompson -- married to Smith's younger sister -- has returned for a third stint in the band.
"There's no need for keyboards when you have Porl playing guitar," Smith said. "He can pretty much create any sound you want. He's brought back a sense of urgency and we've got a rock edge again."
Bassist Simon Gallup, in the band on-and-off since 1979, and Jason Cooper, on drums since 1995, round up the ensemble.
"Being a four-piece is getting back to a stripped-down stage look and sound," Smith said.
"The fact that we can turn out anywhere with very little equipment and play is the old idea of The Cure. It's less grand than things we've done in the past, but we're still planning to play for three hours."
DON'T CALL ME GOTH
Smith's dishevelled hair, thick eyeliner and smeared lipstick earned him a reputation as leader of the gloomy goth rock movement in the press, a type-casting he has long battled to little effect.
"It's so pitiful when 'goth' is still tagged onto the name The Cure," he said.
"We're not categorisable. I suppose we were post-punk when we came out, but in total it's impossible. How can you describe a band that put out an album like 'Pornography' and also 'Greatest Hits' where every single song was top 10 around the world? I just play Cure music, whatever that is."
The makeup is part of his performance ritual.
"Performing doesn't come that naturally to me even though I've done it for years," he said. "Perhaps not as badly applied and not as obvious, but for thousands of years people have worn makeup on stage."
Fans can get an early glimpse of the band's new look and sound on a DVD released this week. "Festival 2005" was recorded during nine shows in Europe last year and mixes professional camera work with amateur footage shot by fans.
"It was never planned," Smith said. "By the time we did the final show in Istanbul we had 13 cameras, but at the first show we only had one. It was directed by serendipity, and it was kind of thrown together."
The DVD features 30 songs, one for each of the years Smith has been performing with The Cure.
"I'm genuinely surprised at people's reaction when we play shows, it's hard to ignore it," he said. "It's gratifying to know that people still want The Cure to exist. We're an old band playing to a young audience."
As long as he can still command that audience and perform for three hours, Smith said he wouldn't retire.
"I'm aware that time is moving on," he said. "I don't want The Cure to fizzle out doing 45-minute shows of greatest hits. That would be awful for our legacy."