The Cure – Seventeen Seconds (1980): Review

Label – Fiction
Producers – Mike Hedges, Robert Smith

Detached: A word that epitomizes “Seventeen Seconds” position amongst the cumulated back catalogue of Robert Smith’s Cure.

Detached: The abstract blurry images of the cover further drove the band away from traditional Rock iconography and indeed, enhanced The Cure’s “anti-image”.

Detached: “Seventeen Seconds” is the first point where Smith wrestles free of any hint of the producer’s control that had laced their debut, stating that “We’ve never been part of any movement, and we’ll never follow fashion”.

Detached: Numerous critics incorrectly cite this album as the first in a trilogy of “Gothic” recordings that continued with 1981’s dour “Faith” and climaxed with the gruesomely dark “Pornography” from 1982. Although much of the content of “Seventeen Seconds” is sparse, atmospheric and inherently cold, there’s none of the liberally laden lip gloss of gloom that fills the follow up albums.

Detached: During the recording process Keyboardist Matthieu Hartley would suggest the implementation a more flourishing backdrop to Lol Tolhurst and Simon Gallup’s minimalist rhythms. Smith rejected this suggestion in favour of single piano notation to add stark atmospherics to his echo laden deadpan vocal track and heavily phased guitar sound.

Detached: Unlike the follow up albums, there is undoubtedly a subtle stream of pop sensibility running through much of “Seventeen Seconds”, with melodies often originated from Gallup’s Bass. Their flirt with U.K. single success on “A Forest” perfectly builds layers on the leading bass lick, with Smith’s gentle guitar strumming, and Tolhurst’s machine like beat adding a beguiling soundscape that leans heavily towards previous works. Other highlights include the deeply cinematic instrumental opener “A Reflection”, the more upbeat “Play For Today”, and further icy introspection from “M”, “In Your House” and “At Night”.

Detached: “Seventeen Seconds” is Robert Smith’s greatest performance, a contemplation piece that perfectly accompanies solitude. Orthodox descriptions can’t hope to capture the chilling beauty of this record.

9/10

A1 A Reflection 2:08
A2 Play for Today 3:41
A3 Secrets 3:20
A4 In Your House 4:07
A5 Three 2:34
B1 The Final Sound 0:52
B2 A Forest 5:55
B3 M 3:03
B4 At Night 5:54
B5 Seventeen Seconds 3:59

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2 responses to “The Cure – Seventeen Seconds (1980): Review

  1. well, hackskeptic, we meet again. to paraphrase our friends spinal tap, this lp is the cure, and how much more cure could it be ? answer; none more cure!! when i saw the band on the FAITH tour, the better lp in my opinion, the sound was undoubtedly a refinement of this clipped, itchy, post punk chiller tray introversion. the danger was that they would turn into post punk’s status quo, hence the cure’s CHRISTINE style multipersonality to this very day. if a double decker bus HAD killed mad bob, to die by his side would be 17 seconds’ privilege indeed. a fine album of its day, and what i like about it is that it could not even be CONCEIVED of in 2011, let alone recorded and released. 66.3/100

    • I too like “Faith” a lot Kenny, but there’s just something about the level of introspection that’s pitched just right on this album. It feels to me more natural than some of his later works where he seemd to over egg the gloom. As famed New York Times columnist Douglas Wolk said (and it captures the heart of the record for me)…”when Smith sings “never” on “Seventeen Seconds” the way Joey Ramone sang “wanna”, it implies an entire philosophy of being”.

      “Time slips away
      And the light begins to fade
      And everything is quiet now
      Feeling is gone
      And the picture disappears
      And everything is cold now
      The dream had to end
      The wish never came true
      And the girl
      Starts to sing

      Seventeen seconds
      A measure of life”

      Magical stuff

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