* Prices may differ from that shown
Often overlooked in cult terms by its successors Faith and Pornography, Seventeen Seconds marks the point where the Cure went from being also rans to being in a league of their own.
First album Three Imaginary Boys was a promising debut, the singles Killing an Arab and Boys Don't Cry making a good fist of combining classic pop writing within a post punk structure. Seventeen Seconds however is a bleak masterpiece, the band ditching anything remotely commercial in search of a darker soundscape.
Singles A Forest and Play for Today are not obvious hits; they bite rather than seduce, and the hooks aren't immediately apparent. Opener A Reflection is a moody, drumless instrumental, immediately putting you on edge, whereas elsewhere the pace slows up with the likes of In Your House and M.
The title tracks brings this ten track collection to a gloomy end, and oddly enough you find that despite the downbeat nature of the album you feel quite uplifted, maybe as a result of the fine musicianship on offer.
Personally I find this album to be one of the highlights in their varied career, and urge anyone not to ignore it in favour of the big sellers in their catalogue.
In 1980 Robert Smith ensured that for the band's second release he would have complete creative control over the direction of their music.
There have been two changes to the line-up of the band since Three Imaginary Boys. Firstly, Simon Gallup has replaced Michael Dempsey on bass. Secondly, Smith has employed Matthieu Hartley to play keyboards.
It's fair to say that Matthieu's synth work adds a new dimension to The Cure, giving the band's music further depth. It's a far cry away from the New Wave/Punk sound that the band had fostered on their debut.
So, without a further a do, let's crack on with the songs.
I'm going to mention the three instrumentals first. We have A Reflection, which starts the album, then, Three and The Final Sound, which make an appearance half way through the LP. All of which are absolutely horrendous pieces of garbage.
Creating an unsettling atmosphere and a genuine sense of danger is one thing, but to create a boring, unengaging and unlistenable mess, is quite another. A Reflection is almost laughable - little more than a few solemn piano notes roll out, as the occasional strike of the guitar attempts to provide backup. Using instruments sparingly to add layers of depth is something I'm all for, but here the execution of simplified instrumentation is just appalling.
I'd go on to describe the other two instrumentals but I just don't have it in me. Robert Smith, why have you forsaken me!
Play For Today is the first 'proper' song on the album. The track is underpinned by Lol Tolhurst's deadpan drumming, and Smith hasn't really let go of his punk roots just yet. I'd say that it was as good as anything from their debut, if it wasn't for the dismal programmed smacks that occur at regular intervals in the background. You will find that one of the album's greatest weaknesses is that when a song is working well, Smith has to introduce at least one unpleasant piece of extra instrumentation to the soundscape.
Secrets and In Your House are the best tracks on the LP. The former has a mellow guitar groove to it, which is matched by Gallup's intimidating bass lines. In Your House has a solid introduction in which multiple layers of instrumentation are slowly introduced; each one managing to complement the other well. It's probably the first time on the album where the band sounds comfortable playing with one another.
A Forest is the big daddy on the second side of the LP. With a longer introduction than its single-release counterpart, it has to be admired. In fact it is the introduction which makes the song; because by the time it starts 'properly' it is yet another song to descend into the realms of atrocity. This is mostly thanks to Tolhurst's soul destroying drumming which digs away at your inner-being. Robert Smith obviously didn't think ill of it though as it remains a band favourite when playing live.
The title track brings the album to a close in a most inadequate way. It does little to light the musical fire in my heart, and I'd call it formulaic stagnation if this wasn't the band's first album to boast the 'new' Cure sound. A very forced and selective group of guitar chords ring out as Smith decrees, "Time slips away, and the light begins to fade...". I couldn't agree more Bob, as that is indeed what happens every time I listen to this album.
It was pretty obvious from the outset that Robert Smith was unhappy with how the band's debut had turned out, so it's only a fair conclusion when I say that Seventeen Seconds is the anti-Three Imaginary Boys. It was certainly a new direction for the band, but unfortunately the ideas found on this album wouldn't come to fruition until later recordings.
Q: What is Seventeen Seconds?
A: It's exactly how long I can listen to this LP in one sitting.
Read more of my reviews at www.danielkempreviews.co.uk
'Seventeen Seconds' is a great step beyond its predecessor 'Three Imaginary Boys' released only a year earlier, introducing the Cure's atmospheric gothic sound and arguably making for their defining record, or at least the one that contains their definitive song. With its hypnotic guitar jangle, cold electronic drum beat and foreboding narrative, 'A Forest' is the pinnacle of eighties gothic rock, and still a staple of the band's live set that usually sees the song's length stretched out beyond all proportion.
The main failing of this album is that every other song tends to sound like an inferior version of exactly the same thing, opting for a consistent tone and atmosphere rather than a collection of instantly memorable songs, a balance the Cure would achieve to varying degrees of success through the rest of their career. Newcomer Matthiew Hartley is essential to the effect, his keyboard and piano filling out the atmosphere so that the rest of the band can retreat to more subtle rhythm duties, and Robert Smith's high drawl is occasionally pushed so far into the background, the listener's not sure whether they're just imagining his presence.
Without the distracting solos and daft lyrics, this is strikingly mature compared to the previous album, but also runs the risk of being far too dull for a mainstream audience. Had it not been composed and recorded in such a hurry, this likely would have been the band's masterpiece.
1. A Reflection
2. Play for Today
4. In Your House
6. The Final Sound
7. A Forest
9. At Night
10. Seventeen Seconds
"Seventeen Seconds" was the second album released by the punk/goth band, The Cure. It was released in the April of 1980 although it did not probably make it into my vinyl record recollection until around five years later. Originally released on the Fiction record label this is the only Cure studio album to feature keyboard player Matthieu Hartley.
In 2005 Fiction records teamed up with the band's current record label, Rhino and re-issued this album to mark its 25th anniversary. This re-issued version has been digitally remastered and not only contains the original ten tracks that featured on this album, it also comes with a second CD disc that contains a further fifteen tracks of oddities and rarities that were recorded around the same time. Just in case this was not enough this new package also comes with a booklet that is packed full of photographs of the band from this period. This booklet also contains the lyrics to all of the tracks on both of these discs. This review is based largely on this 2005 digitally remastered release rather the original vinyl release, although as a former die hard fan I do own both.
The track listing on this 2005 release is as follows:
1. A Reflection
2. Play For Today
4. In Your House
6. The Final Sound
7. A Forest
9. At Night
10. Seventeen Seconds
1. I'm A Cult Hero (Cult Hero single)
2. I Dig You (Cult Hero single)
3. Another Journey By Train (home demo)
4. Secrets (home demo)
5. Seventeen Seconds (live)
6. In Your House (live)
7. Three (alt studio mix)
8. I Dig You (Cult Hero live)
9. I'm A Cult Hero (Cult Hero live)
10. M (live)
11. The Final Sound (live)
12. A Reflection (live)
13. Play For Today (live)
14. At Night (live)
15. A Forest (live
Disc One is as the original vinyl release and kicks off with "A Reflection.." This is a haunting, moody instrumental track that rises and falls. This track sets the tone for the rest of the album and confirms that The Cure have matured considerably since the short, three minute tracks on their debut release "Three Imaginary Boys".
Next up we have "Play For Today" and "Secrets" which are both also over five minutes long in length. These two tracks feature the use of keyboards heavily, something that was evidently missing on their debut, although I did not quite realise it at the time.
"In Your House" is an absolute gem of a song and definitely one of the highlights on this album. Whilst the next two tracks "Three" and "The Final Sound" continue in a similar way.
Each of these songs are like a breath of fresh air and demonstrates just how far the founder band members Robert Smith and Lol Tolhurst had come from the raw, quirky, pop sound of some of the earlier songs that made it onto the first album. These songs are at a slower pace, more chilled out and relaxed, but each has a catchy upbeat melody although it is noticeable that the vocals and lyrics are somewhat sparse. This is much more of an album based on the music rather than the vocals and in many ways may have been a result of the criticisms of the earlier songs, which were more repetitive in their sound.
"A Forest" more or less sums up everything that is right about the first seven songs that precede it. This is very atmospheric and moody but better for Robert Smith's low, slightly whining voice. "A Forest" is a much darker song than its upbeat melody initially portrays. This was the only song from "Seventeen Seconds" that was released as a single, giving the band their first top ten hit in the UK and their first appearance on Top of the Pops. At this time many people struggled to define this song giving it the labels "New Wave", "Indie", "Goth" and "Alternative" amongst other tags.
Next up we have the strangely titled "M" and "At Night." Both of these tracks are less memorable than "A Forest" but that is not to say that they have been put here simply as album fillers. The truth is on this album there are no fillers, just ten good songs.
The Album ends with the title track of the album "Seventeen Seconds" This is one of the longest tracks on the album and it has a very catchy hook to it. I have heard several theories about what this song is actually about but as with many of the tracks on this album the lyrics are quite abstract and therefore difficult to decipher, although there is a general theme of love. My theory about this title tracks comes from a book that I always remember reading as a child, which is also called "Seventeen Seconds". This book is written by Ivan Southall and recounts the exploits of two Australian mine disposal officers during the Second World War. Seventeen Seconds was the length of time that they had to get away from a hand grenade when the pin had been removed. I have no idea if Robert Smith has read this same book but I would like to think that it is plausible as he sings " Seventeen seconds, a measure of life, Seventeen seconds, a measure of time......"
The second disc is actually the main reason why I decided to buy this remastered package. I do have all of the early albums on vinyl, and most also on CD but the songs on this particular CD do not appear anywhere else. This is collection of fifteen tracks that are very crude but to listen to them is still interesting.
This disc kicks off with two songs that were actually recorded by The Cult Hero, which was the name of Robert Smith's band before he formed The Cure. It is pretty fair to say that these songs sound like they were recorded on a tape recorder in his bedroom and they probably were.
Elsewhere on this disc there are live songs and early demo versions of songs that later appeared in different formats elsewhere. All of this is very interesting, but presumably serves only to be useful the diehard Cure fans.
My favourite song on this bonus disc is "Another Journey by Train" this home demo is fast and furious and has quite a pop influenced tinge to it, a direction that the band chose to steer away from on "Seventeen Seconds". This demo track later inspired another song "Jumping Someone Else's Train" which surfaced shortly after this recording.
Finally this package comes with a booklet that is packed full of photographs of the band from the 1977-1980 period. Some of these photos are quite hilarious and Robert Smith looks very young and baby-faced. These were the days before he developed his mad mop of hair and started wearing make-up.
If you fancy a trip down memory lane with The Cure this double CD package is currently available for around £15.99.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 At Night
2 Final Sound
4 In Your House
6 Play For Today
9 Seventeen Seconds