29 September, 2012

30 Reviews In 30 Days: Review #27

The Cure, Seventeen Seconds (Fiction Records, 1980)

Seventeen Seconds is sort of an odd duck in The Cure's discography; it's not quite full-on gothic mope-and-strum like even the next album would be, but it's not even close to the wiry, jumpy, and very energetic Three Imaginary Boys stylistically. That album sounded positively caffeinated and almost happy at times, characterized by a lot of guitar lines with a trebly, scratchy, thin sound that resembled the guitar tones on early Fall records. This album is already a stark contrast. It sounds like The Cure started listening to Unknown Pleasures something fierce. (They did play a show with Joy Division at least once, which lends maybe a tiny bit of credence to my almost-theory.) These kids now sound like they couldn't smile even if they wanted to. The overwhelming emotional tone of the album is stark, distant, downbeat, mechanical and depressed. In a word, the album sounds cold. I don't mean to imply it's a straight copy of Unknown Pleasures, though: just that there was some obvious influence taken, and a clear reorientation of artistic direction.

For one thing, the drumming on Seventeen Seconds is far more robotic than anything Stephen Morris did with Joy Division. Lol Tolhurst plays a total of maybe three drum fills on the entire album, and his drumming was processed throughout to sound unlike standard drums would. This drum sound has led people to regularly mistake his playing for that of a drum machine, hilariously enough. (There is a fascinating article online about how they came up with the drum sound on the album - it's from the magazine Sound on Sound and involves miking the drums with contact mics, which is a miking method I've never heard of anyone else using on drums.) Another thing is that Robert Smith's guitar playing is completely different from the first album - it's always clean, frigid, jerky, tense, rhythmic... and somehow sounds utterly hopeless. There's no guitar distortion on the album at all, and it's hard to say what makes the guitar sound so effective. Some people have said it sounds weak and monotonous, and while the latter charge rings true, the former charge can go jump in a lake. The guitar playing sounds something like David Byrne would've if he'd had incurable depression instead of extreme anxiety and not an ounce of would-be funk in his body. And it works. The best song on the album is the single, "A Forest," but "In Your House," "At Night," "Play For Today," "Secrets" and "Seventeen Seconds" are all nearly as good. It's a very even, atmospheric album, with Smith's vocals mixed pleasingly low along with Matthieu Hartley's ethereal synthesizer, and Simon Gallup's repetitive, moody basslines almost as important to the songs melodically as Smith's guitar. Not many Cure fans share this opinion, but Seventeen Seconds is certainly one of my very favorite Cure albums. It's extremely consistent and atmospheric, and the sound is so generally lined up to my own tastes that it'd be hard for me to dislike it. There are some albums you just can't help really, really liking, and for me, this is one of them.

(Finally, be sure to try and find the video for "A Forest" that the band released - it's low-budget as hell, hilariously minimalist, and Robert Smith looks so much like a bored Ben Affleck that it's positively shocking.)


  1. Found the video; take your pick between Daily Motion or Vimeo...


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