The Cure - Seventeen Seconds (Cover Artwork)

The Cure

Seventeen Seconds (1980)


As probably the most unsuccessful album in the Cure's early career, their second album, Seventeen Seconds feels too cold for its own good. You see, this is meant to be a departure from the Wire-esque minimalist post-punk of their debut (Three Imaginary Boys / Boys Don't Cry) and is trying to be a mature and more personal affair. As the Cure's leader, Robert Smith has stated he was trying to bridge the sound of some depressive music staples, such as David Bowie's Low, Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks among others. However, if this album fails, it's mostly due to a feeling of indifference.

You see, many of the Cure's next albums would be greats, such as the dark-and-gloomy Faith and the gothic death marches of Pornography to more accessible albums like the dance-popish The Head on the Door and the dark arena rock of Disintegration. However, these albums work despite often being utterly depressing because the listener could connect with them. Seventeen Seconds, however, is awash by too much detachment in the way it sounds, mostly from the mix and production, which drowns out its should-have-been effective vocals into heavy-sounding death ballads.

Songs such as "Secrets" and "In Your House" sound lifeless; the orchestrations may be technically good, but it does not let the lyrics or the audience truly breathe, and the instruments are probably too loud, where they should find the bridge between rock and utilizing tender beauty. "Three" falls into the same category; it needs to be said that the album is indeed started well enough, and has a fine-enough middle section mostly due to the one masterful song in the still-classic "A Forest."

"A Reflection" does open up the album on an interesting note; it's solely instrumental and sounds like a choir, thus establishing some nice mood, especially when paired with the song "Play for Today" that is solid enough it carries the dull first half of this record on its shoulders.

"A Forest" is often featured on best-of comps for the band, and sometimes even multi-artist sets. In many ways it is one of those tracks that stands the test of time, perfectly encapsulating Smith's gloomy mindset as well as standing on its own amongst the Joy Division-like songs of the time period. It may also give the album back some of its life, as the next song, "M" sounds like Seventeen Seconds may be reanimated for the rest of the album, yet it is not. Rather, it gets into overlength with "At Night" and back to passiveness with the closing title track.

So, as "A Forest" might be around long after we die, sadly the same can't be said about much of the rest of Seventeen Seconds. Lastly, it's a good thing they made much more music that made them a staple of the same sound that they mostly fumbled with on this album.