Following the release of Three Imaginary Boys and a subsequent tour with Siouxsie & the Banshees where vocalist/guitarist Robert Smith played guitar with the latter. The Cure were becoming one of the new bands of the burgeoning post-punk scene yet Smith’s fascination with Siouxsie & the Banshees along with the experience of making Three Imaginary Boys gave Smith new ideas as well as wanting more control. Following the departure of original bassist Michael Dempsey, Smith and drummer Lol Tolhurst formed a spin-off project with Dempsey, future guitarist Porl Thompson, and a local postman named Frank Bell.
The project also included keyboardist Matthieu Hartley and a bass player named Simon Gallup, the latter of which would become Smith’s right-hand man for nearly the entirety of the Cure’s career. Smith invited Gallup and Hartley to join the group as they would help shape the new sound Smith was yearning for the Cure. The sound would move away from post-punk and into a more atmospheric sound that is carried by Hartley’s synthesizers and Gallup’s hollow yet sturdy bass lines that would help define the Cure’s sound for years. The result of this new line-up would spawn the band’s second album Seventeen Seconds.
Written and performed by the Cure and produced by Robert Smith and Mike Hedges, Seventeen Seconds is an album where the Cure moves from the stripped-down sound of Three Imaginary Boys for a much broader yet ethereal approach. Featuring darker yet more vague lyrics from Smith, it also channeled a sound and production that goes beyond what is expected in a Goth-rock album. The result wouldn’t just be a superb sophomore album but also one of the early defining moments for the Cure.
Opening the album is the instrumental piece A Reflection, a two-minute and thirteen second track that is led by a somber piano and lush guitar strums that is later carried by a swooning sound of windy synthesizers to set the mood for the rest of the album. Play For Today arrives with its mid-tempo, walloping beats and later, a melodic bass line by Simon Gallup that is carried by ringing guitars and Matthieu Hartley’s swooning synthesizers. Robert Smith then sings with his calm, wailing vocals filled with snarling lyrics about heartbreak that is very direct in its approach. Secrets is another mid-tempo track with a bit more upbeat rhythms courtesy of Lol Tolhurt’s steady drums and Smith’s spurting guitars as he sings quietly with its melancholic yet abstract lyrics.
In Your House is a stark ballad that is led by loopy bass and guitar melodies with Tolhurst’s eerie, robotic drumming as it is carried by Hartley’s swirling keyboards. Smith then sings in his cool yet morose tone filled with dark imagery in the song’s lyrics as he goes into someone’s empty house. Three is another instrumental track led by a echo-laden piano, a hammering drum machine beat, and a swooning bass that is later followed by a soft, grinding guitar track as Smith sings in a distorted fashion. The Final Sound is a fifty-two second instrumental led by a stark piano melody that sounds a bit out of tune at times to complement its dreary tone. A Forest opens with swirls of brooding yet atmospheric synthesizers from Hartley that is carried by Smith’s melodic guitar ringing as it later becomes a full-on track with Tolhurt’s bopping, mid-tempo drumming and Gallup’s driving bass line. Smith then sings in his calm tone with lyrics about finding a girl that is lost in a forest.
M is led by a washy guitar riff to a bopping rhythm as he is carried by shimmering synthesizers to accompany his dreary vocals. Filled with lyrics that recall with heartbreak and angst, the song is one of the Cure’s finest album cuts as it includes Gallup’s throbbing bass line. At Night is a haunting ballad led by droning guitars and a thumping beat that is followed by Hartley’s swooning synthesizers. Smith sings chilling lyrics filled with stark imagery to describe his loneliness as it also includes a hollow bass to help intensify the mood. The album closer is its title track that is led by a slow yet steady drum beat and washy guitar track as the rhythm picks up a bit into a bopping, mid-tempo track that is carried by Gallup’s driving bass. Smith then sings in a stark vocal style to complement its numbing lyrics to help close the album.
The 2005 deluxe edition from Rhino and Fiction features the entire album in the first disc remastered by Robert Smith. Also in the deluxe edition is a second disc filled with demos, rare live tracks, and songs by the spin-off group Cult Hero.
Kicking things off with the second disc are the two songs from the sole single by Cult Hero with I’m A Cult Hero. Led by loopy bass lines, a steady upbeat drum track, swirling keyboard lines, and funky guitar tracks, the song is presented in a post-punk style as Frank Bell sings the song in a Cockney-like accent that is filled with quirky lyrics. The B-side Dig You is a bopping, mid-tempo track led by Gallup’s driving bass line and droning guitars by Smith and Porl Thompson as Bell sings with his calm yet snarling vocal to some punk-style lyrics. The next two tracks are home instrumental demos of the B-side Another Journey By Train and the album cut Secrets. Both are presented in rough forms with the former being a fast, punk-inspired track while the latter is a slower, mid-tempo track.
The next two tracks are live cuts from a show in Amsterdam on January of 1980 for the songs Seventeen Seconds and In Your House. Both songs are wonderfully mixed while Smith’s vocals are clear while the audience is heard but in a quieter mix. An alternate studio mix of the instrumental Three has Smith talking through while it’s mostly being played by a synthesizer with one note along with Smith’s wailing vocals. The next two tracks are live cuts for Cult Hero at a show at the Marquee Club in London on March of 1980 for its songs I Dig You and I’m A Cult Hero. The live versions are also mixed properly with some rough spots while the audience seems to really be into the performances. A live version of M from an undated 1980 performance that is presented in a excellent while a bit rough in a few spots.
The last five tracks on the second disc are from a live show in France on June of 1980. The performances for the tracks The Final Sound, A Reflection, Play for Today, At Night, and A Forest are presented in superb mixes with the first two being haunting yet atmospheric instrumentals. The rest have parts where some of the instruments sound a bit low while Smith’s vocal performance is truly amazing in the mix that is presented.
Released on April 18, 1980, the album drew mixed reviews from critics over the band’s new sound. Some praised the band for the change of direction while others were put off by the band’s darker sound. The record would later be considered to be one of the Cure’s finer moments in their early period of 1979-1982. Especially since it was the first record where the band would embrace the Goth sound that would define them. While the record was successful along with its accompanying tour, tension between Robert Smith and Matthieu Hartley over creative differences led to Hartley’s departure from the group forcing the band to become a trio again. Yet, Hartley’s contributions would help Smith expand his ideas for the band’s next album.
Seventeen Seconds is a brilliant sophomore release from the Cure that would mark the band’s transition from post-punk to Goth. With a more intoxicating yet atmospheric production by Robert Smith and Mike Hedges, it is the album that would help pave the way for upcoming early albums such as Faith and Pornography. Fans often see this as the best starting point of the band’s early career that led to their full progression into Goth rock. In the end, the Cure succeed with a haunting yet mesmerizing album with Seventeen Seconds.
The Cure Studio Albums: Three Imaginary Boys - Faith - Pornography - The Top - The Head on the Door - Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me - Disintegration - Wish - Wild Mood Swings - Bloodflowers - The Cure - 4:13 Dream
Compilations: Staring at the Sea/Standing on a Beach - Mixed Up - Galore - Greatest Hits - Join the Dots
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