Friday, March 28, 2014

Classic Album Review: The Cure - Seventeen Seconds (1980)

This is the first of five classic album posts featuring the work of The Cure ... all written a while back, and I’ll post them to the blog in chronological order:

Every avid music fan has a special place in their collection for a select number of albums they’d consider all-time favourites. No two all-time lists would ever be identical because taste is such a subjective, personal, and often intimate thing.

If ever I was attempting to compile any such list of personal Desert Island Delights, Seventeen Seconds is just as likely to be one of those albums sitting right near the very top. And I guess for me, that’s been the case for more than 30 years now. This, despite the fact that many of the band’s hardcore fans are unlikely to rate Seventeen Seconds as their “chosen one”. Yep, taste is a very personal and intimate thing indeed. As Robert Smith himself suggests on the excellent ‘Play For Today’ ... “it's not a case of doing what's right, it's just the way I feel that matters, tell me I'm wrong, I don't really care ...”
Having been seriously impressed when Faith came out in 1981, I worked my way back through the then not-so-extensive (at that point) Cure back catalogue and Seventeen Seconds quickly established itself as the benchmark by which I would judge all future Cure releases.

Through the years I’ve found myself returning to it and it never lets me down. For me, it captures perfectly the headspace I found myself dwelling in back in those late teenage post-punk years of 1980 thru to 1983, and although any rational sane person may consider such a notion pretty unhealthy, it remains a period of my life that I just can’t let go. Just another one of those boring “soundtrack of my youth” … “best days of my life” scenarios - call it a time, place, and had to be there, thing.

And how many seriously deranged (or otherwise) post-pubescent Gothboy-wannabees could relate to the words contained within the album’s finest moment ‘A Forest’ … “come closer and see, see into the trees, find the girl, while you can ... come closer and see, see into the dark, just follow your eyes, just follow your eyes …”

And to give Smith his due - he got the next bit right as well - the girl was NEVER there, and yes siree, it was ALWAYS the same …“running towards nothing, again and again and again and again …”

(*Unlucky in love, your blogger adopts a mock tortured pose for effect*)

From the experimental atmospheric instrumentals (of sorts - they’re rather more like interludes) ‘A Reflection’ and ‘The Final Sound’ through to the classic simplicity and repetition of ‘In Your House’, ‘Play For Today’, ‘M’, and ‘Secrets’, this is a finely crafted piece of work. Then there is, as mentioned above, the utter and total genius of the band’s seminal work ‘A Forest’; hugely influential, often copied, frequently covered, but never bettered.

It is often said that familiarity ultimately leads to contempt; in the case of Seventeen Seconds the opposite applies. That familiarity takes me to the sort of comfortable warm zone seldom found amid dark, stark, and otherwise obscure surrounds. Each to their own, but this is a back-of-the-hand album, I know every last chord change, each and every nuance in Smith’s burgeoning voice; conscious nor subconscious anticipation of either never wears thin.

The 2005 Deluxe Edition CD release – at least my third such copy of the album through the years, but my first on disc – contains a bonus CD which features different versions of the tracks, live versions, alternate takes, home demos of non-album material, rare ‘Cult Hero’ stuff from the band’s earliest incarnation – but to be honest, none of it could be considered “essential listening” regardless of how collectable it may once have been. I was a little disappointed with some of the sound quality on the bonus CD – I really wanted a definitive version of ‘Another Journey By Train’ (an instrumental b-side of some repute) but found the demo on this distorted and muddy. Still, that must be considered only a minor complaint, and it takes nothing away from how I feel about the original album as a whole.

Seventeen Seconds … a measure of life.

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