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[music, albums]

III: 1980 The Cure - Seventeen Seconds


The Cure - Seventeen Seconds
Before relistening to any album from 1980 The Cure's second longplay intuitively was my first choice. But when I had heard the three contending records (#3 was Joy Division's Closer) for a moment it was Fehlfarben's Monarchie und Alltag. I have to agree to what many German critics say about this release. That it is the best German rock album. But sometimes this is not enough. Under normal circumstances the result of a serious match England-Germany in rock music is as predictable as in football. The outcomes of those two games are quite opposite though. 1980 wasn't an exception to the rule.

Many fans consider Pornography or Disintegration the pinnacle of The Cure's art but I cannot agree. I never really got into Pornography. Too many songs which lose me. Last time I heard Disintegration I found it hadn't aged well. Something about the production repelled me. Seventeen Seconds is my favourite of theirs. For me it somehow conjures up shadows of the past. It is about the lightness of being sad. And it has the most mysterious title of all their records. I advise you to listen to it in the dark. The impact is much stronger that way.

Keyboards sounding like a jew's harp start the first track and fuse into a simple slow theme played by the guitar and the piano setting the atmosphere of the record. Dark but not heavy almost like a piano piece by an English Satie A Reflection engraves itself on the memory of the listener. A minimal opener preparing us softly for things to come.

Play for Today has already all ingredients of a good upbeat Cure song. A bass forming the base, propelling lively guitars, some spacy synthie, hypnotic drum beats and Robert Smith's unique sombre high-pitch but not whining vocals. And it is so tuneful, so pop. The Cure were the Beatles of dark wave (I don't like the term goth rock). Sounding as fresh now as then. The first highlight.

Secrets is dominated by a simple bass line and is a very rhythmic affair. An impressionist track serving as a transition to the next piece.

In Your House is very heavy, Smith sounds extremely tired. A hint to future ominous musical developments. Like pretending to be deep and profound. This is the first Cure song which sucks a little. Many more were to come later on in their career. Until there was nothing else. Until Robert Smith would sound like a ridiculous parody of himself. But even in this rather dull song there are bits which almost save it. The end is a release when there are only synthie, meandering guitar and drum machine left.

The two instrumentals (except Smith background radio voice) following are rather weird. I love them though. Experimental, almost atonal, mounting the tension and leading directly to the heart of this album:

A Forest. One of the best songs of all time. Starting slowly with the theme repeated a couple of times by the acoustic guitar with brooding synthie sounds and suddenly accelerating to an irresistible beat when the drums and finally the bass kicks in. Nobody can stop this hypnotic trip into the night. Dark power pure.

And did you ever listen to the lyrics? I did before but I never really got the meaning. It seems clear now. They are about hopelessly falling in love. Told from the point of view of the guy of course. He runs after the girl without paying attention to the outside world. He only sees her or thinks he sees her. And suddenly he realises that he is lost. In the forest. And she isn’t there. He has been chasing a phantom. He didn’t fall in love with her but with his picture of her. And now he is on his own, lost in the forest. Running towards nothing. And he will do it again and again and again and again.

It’s difficult to think of a bigger contrast to the black (without the 'and white') A Forest than the following song with the obscure title M. We are almost back in sunny pop country now. The guitar jangles, the synthie wooshes like the ocean waves, there is hope. Beauty still exists. And

You’ll fall in love with somebody else
Again tonight

Can there be a better succession of songs than A Forest and M in the world?

At Night is the abyss. It can’t get more desperate anymore. A weighty song which works though.

I sink in the night
Standing alone underneath the sky
I feel the chill of ice
On my face

At the end some improvisations on the theme promise a brighter future.

Seventeen Seconds is a serene finish. The world is still sad but we have accepted it. Though I didn’t get it yet:

Seventeen seconds
A measure of life

Some mysteries should remain...


 
 

Sequencing questions

I am feeling a little bit insecure about the sequence of songs on this album. My review is based on the tape copy of the vinyl of a friend of mine. At amazon.co.uk the order of songs is different:

  1. At night
  2. Final sound
  3. Forest
  4. In your house
  5. M
  6. Play for today
  7. Reflections
  8. Secrets
  9. Seventeen seconds
  10. Three

(that looks like alphabetical order to me, Amazon UK seems to be a loser)

And in M.C.Strong's The Great Rock Discography it is different again:

  1. The Final sound
  2. A Forest
  3. M
  4. At night
  5. Seventeen seconds
  6. A Reflection
  7. Play for today
  8. Secrets
  9. In your house
  10. Three

I prefer the sequencing on my tape be it wrong or right though. And the bible of rock music, the AMG confirms it. As does Amazon.com.

Do you know which was the original order of the songs?

... link  

 

Re: Sequencing questions

Here is the tracklist as it appears on my US issue of the cd:

1 - A Reflection
2 - Play For Today
3 - Secrets
4 - In Your House
5 - Three
6 - The Final Sound
7 - A Forest
8 - M
9 - At Night
10 - Seventeen Seconds

... link  

 

Thanks,

Paul. Your tracklisting is the same as mine.

... link  


... comment
 

more infos on 17 seconds

From the official Cure site:

inspirations - "seventeen seconds"

a reflection this was to set a contemplative mood for the whole record

play for today the fraudulent aspects of an insincere relationship

secrets hopelessly wishing to have the courage to seize missed opportunities

in your house feeling uncomfortable in someone else's presence but still always returning...

three the eternal triangle

the final sound mathieu's elegy

a forest a childhood dream (nightmare) that came true with adolescence

m about a girl...

at night inspired by the kafka short story of the same name - the precursor to "faith"

seventeen seconds an arbitrary measure of time - one that seemed to be suddenly everywhere once the song was written

Kafka's very short story At Night in English from which Robert Smith nicked the lyrics to the Cure song with the same title (link):

At Night
Deeply lost in the night. Just as one sometimes lowers one's head to reflect, thus to be utterly lost in the night. All around people are asleep. It's just play acting, an innocent self-deception, that they sleep in houses, in safe beds, under a safe roof, stretched out or curled up on mattresses, in sheets, under blankets; in reality they have flocked together as they had once upon a time and again later in a deserted region, a camp in the open, a countless number of men, an army, a people, under a cold sky on cold earth, collapsed where once they had stood, forehead pressed on the arm, face to the ground, breathing quietly. And you are watching, are one of the watchmen, you find the next one by brandishing a burning stick from the brushwood pile beside you. Why are you watching? Someone must watch, it is said. Someone must be there.

From the same site, the information that M was also inspired by Albert Camus La Mort Heureuse. The one line from the book relating to the song:

After making love, at that moment when the heart drowses in the released body, filled only with the tender affection he might have felt for a winsome puppy, Meursault would smile at her and say, "Hello image".

... link  


... comment





 
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