The Cure – Seventeen Seconds


Robert Smith’s guitar gently weeps over a lonely piano. Welcome to Seventeen Seconds. This unsettling instrumental sets the mood for the next 35 minutes, 40 seconds. Deliberately disjointed, the fear factor is heightened towards the end by a harrowing, almost indecipherable, moan… Whatever it is, or is intended to be, the sound will chill you to the bone.


Following the uneasy start, we embrace Lol Tolhurst’s sprightly drumbeat intro. “It really was the drum sound that largely defined the album’s sonic direction,” co-producer Mike Hedges told Sound On Sound in 2004. “The fact the drums had such little ambience and were so sterile set up the mood we loved,” Hedges confirmed.


A song about longing, Smith’s vocals appear only as a distant echo, lamenting a missed opportunity. “I catch your eyes in the dark/ One look relives the memory/ Remember me… the way I used to be.” It is poignant poetry set against that glassy landscape established in Play For Today and an understated sadness that The Cure would return to over the next 40 years.


In a Q&A for Cure News fanzine, dated January 1989, Smith said the inspiration for the track came from “feeling uncomfortable in someone else’s presence but still always returning.” In 1980, Smith told the NME: “I find touring and things like that shut me down. I harden and get very reclusive. I’m not naturally an extrovert, but sometimes I get withdrawn and it irritates people… Sometimes I don’t like talking to people.”


Closing Side A, Three features an almost annoyingly inaudible vocal under the track’s intro. Smith told Creem in 1986: “The voice was supposed to be so you could almost barely hear it.” When played live, the band would sometimes close with a jam based on this song. In January 1981, Smith explained to Trouser Press’ Jim Green how it would: “relieve the tensions of the day, once it lasted 45 minutes!”


Described by Smith as Matthieu Hartley’s elegy, Side Two’s opener is a gloomy instrumental that lasts just 52 seconds but leaves a lasting impression. Because of financial restraints, The Final Sound should’ve been much longer, but was cut down when the tape ran out while recording. It remains a delightful Hammer Horror-esque prelude for…


The band’s breakthrough hit landed The Cure in living rooms around the country courtesy of their debut on Top Of The Pops. Smith called it “a childhood dream/nightmare that came true with adolescence.” Hedges reveals it was one of the last songs recorded for the album: “We wanted it to be quite ornate and it ended up being the most produced track on the album. To me, it always sounded like a single. We all thought it was an amazing song – I loved the guitar line – but we figured it would take a bit more work than the others.” NME’s Julie Burchill complained The Cure were: “Trying to stretch a sketchy living out of moaning more meaningfully than any man has moaned before.” A Forest is, as Sounds’ Johnny Waller wrote, “a classic insidious masterpiece of understated drama, never resorting to obvious ploys for effect.”

8 M

When asked in a Cure News Q&A what the inspiration was for M, Smith responded cryptically: “About a girl…”. We can assume that the girl is his wife Mary, who he met at St Wilfrid’s Comprehensive School aged 14, and nicknamed M. It’s interesting to note, given Smith’s response to that fanzine question, the similarity between the guitar chord progression of M and that of Nirvana’s About A Girl, from their debut album Bleach.


A precursor to Faith, Smith borrows his lyric from an unsettling Franz Kafka prose piece of the same title. In Dave Thompson’s book, In Between Days: An Armchair Guide To The Cure, Smith is quoted as saying: “I just lifted a few phrases, put them together and it made sense. And that was because I couldn’t be bothered to write a song.”


“Time slips away, and the light begins to fade…” opens a doleful Smith on a darkly evocative conclusion to an album already 50 shades of black. Smith admitted that “this isn’t the LP to put on at a party or if you’re having a fit of depression.” In his autobiography, Tolhurst wrote: “Years later, when people would try to hold us responsible for someone’s depression or even suicide, it seemed to me that they were missing the point. We created these songs to help alleviate those same feelings in ourselves.”

Dan Biggane

Add a comment...