My attempt to blog all of the entries from the book 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die
Brief Background: Seventeen Seconds is the second album by English band The Cure. The album was recorded quickly during parts of 1979 and 1980 and was released in April of 1980. The album is the first in a series of extremely dark albums from the band that would come from singer/songwriter Robert Smith’s unstable mental health and subsequent drug and alcohol abuse.
What I think: I really got into The Cure about fifteen years ago now and while I listened to most of the periods throughout their career, I purposefully stayed away from this part in the band’s recording, letting it be represented by the early singles compilation Staring at the Sea. As, someone who has dealt with his own mental illness mostly in the form of Depression and Anxiety, diving headlong into the darkness of another’s soul never seemed like a fruitful experience. I wanted to run from it, not take a closer look. This relative blank spot in their albums has made them such a personal band for me. I’ve always had to be careful of what I listened to from them, since I was always afraid of the emotions it would trigger inside of me. As I’ve faced that illness and developed strategies that have helped me cope and thrive, I’ve been a lot more open to taking a closer look at some of this material. I’m not making that up, me being able to listen to this album (and their next two) is literally an external marker of my emotional development and that’s important to me, because I’m at a place of exploring and facing such devastatingly dark material in a healthy manner instead of blindly running from it.
It is with that explanation that I come to this album and period in The Cure’s history, not as someone who has heard it a lot (despite my love of the band), but a relative rookie. To me this is more an album of sound pushing the message than of the vocals doing so. The vocals throughout are relatively sparse and so you get a mostly unique drum, guitar, keyboard and bass sound along with those powerful, but almost sidelined vocals. I can’t tell you what the subject of any of them are, but when combined with that whole sound, there is a dark and frenetic energy that I recognize. Something is pushing it to keep it moving forward in spite of the lack of light.
As an album that is more of a sound, at least to me, most of the songs blend together a bit. I think the biggest change in sound is from “A Forest” to “M” and that would just be a standard change from song to song on any other album. Here it is almost jarring. So, I really like it as a piece, it’s hauntingly amazing album that would be the beginning of period of little joy or happiness for the band (at least when we look at their recorded material), but which artistically is the most important of their career. I’m also glad that I am at a point in my health where I can delve into such dark material without fearing that I might fall into the abyss with them.
Do I agree or disagree with the writers as to this being an album you must listen to? I do agree it should be here. It’s a powerful album and not even the peak of that they would do on that front.
Rating (Out of 5) 4.5
Is this my first time hearing this album? No (110/470)
Amount that are new to me: 76%