If you have any inclination towards venturing out into a dark forest at night in nothing but a black cloak while looking for a few innocent travellers to haunt, then boy oh boy, do I have the album for you. The Cure’s “Seventeen Seconds” is a record so gothic that it will have you painting your fingernails black and wondering why you “just don’t fit in” by the end of the first song — which is what makes it the perfect Halloween soundtrack.
The soundscapes that frontman Robert Smith constructed on this album are a genius blend of haunting atmospheres and catchy guitar-driven melodies — spooky enough to get you in the mood for the big day, yet upbeat enough to energize any nihilistic, self-loathing college student.
“A Reflection” opens up the album, an instrumental track that sets the stage for the eerie tone that plagues the entire project. The composition makes for a brooding, uncomfortably dissonant two minutes that resolves for a few measures in the middle, only to return back to its original gloom-inducing ambience.
The way this song then leads into the second track, “Play For Today,” makes me want to run for my life from a knife-wielding serial killer through a pumpkin patch (but in the most fun way possible). A playful yet driving high-end bass line accompanied by Smith’s clean, ominous, and chorus effect-doused guitar work is the lifeblood of “Play for Today” — a theme that is widely present in the majority of “Seventeen Seconds’” tracklist. Tight, compressed to death drums are the glue that holds this, and many of the other tracks, together. Despite being organically recorded, they sound almost robotic, which further accentuates the album’s already cold and detached atmosphere.
And of course, I couldn’t review “Seventeen Seconds” without bringing up “A Forest.” Similar to “Play For Today,” this song sounds like the coolest funeral procession ever. Flangers add a much needed watery and sweeping feel to the spooky elements of this nearly six-minute long fever dream. Naturally, this song is also preceded by a twisted and cacophonous instrumental entitled “The Final Sound.” If “A Reflection” is the opening to a horror movie, “The Final Sound” is the moment before the serial killer’s knife is plunged into the heart of the main character.
Perhaps the most striking element of “Seventeen Seconds,” though, is its stark and sudden departure from The Cure’s original sound, as heard in their debut studio album, “Three Imaginary Boys.” Take “Boys Don’t Cry,” for example, a song from “Three Imaginary Boys” that is bursting with upbeat rhythms and bubblegum pop melodies, and compare it to any of the tracks off of “Seventeen Seconds.” The Cure went from friendly, upbeat elementary schooler to miserable, dejected, middle schooler that just found out what screamo and My Chemical Romance was. But I suppose we all needed to have that phase (right, guys?/SOME of us, anyway).
In the same way, The Cure needed to embrace this shift in tone. Robert Smith has said that his music has always been very representative of where he’s at mentally, and I believe “Seventeen Seconds” is no exception to this. Smith stays true to how he feels, unbothered by what critics think — even if it means completely transforming his band’s image and sound (and losing members while doing so). “Seventeen Seconds” was much less radio-friendly than “Three Imaginary Boys” — but this is what I’ve always admired about the album and about Smith. He is stylistically unfiltered with his art, yet manages to release consistently great music. . The Cure has never been static, constantly shifting between pop and despair,but they always remain true to the meaning behind their music and maintain an amazing sound.
“Seventeen Seconds” is more than an album — to me, it symbolizes not being afraid to follow your artistic passions wherever they may lead you, even if it doesn’t necessarily live in harmony with the mainstream.
Whether you’re looking for artistic inspiration, watching a horror movie, partying with the four people you’re quarantined with, eating candy, breaking it to your parents that you’ve decided to become goth, running from serial killers, or haunting innocent hikers, be sure to put “Seventeen Seconds” on this Halloween.