In the age of the single download, Jeff Harford
rediscovers the album.
To quote Spinal Tap's David St Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel,
there's a fine line between stupid and clever.
That accepted, the Cure's Robert Smith would be one musician
who has made a career out of hopping from one side of the
line to the other.
Those of us who have struggled to look past Smith's Andy
Pandy pyjamas and savagely teased mop prefer to remember a
leaner, sharper version of the man, the one who hooked us
into his darkening world with songs that reflected our own
growing attraction to good old self-gratifying inner turmoil.
Of course, it all got a bit out of hand around the time of
Pornography (1982) but Smith had begun his descent and
was entitled to see if he could reach the floor of the pit.
The album that set his slide in motion remains an intriguing
slice of minimalist post-punk rock, positioned somewhere on
the outer fringes of pop where cold winds blow and where love
has turned bitter.
Seventeen Seconds (1980) followed the more lightweight
debut Three Imaginary Boys (1979). The contrast
between the two is surprising, given the short time span and
the critical success of the more pop-oriented release, but
the later album casts a much larger shadow.
Smith has stepped back from the microphone to allow clean,
ultra-present instrumentation to dominate, most notably Lol
Tolhurst's metronomic drumming, new member Simon Gallup's
economical bass lines and Smith's own rhythmically strummed
What vocals there are either drift through the background,
foreshadowing the ghostly skittering of Smith's late-career
red-eyed waif character, or are thin and heavily laced with
Two songs are so substantial as to render the balance mere
scene-setters. Play For Today, powered by synthetic
blasts of frozen nitrogen, and The Forest, the
hypnotic dreamscape that would be the band's first charting
single, are irresistible reminders of the Cure's coolness, in
all senses of the word.