„A Forest“ is a song by the English alternative rock band The Cure. Co-produced by Mike Hedges and The Cure’s Robert Smith, it was released as a single from the band’s second album Seventeen Seconds in 8 April 1980. It was their debut entry on the United Kingdom chart, where it reached number 31. The accompanying music video was first shown on BBC’s Top of the Pops programme on 24 April 1980.
Recorded and mixed over seven days, along with the rest of the songs from the album, „A Forest“ is representative of The Cure’s early 1980s gothic rock phase. The song has featured on the band’s setlists for many years. Several versions have appeared on concert albums, and it was remixed and released as a single from the Mixed Up album in 1990. The song has been covered by several artists including Blank & Jones, Sophie Barker and Ror-Shak.
Mike Hedges co-produced the album Seventeen Seconds as well as „A Forest“ with The Cure’s Robert Smith. Hedges had first worked with the band on the track „Killing an Arab“. Interviewed in 2004, he did not recall any demos existing for Seventeen Seconds; the band generally played the track in the studio before laying down a backing track to which overdubs were added. At the time of the recording of the album, bass guitarist Simon Gallup and keyboardist Matthieu Hartley had been added to the band’s lineup. Gallup had replaced Michael Dempsey, who had departed to join The Associates. Gallup and Hartley joined remaining Cure members Smith (vocals) and Lol Tolhurst (drums) in late 1979 during the group’s Future Pastimes tour, on which „A Forest“ was one of the new songs added to their setlist.
Due to budgetary restraints, Seventeen Seconds was recorded and mixed in seven days on a budget of between £2000 and £3000, which resulted in the band working 16 or 17 hours a day to complete the album. Hedges and Robert Smith knew „A Forest“ would take more work to complete than other songs on the album, and would require more overdubs. „A Forest“ was one of the last tracks recorded; the backing tracks were recorded first, followed by touch-ups to the individual parts, then Smith’s vocals. Fiction Records owner Chris Parry told Smith that the song had the potential to be a hit if they made it sound „radio friendly“
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, but Smith refused, stating that the way the track sounded was the sound he envisioned in his head, dismissing concerns about radio friendliness. Work on mixing „A Forest“ took up much of the final day of sessions for the album.
„A Forest“ and its parent album Seventeen Seconds are representative of The Cure’s gothic rock phase in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Cure biographer Jeff Apter refers to „A Forest“ as „the definitive early Cure mood piece“ and he argued the song is the centrepiece of the album. Smith’s intention with „A Forest“ was to make a song that was „really atmospheric“. He has stated that it was a pivotal recording for the group, and represented „the archetypal Cure sound“.
„A Forest“ is performed in the key of A minor. Initially only the synth, guitar and drums are heard, followed by the introduction of the bass guitar and a second guitar part. The song initially follows an Am–C–F–Dm progression. Later on the track, its bridge contains a B–C–F#m–C–B–C sequence, which ends with a chromatic movement to the F chord before returning to Am. Following the echoing repetition of the word „again“, a guitar solo appears which avoids string bends and moving in a pentatonic manner. The single version of the song fades out at around four minutes, while on the longer (album) version the instruments exit one by one, concluding with the sound of the bass guitar at 4.46″. The sound of Smith’s guitar was a departure from that prevalent in the 1970s. Mike Hedges favored the use of flanging at the time, and he estimated that there were seven flanger devices used on „A Forest“. Rikki Rooksby said that the slow phase effect heard on the guitar in „A Forest“ „almost became a Smith trademark for a while“. Simon Gallup said that his playing on the track was intended to be reminiscent of the bass work in the music of The Stranglers, whose bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel was a major influence on him.
Smith has given varying explanations behind his lyrics for „A Forest“. He has said that the lyrics were based upon a dream he had as a child where he was lost in the woods unable to escape but later denied it and stated, „It’s just about a forest“.
„A Forest“ was released as a single on 5 April 1980 fulham football shirt. Its B-side was „Another Journey by Train“, an instrumental remake of The Cure’s „Jumping Someone Else’s Train“. The single received a mixed critical reception, though commercially its sales were an improvement for the band. In early 1980, it spent eight weeks in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at number 31 on 12 April of that year. It was the highest they had placed on the chart by that point in their career. In the United States, the song reached number 47 on the Billboard Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart.
The version included on 1986 compilation Standing on a Beach (Staring at the Sea) is neither the album version (which was also on the 12″ single), nor is it the 7″ single edit (which removes a few bars between verses and fades out part way through the guitar solo ending).
Andy Anderson, who later became the Cure’s drummer, said „A Forest“ was the first song he heard by the band. He was taken by both the music and vocals, and was especially drawn to Smith’s guitar work and the keyboard melody, which he described as „haunting.“ He described the spare and simple 4/4 drum pattern as straightforward; „all that is needed.“
Since its release, „A Forest“ has become the most played Cure song, with nearly 1,000 live appearances. A live version of „A Forest“ appeared on a four-song edition of „The Hanging Garden“ released in July 1982. It was performed with what has been described as a „rough, punk-edged“ sound on the 1984 live album Concert: The Cure Live. A performance appears on the live video The Cure in Orange, highly regarded by Allmusic reviewer Ned Raggett., while other live versions of the song include the concert film Show, and on disc one of the live album Bestival Live 2011.
In 1990, the track was re-recorded and remixed by Mark Saunders for The Cure’s Mixed Up album. The „Tree mix“ version of „A Forest“ was released as a single on 6 December 1990, while the album had been released a few weeks before on 20 November. The song was redone for the second time on the Join the Dots box set, this time remixed by Mark Plati and featuring Earl Slick on guitar. This version was described as „awful“ and „instantly dated“ by reviewer Chris Ott stainless steel cycling water bottle. An acoustic version was recorded and released on the bonus disc that came with some copies of the 2001 Greatest Hits CD. Robert Smith supplied vocals for a Blank & Jones cover version of the song, which appeared on their 2004 album Monument.
The Norwegian black metal band Carpathian Forest also covered the song for their 1998 album Black Shining Leather.
Ror-Shak, a collaboration between DJ DB and Stakka, covered the song on their only album Deep, which was released in 2005. The music video was used in the TV Series Fringe in 2008. English artist Bat for Lashes covered the song for the 2008 Cure tribute album Perfect as Cats: A Tribute to the Cure. Luke Lewis of NME praised the version, noting it „teases out a crepuscular, pagan atmosphere absent in the original“.
A cover of the track appears on the album 8:58, a project by Paul Hartnoll, with vocals from The Unthanks.
A piano interpretation of the song was used by Ramin Djawadi in the fourth episode of the HBO show Westworld in 2016 and later officially released by HBO on iTunes.
The promotional video for „A Forest“ was the band’s first. It was created by David Hiller, who mixed footage from the band’s 24 April 1980 debut appearance on BBC’s Top of the Pops programme with a forest montage. Smith said that the group „came across looking very morose and disinterested“ in the video because that is how they felt at the time; he „hated“ Top of the Pops as he was „really anti-pop“ during this period. He recalled that he had been in pain at the time of the shoot as he had broken his thumb trying to change a tyre a few days previously.