The Cult return with a new album in February, some new members and live shows. I don’t know what it is about The Cult that makes them so polarising?Actually I do! Love them for She Sells Sanctuary, Love (1985) and Dreamtime (1984) and forgive them for their Pop Metal classics, Electric (1987) and Sonic Temple (1989).
To think that they started as something dark, Indie left of centre and one day realised that through Duffy’s guitar and Astbury’s voice that they could turn themselves into a stadium band. How could they resist it? A long way from Southern Death Cult shows in cold, stark rooms and bleak venues in the north west of England for 50 quid, I saw them in California at the Long Beach Arena, Astbury came on stage with Chips shades and helmet – the crowd went wild, Ha Ha! Hollywood.
I also remember playing gigs with them once in Italy when Les and Jamie were in the band (and we jammed with Les at s/check). I discovered that Astbury and I are from around the same part of England, 5 mins in a car, I lived in Thingwall he came from Heswall (my sis still lives there). We played football in the arena, that’s what musicians from that part of the world do, we jam and then play football (football and music being synonymous in Liverpool at least). I remember it vividly because when the doors opened (sorry) a legion of uniformed police/soldiers with machine guns positioned themselves around the place before the really scary Gothic, Italian audience of evil girls with dyed black hair and vicious, aggressive, life threatening make-up came in to threaten the whole fabric of Italian society.
I have a love/hate relationship with them, I can see both sides of the coin. With the next five albums after Sonic Temple they seemed to attempt to find their way back from unimaginative riffs (that captured an audiences imagination) to Ceremony (1991), an album I see as their Physical Graffiti meets Toys In The Attic, which in itself might be a problem as they left AC/DC behind for two more massive Rock band’s styles. But still Astbury’s voice stands out on its own even if it’s from the same farm. Plus there’s his deep interest in Indian culture that he tries to find room for in the lyrics as he growls sometimes like Johnny Winter as a singer if he’d ever made it off heroin, out of the Blues and onto MTV.
The problem was that as they released the more interesting The Cult (1994) and the more back to basics Beyond Good And Evil (2001) they lost their shiny metal commerciality and their dark Indie distant past in some confused attempt to be both. There’s nothing worse than a split personality in Rock ‘n’ Roll it just confuses the fans. It seems that fans (not diehards) want a difficult brew of better and better versions of that same thing you do, making it impossible to progress – don’t change but move on. Unless you are so huge that perpetual motion carries you through even if your latest record is inferior to your last and terrible in relation to your debut – like Coldplay with their hopeless massive last album and coming tour.
Times between albums were getting longer, Astbury had the solo thing (2000), The Doors thing (2002), and collaborations but still The Cult pulled a real crowd albeit smaller than the heady days of the Long Beach Arena. After another six year gap we got Born Into This (2007) that searched for that place that would satisfy the band, the audience, the times and the past but of course a lot of the audience had moved on – first demanding what they wanted and then discarding it when they got it. But they still commanded a crowd fitting in with band’s like Velvet Revolver who were releasing records and touring around the same time and Guns ‘n Roses who had finally released Chinese Democracy (2008)
In 2012 came Choice Of Weapon, it’s tough out there in Riff and Rock land because it’s a thin line between bland and brilliant and they touched on both as band’s like this tend to do. It’s why Led Zeppelin were so good – variety, but AC/DC managed their magic with feel as well as riffs, all the greats have something special, something irresistible that sets them apart.
So the jury’s out till the new album, Hidden City comes in February and in the meantime comes Hinterland a song with a video that makes you wonder what kind of band this is, a peculiar mix of Rock through the ages that makes them special in their own way, not really Metal, not Goth anymore, too muscular to be indie – let’s hope they can achieve that tricky balancing act on the next album bearing in mind the unstable ingredients they are dealing with.