Review Summary: A near-perfect slab of honest, sweaty rock'n'roll.3 of 3 thought this review was well written
Things were not easy for The Cult after Love
. That album’s ultra-successful run had begun to create a rift between the group’s two main creative forces. Frontman, lyricist and band identity Ian Astbury wanted to improve on Love
’s layered sound, bringing even more subtle elements into The Cult’s sound. Guitarist and main songwriter Billy Duffy, on the other hand, wanted to go for a more bare-bones, rock’n’roll type of sound. With egos clashing everywhere, and the band constantly butting heads both amongst themselves and with the producers, things looked dire for the once-stellar outfit.
But then along came Rick Rubin.
Rubin, who at the time was as famous for his work with Slayer and the Beastie Boys as he was for his hip-hop label Def Jam, saw the potential still brimming within The Cult, and took it upon himself to lead the band back onto the right path. So he took them to his native New York City, booked some studio time at the historical Electric Ladyland Studios, gave them some rental instruments and said ”play
. And play they did.
The resulting product was Electric
, a stellar rock’n’roll record that, while representing a deviation from the previous Cult catalogue, nevertheless helps ingratiate the group with an entirely new fanbase. Instead of the gothy, alternative overtones of old, the group now sounds like a tasty, well-brewed concoction of AC/DC, Ted Nugent, Cactus and some of the more spaced-out bands of the period. Electric
is all about roaring guitars, ripping solos, passionate vocals and sing-along choruses, all backed by a strong, if unremarkable, rhythm section.
The star of this show is undoubtedly Billy Duffy. The band’s lead axeman is given plenty of space to shine, and he grabs it with both hands. Every song has at least one interesting moment from Duffy, be it a lenghty, yet never dull solo or an AC/DCiac power-chord riff sure to get your fists pumping. His guitar playing even ranks as the only redeeming feature in the otherwise dull Memphis Hipshake
, where his solo is the only thing even approaching a highlight.
The other distinguished player is, of course, Astbury. His is not exactly a rock’n’roll voice, coming closer to what was then becoming known as stoner/desert rock. It fits the songs nicely, however, and helps give them a spaced-out, hippy-trippy atmosphere that is perfectly complemented by his cryptic, yet pointed lyrics. His delivery is also quite passionate, and at times you can all but feel the sweat dripping from his microphone.
As for the other two players, Jamie Stewart on bass and soon-to-be-gone Les Warner on drums, they play it straight and solid, but, much like Rudd/Williams, never exactly stand out, preferring to provide a solid backbone for Duffy and Astbury to work their magic. Still, it’s nice to hear Stewart (who changed to rhythm guitar on the live shows) come through in the mix in the beginning of Little Devil
, or Warner’s staccato crashes in the first seconds of Outlaw
And this leads us to the songwriting. In one word, it’s stellar. The first half of the album is absolutely flawless, and it isn’t until King Contrary Man
that we start to feel like the quality is ever-so-slightly decreasing. Even so, this song manages to assert itself on repeat listens, and will soon sound perfectly merged with the others. The only other signo f discontent is in the final two songs, which cannot live up to their predecessors’ absurdly high standard. Outlaw
is fun and passable, if you’re in a good mood, but the real offender is the exceedingly dragging Memphis Hipshake
. Maybe by that point we’re just tired of The Cult, or maybe that song really is boring, plodding and overlong. I vote for the latter.
Still, Memphis Hipshake
is but one sour drop in the Electric Ocean
. By the time it rolls around, the album has done more than enough to make us happy and forgiving. From the main riff to Wild Flower
(which “draws inspiration” from AC/DC’s Rock’n’Roll singer
, i.e. it’s the same) to the absolutely whopping Li’l Devil
, through the strange but above-average cover to Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild
and überhit Love Removal Machine
, this is a rollicking ride from start to – nearly – finish.
The band is clearly on top of its game on the mid-tempo tracks, whose riffs project an “AC/DC-with-Brian-Johnson” aura. It is on this bracket that we find the album’s main reasons for excitement: Wild Flower
, a track that is catchy in every way, from riff to chorus to excellent solo; Li’l Devil
, two minutes and fourty-four seconds of pure rock’n’roll bliss; Electric Ocean
, another great riff; and Love Removal Machine
, a track that screams rock’n’roll from Astbury’s initial cry of ”check this one!”
to the last wail of Duffy’s guitar. This, gentlemen, is how you write a real
Attempts to experiment with other tempos are more hit-and-miss. The faster beat works well on Bad Fun
, another standout, but is less consensual on King Contrary Man
. As for the slow tempo, it works on Peace Dog
, another remarkably strong slab of hallucinogenic hard rock, and the Steppenwolf cover, but becomes slightly boring on Aphrodisiac Jacket
- a song as trippy as its name – and the aforementioned Memphis Hipshake
Still, as a whole, Electric
is very close to being the perfect rock’n’roll record. It fully deserves to sit alongside High Voltage
, Highway To Hell
and Appetite For Destruction
in the pantheon of rock’n’roll gods. The unsually high number of “Recommended Tracks” at the end of this text should give you a hint about its overall quality. Unfortunately, The Cult themselves would never manage to recapture the excellency of this opus, and would be severely hit by the shifting musical panorama of the 90’s. Let this be considered their finest hour, and a mandatory listen for any self-respecting rocker. Recommended, and then some.
Love Removal Machine