Review Summary: The Cult goes alternative
Any change in the musical landscape always presents a certain challenge for the bands that worked in the out-of-date trends. It happened in the late 1970s, when punk rock with its “do-it-yourself-in-a-garage” approach served as an antipode to progressive rock that at the time trembled under the weight of own ambitions and pretentiousness. Then it happened again in the early 1990s, when in response to throngs of faceless clones with dyed hair and multicolor clothes (with only several worthy bands lost in the midst) the audience turned its ear towards thrash metal and grunge that were opposite to ever-partying phoneys.
Still, The Cult always stood apart from these perturbations. During its period of commercial success they borrowed not one element from the popular genres, instead preferring to pave its own way and focusing on the classic rock revival, which was not in favor at the time. After the second rock music revolution the band released a solid if somewhat bloated Ceremony
whose commercial prospects were sabotaged with the arrival of the new stars. Considering the issues the band was going through then it is unsurprising The Cult took longer than usual to prepare its response. As a result, the new album The Cult
was released in 1994.
As it may be understood from the matter-of-fact title Astbury and Duffy decided to pull themselves together and attempt to find their place in the new history of rock (although it would have been interesting if the Brits released something like Sonic Temple
). Since the radio waves were dominated by sulky bands fretting over issues and anxieties (or making an impression of that), it is noticeable that The Cult
exhibit a similar shift. Compared to the extraverted Ceremony
the new LP feels more like an introvert. The music is moodier and has a domical atmosphere – Duffy’s guitar is much more restrained, sometimes practically taking a back seat and focusing more on rhythm, occasionally blended with electronic touches. Hard rock bursts of energy are rarer, and only now and then the guitar player allows himself the solo attacks in line with the earlier material (Be Free
). Astbury changed almost all of mysticism and fascination with the Native American culture for everydayness, introspection and topics of directionless years (Coming Down (Drug Tongue)
), sexual abuse (Black Sun
) and death of a former bandmate Nigel Preston (and other musicians) (Naturally High
, Sacred Life
With all that did the new album manage to fix some of the miscalculations that bogged down Ceremony
? Yes and no. Despite changes in sound The Cult still preserved certain grandiosity, and their fixation with longer tracks practically doesn’t fail them as there is no sense of being long-winded. The quality of the output also increased and sounds more confident, although at the end of the LP there is a feeling of a sag, and a thought creeps in that maybe a couple of tracks should have been left on the cutting floor (in all fairness Universal You
and Emperor’s New Horse
are inferior to the rest) benefitting the album. Luckily, all these missteps are compensated with energetic performances. While on Ceremony
it was Duffy and his guitar that dominated, The Cult
is Astbury’s time to shine as he invests in every track, even helping the tracks in the weaker moments.
But what’s more important is that regardless flirtations with alternative rock on The Cult
, the band – and it is more than commendable – managed to stay themselves preserving its features. Unfortunately, the LP went unnoticed and successful transformation of the sound didn’t spark interest. So maybe it can be done now, looking at a strong record through the prism of retrospect.