Advance press had it that The Cult - eponymous, definitive - was going to be a restoration of former glories, after what Astbury and Duffy had apparently come to regard as an overblown and laboured 1992 album, Ceremony. Regrettably, it's a return to the wrong sort of form. You won't find an air-punching stomper of the ilk of Wildflower or a windmilling riff like Fire Woman or a thing of transcedent beauty like She Sells Sanctuary. What you will get is a revisiting of the Love era, that less-than-compelling stage when The Cult couldn't decide whether they were AC/DC with delusions of grandeur or Zeppelin with tunes, when Duffy's pop instincts were yet to triumph over Astbury's ludicrous, though essential, pretensions to produce the awesome Electric. Astbury's pretensions are still, yes, ludicrous. Here, however, he's forsaken the Native American mythology and abandoned the Big Chief Preening Buffoon persona for a role as a compassionate elder statesman to this fringe-dwelling counterculture he's still convinced exists somewhere. Sacred Life pays mawkish tribute to those Asters doubtless considers comrades fallen in the war against The System: Abbie Hoffman, River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain, Andrew Wood. Universal You calls upon the world to gather at the hem of his garments as, like, one:
"I love the earth
I'm not a preacher
Hey there, brother, glad to meet you."
Astbury's defiantly sincere words and unembarrassable vocal theatrics are as much fun as ever, but he's not done any favours by a surprisingly lumpen bunch of songs. Only Be Free would be likely to raise Beavis & Butt-Head from their sofa, and it's hardly Lil' Devil. For the rest, The Cult runs the gamut from graceless pastiches of Soundgarden (Gone is half Black Hole Sun half Jesus Christ Pose) to graceless pastiches of Pearl Jam (ghastly epic Black Sun is a hamfisted rewrite of Jeremy, musically and lyrically) to, most toe-curling of all, graceless pastiches of INXS (Real Grrrl is no fun at all, basically).
The Cult would doubtless argue that we can't expect them to knock out subtle variations on Back In Black forever, that they are entitled to pursue their muse whencever she may flit. Fair enough but, as Harry Callahan said as he blasted the bullet into the villain's petrol tank, a man's got to know his limitations. Most would be happy to be restricted to a capacity for producting three-minute thunderbolts of idiot savant godhead. On The Cult, The Cult have reaced for the sky and got a handful of hot air.
Is this where we put the punchline about having "reservations"?
Andrew Mueller - Melody Maker, October 8/1994
Naturally High - is about the young ex-cult drummer, Nigel Preston who was kicked out of the band after the love album was made due to the drug addictions.
What a title. As if we hadn't worked out already (what with Love, Electric and Sonic Temple) that Ian Astbury had his beady eyes on a place astride pop's Mount Rushmore, he comes up with this: the most overblown record of the Cult's Zeppelin-shaped career.
It's been a long confused journey of course. Having created the soundtrack to a generation's student discos in She Sells Sanctuary, The Cult promptly cranked up the guitars for the marvellous Rick Rubin-produced Electric, headed for the (Hollywood) hills and swallowed every LA biker cliche available.
And yeah, The Cult is yet more stripped-to-the-waist Harley rock'n'roll. Once the woozy bass'n'drums intro is out of the way, opener Gone, transforms into a straightahead stomp through the usual Free-isms (augmented by Ian inexplicably belowing Go, muthafucka! when there's a lull in proceedings), Naturally High is the standard follow the sun, meet at the crossroads life affirmation set to one of Billy Duffy's endless stream of numbskull descending riffs.
The difference is, this time Ian's eager to catalogue the plight of the world amidst the rough'n'tumble of The Cult's grass roots rockola. So Black Sun is a tale not of the torment of the Red Indian but of child abuse. Emperor's New Horse ditches the sludge riffola halfway through and turns into a sugary 'Achtung Baby'-esque lament over which Ian croons All God's children they got muscle, they got swagger before drifting into a fade out. It is unmitigated nonsense.
Best of all, however, is Sacred Life. Here Ian, seemingly astride Mount Sinai, mourns the passing of all the great poets he can think of. River Phoenix was so young, don't you know your prince is gone he croons, between cataloguing a list of greats who haven't survived the toils of life as well as he has.
Were these the words of Sir Bono or some half-baked would-be poet like Tim Booth, such pronouncements would be a suitable soundtrack for hell. However, coupled with The Cult's overblown rock'n'roll theatrics, they make perverse sense.
Here is a man with a wardrobe to shame Hiawatha, and rock dogs like Steve Jones and Sir William Idol for neighbours who still feels able to pass judgement on all the world's ills and solve them by the time he gets to the middle-eight. And as a tonic for Ian's less imaginative stabs at lyricism (Don't eat shit, if you want to stay fit!, he hollers during Be Free) it's a godsend.
So take your nose out of the air. Unlike most supposed British rock bands (the hastily made-over Gun, terminally cartoonish Terrorvision) The Cult exist in their own warped world, where kaleidoscope-eyed hippy girls smoulder in the corner of Sunset Strip cellar clubs and political comment consists of a peace sign
Turn off your mind, terrorise the stereo. (7)
Paul Moody - New Music Express, October 8/1994
On this album, Cult heroes Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy are joined by two new initiates: former Sisters Of Mercy and Mission U.K. bassist Craig Adams, and drummer Scott Garrett.
The Cult was produced by Bob Rock, who also did the honors on the band's hit 1989 album Sonic Temple.
Get your motor running and head out on the highway: The Cult will be taking to the road shortly. If you've seen them before then you already know they were born to be wild.
Courtesy: Warner Bros.