You’ve heard of the The Cult. You’ve probably heard the mid-eighties track “She Sells Sanctuary” on car and Budweiser commercials and the tune “Fire Woman” from their Sonic Temple was a staple of rock radio and MTV during its initial release in 1989. The band is back this week with their first album in five years, Choice of Weapon. Are you prepared to worship at the “Sonic Temple” again?
While The Cult has flip-flopped genres throughout its career, chances are you’ve encountered them at some point. They started as a post-punk goth band, metamorphosed into an alternative band, became a hard-rock band with a penchant for AC/DC like riffs with Rick Rubin’s assistance and by the late 80’s they’d blend all of these aspects together for mass consumption with the release of 1989’s Sonic Temple. Regardless, their biggest claim to fame may be that Matt Sorum was their touring drummer prior to being tapped by Guns N’ Roses to replace Steven Adler. After Sorum’s departure the band kept chugging along, releasing 1991’s disappointing Ceremony before reverting to a more alternative sound (certainly owing much to the musical climate at the time) for 1994’s self-titled album. The band would continue to switch between their alternative and hard rock leanings between albums amid long layoffs which would see guitarist Billy Duffy join projects like Vent and singer Ian Astbury join a reunited version of The Doors. Eventually Astbury and Duffy, with a revolving door of bass players and drummers would decide to continue on with The Cult.
Since 2007’s effort Born Into This gave us the more alternative inclined version of The Cult, apparently it was time for the guys to transform back into their hard rock personas. Hold on while Ian Astbury digs out his cowboy hat. This review will focus solely on the music found on Choice of Weapon. I prefer not to provide any sort of critique on the lyrical content. The 14-year old in me loves The Cult, but even at that age I knew that Astbury’s lyric writing was nonsense valiantly struggling for depth and winding up goofy and pretentious. In addition, Astbury has always thrown out arbitrary Native American references in song, which has articulated his Jim Morrison hero worship and again just comes off absurd (Dude, you’re a white British guy – quantify your “Indian Spirit,” please.) I definitely feel that it’s from that school of classic rock where it doesn’t matter what you say, but how you say it; and Astbury certainly can rock a great melody.
The album kicks in with the bluesy “Honey From a Knife”, which opens with an ill-advised riff invoking their cover “Born to Be Wild” before settling into something more melodic. The song “The Wolf” is strange as it is undeniably reminiscent of The Foo Fighters’ song “Times Like These” which I always thought sounded like a Cult knock-off, and now they’ve essentially repurposed a ripped-off riff. The song melds the Foo Fighters section following with a riff that closely resembles Led Zeppelin’s “Out on the Tiles.’ There’s no denying where their musical proclivities are. “For the Animals” definitely has the type of vibe that Cult fans probably have come to expect with a catchy opening riff, big chorus and moody post-chorus. They apparently liked the riff in “For the Animals” so much that they based the following song “Amnesia” on the same part. The title is clever, but I’ve never heard a band employ the exact same riff in two back-to-back songs when it isn’t some kind of theme done to link the songs together conceptually. My statements above concerning the lyrical content ensure that was not their intent and I think the riff wound up spawning two different songs and they kept the part for both. They may have been better off keeping “For the Animals” as the survivor of the two and “Amnesia” for a b-side. “Lucifer” is another heavy rocker, which has elements of their 80’s tune “The Phoenix.”
The bulk of the slower tunes such as “Wilderness Now” and “Life > Death” provide more freedom for Astbury to work in his lyrical peculiarities and like the bulk of The Cult’s most recent material, it tends to drag the album down. There’s no “Edie” to be found here, although the album closer “Night in the City Forever” allows both Astbury and Duffy to do what they do best and wail on their respective instruments.
There are some versions of the album come with an additional four songs from two digital EPs that The Cult released in the past few years.
Aside from a few strong rocking songs like “For The Animals,” “Elemental Light,” and “Lucifer,” Choice of Weapon is armed with too much filler. Despite top-notch production from longtime producer Bob Rock that gives the songs punch, there are too many instances of The Cult relying heavily on recurring elements from their past catalog such as the rehash in “The Wolf,” and even in the cover image which at a quick glance could be mistaken for the ram on the cover of 1994’s The Cult. The playing is great; Billy Duffy’s guitar sounds meaty and Astbury’s voice is still strong and the rhythm section is fine. While a stronger effort than Born Into This, it doesn’t quite match up to older albums. Hard rock fans may feel differently and just be happy for a new album that does see the band return to form ‘sonically.’