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Immediately prior to the release of this album, the Cult had released a compilation of their hits named 'Pure Cult' which was supplemented by a track named 'The Witch'. The aforementioned track was a faux-trendy taste of the strange fruits to come, because 1994's 'The Cult' saw the band attempt to reinvent themselves as grunge-friendly intellectuals. Gone was the stadium rock of the 'Sonic Temple' and 'Ceremony' albums from 1989 and 1991, replaced by songs which name-checked Nirvana's recently shotgun blasted Kurt Cobain. At the time it seemed like an absolute desperate sell-out and failed to find a following amongst grunge fans anyway. Stadium rock bands such as Iron Maiden and AC/DC weathered the grunge storm and survived; while the Cult entered relative musical obscurity following the release of this album.
When I first heard it I was initially annoyed by the change of direction. The uplifting anthems, riffs and melodies were gone, replaced by an almost avant-garde down tempo opening track named 'Gone' - a strange off-key piano giving way to a depressing lyric full of angry expletives. The drums and percussion had lost all width and were now tight and constricted and very 'indie' - almost a deliberate attempt to dilute musicality in favour of a punk ethos. The only thing more ridiculous would have been if Bon Jovi had released a cover version of 'Anarchy in the UK'.
The second track (and lead single) was 'Coming Down' - all about drugs and hedonism, as if the band were trying to get away from the 'Just Say No' of the 1980s, towards a cool, immaculately stoned stance. The verses were depressing although the chorus was uplifting, like the Cult of old. 'Real Grrrl' sounded like an attempt to bond with the 'Riot Girl' phenomenon. Snake skin rockers Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy were what the riot girls were trying to break away from. Although to look at them in 1994, with there short hair and nightclub clobber, it looked like the Cult had undergone a visual makeover too. The long hair, cowboy hats and leather trousers were all gone. The album cover was weird and mysterious and very art-school.
'Black Sun' starts with a lyric standing up for a 'defenceless child' who has been beaten. Suddenly the Cult were about social issues. Songs about models and fire women had been discarded. The song itself was another downbeat track. It sounded like the Cult were trying to put us all on a downer. 'Naturally High' barely deserves a mention - it utilises some Beatles 'Tomorrow Never Knows' effects, name checks Jack Kerouac and tells us about 'friends who died very young'. For a young man into rock this was all very depressing. I was not high after listening to this track. 'Joy' actually has a guitar riff and also some nice Doors organ too. Lyrically it's all very self centred, about 'altering my state of mind' and at one point Astbury murmurs 'Viva la Revolution' in an accent. He then mentions a 'crazy hippy girl' for the second time on this album. He wants to be at Glastonbury now and not at Castle Donnington. Hippies and ravers are what he is after, rock is out, rock is no longer cool. The Cult are quite shamelessly abandoning a sinking ship.
The next track is 'Star' - a definite weak link in the album, with electronic bleeps and deliberately slapdash drumming. It is basically a Jesus Jones B Side. Then we come to the first great track of the album, despite what could have been the most cringing lyrics of 2004: 'River Phoenix was so young, don't you know your prince is gone'. The thing is I think the Cult were being serious and the lyric becomes touching. Sixties icon Abbie Hoffman gets a mention as does Kurt Cobain: 'Sad to see this poet's gone' sings Astbury, and gets away with it. Astbury asks us 'What is Holy in your life?' I wonder what is Holy in Astbury's life, such as the fans from 1987 or 1989. The lyric fades and all that remains is a piano refrain. It's a beautiful song.
'Be Free' immediately ruins it all - a naff riff and Red Hot Chilli Peppers funk. Then we have 'Universal You' - the introduction sounds like the introduction to 'Lithium' by Nirvana, only slower and far heavier. Astbury then states 'All God's children, they got heart, they got swagger, they got truth' and announces he has a 'pagan heart'. It's as if he is shouting out to the new generation. He realises he climbed on the wrong boat in the 1980s. However the old Astbury betrays himself with 'All God's daughters, they got ass, they got class'. Normal service is resumed! Perhaps Billy Duffy wrote that line.
'Emperor's New Horse' is nothing - a poised introduction descending into a virtual jam. We end with 'Saints are Down' - and what an ending. With 'Sacred Life' it represents a high point in the album. The introduction is slow and quiet, stripped down drum beat and acoustic guitar. Astbury is reflective as he repeats the 'Saints are Down' refrain. He begins to get uptight and seems concerned. These 'Saints' are gone and not coming back. They are in the ground and buried upside down. These 'Saints' sound like Astbury's martyrs - his beloved Kerouac and Hoffman, Phoenix and Cobain. A woman's voice is then heard, singing in the background, but her hymn cannot be deciphered.
This song and 'Sacred Life' are the saving graces of this album. I forgave the Cult for cutting off their hair and throwing out the leather jeans. But did they ever forgive themselves? Grunge was on its last legs and in some respects this album was the nail in the coffin.
The Cult's self-titled sixth album was their final release before the band split, not permanently as it eventually transpired, and is also probably their least known and least liked. The band's decline had been several years in the making, seeing them fall from grace as a leading gothic band of the eighties to a mediocre hard rock act supported only by the guitar talents of Billy Duffy, and 'The Cult' doesn't have an awful lot going for it. Unless you're the band members themselves, who generally consider it the peak of their musical career.
This is thematically a very dark and personal album, written by vocalist Ian Astbury to reflect on his own personal crises and negative experiences through life, but this feeling is never adequately expressed through the music. Even the opener 'Gone' just sounds like a needless swearathon, lacking the convincing display of anger to justify all those expletives. Other songs are just offensive for being so dull, roughly half the album being given over to lighter moments that work quite well, but other songs failing to incorporate a harder rock sound into the slower tempo, most notably 'Coming Down.'
Only 'Star' really stands out for its catchy riffs and more upbeat, seventies rock style, and even that is firmly rooted in the past.
2. Coming Down (Drug Tongue)
3. Real Grrrl
4. Black Sun
5. Naturally High
8. Sacred Life
9. Be Free
10. Universal You
11. Emperor's New Horse
12. Saints Are Down
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Coming Down (Drug Tongue)
3 Real GRRRL
4 Black Sun
5 Naturally High
8 Sacred Life
9 Be Free
10 Universal You
11 Emperor's New Home
12 Saints Are Down