Monday, May 21, 2012
The Cult - Choice of Weapon
Disclaimer: I dig The Cult. From way back to "Moya" and "Fatman" from the Southern Death Cult days, I've had an odd fascination with The Cult and Ian Astbury in particular, with his adopted shamanistic persona and incredibly distinct vocal tone. I've followed them through the Death Cult days, through The Cult glory days, all the way through the Holy Barbarians and Astbury's solo stuff, and back again to The Cult. I have all the albums, the singles, the 12"'s, test pressings, picture discs. Yeah, I'm kinda a groupie. Can't say that I've loved everything they've done, but I've always been there.
I'll never forget when I bought the just (anxiously-awaited) released Love album and overheard the two record store snobs whining how The Cult had gone all Zeppelin and were now unlistenable. Not for me. Love was, and remains, one of my favorite albums of all time and songs like "She Sells Sanctuary," "Rain," and "Nirvana" are indispensable bricks in my musical foundation. Having said that, I did kinda lose interest in the band after Sonic Temple and as much as I wanted to love their reunion album Beyond Good and Evil, I didn't. Something about the industrial mix diluted the stunning guitar tone that makes The Cult so recognizable in my mind. I liked Born into This, but in truth, I've been waiting for them to return to full-force, mind-and-ass blowing prominence. I've needed that killer album to really bring The Cult back for me. Something that could sit proudly on my shelf next to Love.
Welcome to Choice of Weapon.
The Cult were always most significant to me when they wove their mystical, psychedelic vibe through their Gothic past, and force-bottled that whole thing through a cannon of pure rock. Love did this, and even tossed in some killer beats, like "She Sells Sanctuary" that could get my ass moving fervently enough to match my embarrassing air-guitar postures.
And Choice of Weapon brings it all back.
"Honey From a Knife" wastes no time re-presenting The Cult as hungry and passionate. No going-through-the-motions here. The band sounds positively teenaged impassioned. A killer, stuttering riff gets us going, sounding almost garage nasty. Within seconds, Billy Duffy's effected guitar layers on some gentle, familiar tones. Ian jumps out right off the bat, his voice having lost none of it's distinct nasal wail and crying tone. Maybe a bit throatier, a touch deeper, but that's Ian Astbury in all his glory. You either love him or not, but to me, he's one of the most distinctive vocalists in pure rock music. No one sounds like him and his voice rubs all the right nerves in my brain. The beat kicks in at a mean-spirited clip. The bridge is vintage Cult with Duffy's guitar spinning off some circular psychedelic riffs, while Ian wails "My wild Indian heart was pounding." Toss in some rather bizarre (for the Cult) gang-chanted refrains and we got a song ready to remain in The Cult pantheon.
As killer as "Honey" is, the following track "Elemental Light" is even more impressive for totally different reasons. Against a bare, mid-tempo beat and gently plucked guitar, Astbury lays down without a doubt the most impressive vocals I've ever heard from the man. Emotive and full of range, cracking, wailing, and wavering, his voice is captivating, snaring me in a Cult beartrap. He's got complete mastery of what he's trying to do here, each sustain, each tremolo, each crack in tone. Again, you may love him or hate him. To me, it's like having an Astubry orgasm in my head. . . or something less gross sounding. You know what I mean.
The song builds in classic fashion becoming a true epic of the sort beyond compare in The Cult discography. It sounds like Astbury took all the lessons he learned from his solo album Spirit/Light/Speed and blended it with the classic sound of The Cult to bring out the band at their most mystical and impressive. As the song builds, Duffy's guitar layers on, with that perfect Cult tone. The whole thing builds and escalates, dips, slows, then takes off once again. Soaring. I hit the repeat button, and it plays again. And again. I can't stop myself.
"The Wolf" drops in a guitar tone I'd never heard before on any Cult recordings- a kinda nasal sounding whine- before dropping into a riff pretty damn similar to "She Sells Sancturary." I'm ok with that. If the band could . . borrow . . half a Rolling Stone's riff and turn it into their biggest song, I'm perfectly fine with them stealing from themselves. And besides, it doesn't last long as the song veers into harder rock territory, moving away from the "Sanctuary" beat into one fine staggering riff-rest of rock. Duffy brings back the "Sanctuary" tone for the chorus which works perfectly to lift the song to another level, then drops it out for a darkened as fuck middle section, then brings it back again. Meanwhile, Astbury sounds inspired.
No Cult album is complete without one or two fillers, and "Life>Death"- a forced sounding, dirge-paced ballad -takes that spot for me, which I fast-forward through to get "For The Animals." Hell yes. Let's . . .borrow . . . the riff tone and style from "Spiritwalker" this time and marry it to an explosive call and response vocal verse, tack it all to a killer-take-no-prisoners beat and get me out to the dancefloor. Rocking and embarrassing the hell outta myself. Duffy really takes off here, unleashing the guitar solo from hell mid-way through. Just like Astbury, he hasn't lost a step. I could listen to this all day.
The rest is just as good.
Simply put, this is the album I've been waiting for. It's not Love. It's certainly not Electric. It's all it's own, bringing in the best from their past with new energy, new tricks, new tones and new style. Astbury is classically obscure and mystical. Duffy is the master of his tone. The combination is mind-blowingly bigger than the sum of the parts. The Cult have roared back with what is without a doubt their best album in decades.