The prospect of a new record from my favourite band can be a worrying prospect, because as much as I love The Cult, I am the first to admit that they don’t always hit the spot. Not that they make bad records, just that some material, despite its apparent quality, has left me cold – ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ being prime example. “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord” then for ‘Hidden City’, the follow up to 2012’s largely quality effort ‘Choice of Weapon’.
There must be something in the air, because like so many of their rock peers that have stayed the course, there seems to be a feeling of reinvigoration about Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy that has enthused the album with a dynamic reminiscent of their glory days. Maybe it’s down to the difficult times in which we live or as a reaction to the puerile aspects of social media that have so invaded everyday life, who knows? Suffice to say that many bands that have been going through the motions for so many years are now turning out work that stands up alongside their best – The Cult included.
‘Dark Energy’ is a no nonsense starter; it doesn’t get more basic than this, the upbeat drumming and straightforward insistent riffing, as Astbury comes into his own vocally, are meat and potatoes, but sure taste good. ‘No Love Lost’ then starts out with a slow burning riff that suddenly bursts into life, rocking in classic cult fashion – killer hook, killer track.
This is one of the most varied Cult records I have ever heard. We get dark atmospheric numbers, like the classy ‘In Blood’, its piano melody, light orchestration and brooding guitars underpinning a powerful song with a wonderful arrangement. In contrast there’s a track like ‘G O A T’, Greatest Of All Time, which is a down n dirty rocker that gives Billy Duffy the chance to let rip – man this record is rocking.
There are one or two tracks like ‘Dance The Night’ and ‘Avalanche Of Light’ which are fairly disposable, but their upbeat pop/rock is pleasant enough. Their blandness is more than compensated by the last two pre-release teasers. ‘Hinterland’ has that classic cult feel to the rhythm, and what a hook! It is stylishly executed rock with an up-to-date feel, great track – The Cult are on fire – especially Billy Duffy with a superb variety of guitar sounds, both to the riffs and in the soloing. ‘Deeply Ordered Chaos’ written in reaction to the Charlie Hebdo shootings, is similarly high quality, this tale of Euro empathy slow boiling in brooding fashion, with touches of orchestration adding drama beneath the clashing guitar sound as Astbury’s familiar baritone croons “I’m a European, blood for holy water/I’m a European Africa my mother”. Duffy is on top form with some lovely touches on lingering notes in the solo as the track gathers urgency on the highly charged finale.
Even so, there are still more high points on ‘Hidden City’, the synth fueled ‘Birds of Paradise’ featuring one of the most heartfelt vocal performances I’ve ever heard from Ian, while ‘Lilies’ is an unexpected gem with its touches of Spanish guitar; it’s totally different to what you might expect, but sounds fresh and highly accomplished. There is even more surprise on closing track ‘Sound and Fury’ which is an intense piano croon with a theatrical feel that rambles to an enigmatic close; inspired.
This is surely one of the most artistically diverse Cult albums; there’s a fearless edge here that has added a freshness to their sound and it’s great to see such a fine band pushing their creative boundaries on what is their tenth studio album. Bravo!