When it was made known in late January that The Cult were set to return with an “intense” new album I was jazzed but skeptical. “Lucifer” was released as the teaser single to Choice of Weapon and I remained cautiously optimistic. Save for the title cut off of 2007’s Born Into This and scuzzy single “Dirty Little Rockstar”, there wasn’t a lot to write home about from that Youth (Smashing Pumpkins, Depeche Mode) produced album (?!?), and it seemed kind of phoned in. This struck me as kind of ironic since the band has been known for lengthy absences between studio releases since 1994’s self-titled album was released. Not every cake that takes length to bake is moist and delicious.
The band’s current make-up (and has been since 2006) also currently retains the services of John Tempesta (White Zombie, Helmet) and Chris Wyse (Ozzy Osbourne). For this line-up to survive intact over six years and two albums is an interesting stat, as Astbury and Duffy have had a long history of chewing up and spitting out rhythm sections in the past. It also marks the fourth time Bob Rock (Metallica, Offspring, countless other bands) is sitting in the producer’s chair.
I’m proud to announce that not only is this a strong return to form, it’s one of the best pure rock albums of the year. It’s all the things a listener could want – a fist-pumper; chock full of tunes that would fit on soundtracks; arena and club friendly and an album that treads both familiar ground for the die-hard Cult fan and timeless/current enough to attract new fans.
I have a long standing respect for both Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy. Astbury is part rock God, part soulful shaman with one of the richest registers in all of music and one of the most unique lyricists. Duffy is probably one of the most underrated guitarists/musicians out there. The kinship between these two is truly remarkable – rivaled by very few (The Edge and Bono most notably come to mind). This album is tracked so seamlessly – tracks alternating between full-on garage-to-arena rockers, to soulful ballads, to mid-tempo tracks that never seem to derail things.
Choice of Weapon kicks off in fine form with “Honey from a Knife,” a roadhouse style stomp that’s tethered from a breaking point by keys reminiscent of The Stooges. “Elemental Light” follows and it’s the closest to a U2-style ballad I think this band will ever come. It soars, but never really takes off into true schmaltz. “The Wolf” is an interesting re-working of “She Sells Sanctuary” – Duffy still shreds in updated fashion but what’s uncanny is how good the rhythm section is. Wyse holds the line and Tempesta is a beast behind the skins, able to pull it all back as the songs chug along.
One of my favorite cuts, “Life > Death,” seems destined for a Quentin Tarantino film. “You break the man/leave his shell on the ground,” Astbury intones aboard a bluesy riff and ghost town keys. “You can’t destroy them/the beauty and the youth/you’ll never beat them/you’ll never hide the truth.” What a chorus – as you can imagine, the tune is just as powerful. This track totally reminds me of Illusion-era G’N’R. My favorite line: “we’ll weave a golden noose and hang you from the stars.”
First single “For the Animals” is hard-charging vitriol that both mines the past and says everything about The Cult in 2012, Astbury espousing indignation at the social, political and environmental landscape in four and a half minutes. “Amnesia” reminds me of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”. “Wilderness Now” feels like everything it’s title entails and, in its quieter moments, sounds positively Pearl Jam.
“Lucifer” would rival Danzig in powerful hard rock. “You’ve got the power…you’re a slayer…you are my Lucifer.” Duffy completely unleashes a sonic maelstrom alternating between layered wah-wah, a three chord rhythm and free-form Hendrix-like wails. Again, the rhythm section comes up aces as Astbury and Duffy dance atop the foundation that’s built. “A Pale Horse” begins in outlaw territory (“with a wave of my hand/I’ll crush your sweet skull/yeah you don’t stand a chance…”) before an oddly bright chorus breaks through: “Love is in the shadows/waiting for you.” It’s an interesting track because I love juxtaposition but it’s as if two themes and two tracks were fused together.
‘The Night in the City Forever” closes out the album in subdued, yet brilliant fashion. Every ounce of soul is poured into this one and it’s a true showcase for Astbury to ruminate inside the tune. He does so in fine form. Wyse’s bass is brought to the forefront as the song kicks in and Duffy dances around it. Tempesta provides the backbone. And in your minds eye, you see these four horseman, riding quietly off into the sunset as the track unwinds and the album ends. You almost want to clap when this album is over. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but hey… Well fucking done, boys.