Review: The Cult, ‘Hidden City’, A Late Career Gem

the-cult-Hidden-City

I must admit up-front it was my wife, the Rock Chick, who turned me onto the Cult. I don’t know how I completely missed them in the ’80s. We bought a compilation of their videos and I did recognize a few of them. So I couldn’t have been in that much of a stupor, although it was the ’80s. My first experience, other than their Greatest Hits, was ‘Beyond Good And Evil’ which was a criminally overlooked album. It’s a late career masterpiece. I loved that album. I got the opportunity to see them on that tour in a small theater and it ranks amongst my favorite concerts. If you can find the bonus track from ‘BG&E’, “Libertine”, buy it immediately.

After ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, I was hooked. I started buying Cult albums immediately. I started with ‘Sonic Temple’ and worked my way back. My favorite Cult album has always been ‘Love’. I’m probably swayed by the fact that “She Sells Sanctuary” is on that record. That song never gets old. I’ve instructed my wife to play that song at my funeral, followed by 12 bag pipers and perhaps the firing of a cannon. My funeral plans get more elaborate as I age but I digress. ‘Ceremony’ was another criminally discounted record. If Nirvana hadn’t come along and changed everything, I think ‘Ceremony’ would be looked at in a lot different light than it was upon it’s release. Astbury’s newly found sobriety brings an energy to that record that is magnetic.

I’ve seen the Cult on every tour since ‘Beyond Good and Evil’. If you haven’t seen them, do yourself a favor and get to a show. They’ve done a couple of “album-centric” shows where they play a complete record followed by a short set of tunes. They did it first for ‘Love’ which was amazing for me. The second one they did was for ‘Electric’ which I saw with the Rock Chick and my good friend Stretch in Denver. To this day Stretch says, “I’m an Electric guy, Ken, I’m Electric,” and then he smiles knowingly. I get it Stretch, oh I get it.

My buddy Steve always counts as one of his favorite experiences, touring Versailles with head phones on, listening to “Sun King”. “Won’t you share my throne…” What can I say, my buddy Steve just knows how to live.

After ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ the Cult released ‘Born Into This’. I liked ‘Born Into This’. I didn’t feel it had the focus or the punch of ‘Beyond Good…’ but it was a solid album. I would have preferred to hear a little more of Billy Duffy’s White Falcon guitar on that record. “War Pony Destroyer” and “Sound of Destruction” are stone cold classics. The next record “Choice of Weapon” was a good record but it seemed a bit disjointed. They released a few of the songs early in what they called “Capsules”. “Every Man Every Woman Is a Star” was a great song but it got lost in the shuffle. “Lucifer” was a bit baffling for a first single. “Honey From a Knife” and “For the Animals” were very strong. I just felt like they were all over the place in terms of focus, much like this blog.

All of this leads me to ‘Hidden City’. I certainly can’t criticize their focus this time out. This is, by far, the strongest thing they’ve put out since ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ and perhaps since ‘Ceremony’. Billy Duffy’s mad guitar is all over this thing, dive bombing in on solo’s and then back out to add thick layers of rhythm riffs. The unsung hero on this album is drummer John Tempesta. His drums drive the opening track/single “Dark Energy”. As always Ian Astbury is in strong voice. His baritone is like a fine wine, it only gets better with age. The focus on this record is amazing. The album is like an onion, there are a lot of layers here. The music is intricate and the lyrics are heavy. All the tunes hang together. There are even some keyboard textures that I’d never heard on a Cult record before. All told, it makes a rather amazing record, what I’d call, a late career gem, a true work of art.

The first three songs they put out on prerelease, “Dark Energy”, “Hinterland” and “Deeply Ordered Chaos” have been reviewed already on BourbonAndVinyl. Of those, “Deeply Ordered Chaos” may be one of the greatest songs they’ve ever done. It’s been in high rotation here at the house since I got my hands on it. “Dark Energy” gets stronger every time I hear it. You have to spend some time with that song but it’ll grab you. Check out the video for “Hinterland” on YouTube. The Cult can pull off the visuals.

“G.O.A.T.” is a great rock song. The swagger in that tune gets me jumping to my feet. “Dance the Night” is a song that should be blaring out of cafes in Paris – “dance the night on the boulevards…” I love that song. “Birds of Paradise,” a song that has some surprisingly effective keyboards, is the Rock Chick’s favorite so far. For her, and for many, this album is gonna be a grower – it will only reveal itself through repeated listens. Thankfully I’m OCD and have been doing just that, listening nonstop since yesterday but again, I digress. “No Love Lost” is another fabulous rocker. “Avalanche of Light” might be Billy Duffy’s best guitar work here. “Lilies” is one of the Cult’s most tender love songs I’ve heard since “Edie (Ciao Baby)”. “In Blood” is an epic, epic song… “5 a.m. on the tile floor…” I think we’ve all been there.

In terms of records this year, other than ‘Blackstar’ by Bowie, ‘Hidden City’ is the strongest album I’ve heard. The Cult have really knocked it out of the park here. I can not wait to hear some of these songs live when they tour. They’re going to translate very well to the stage. They do virtually everything they do well on this record, from rockers to ballads. Its a true tour de force. I’m putting this album on the “must-have” list. But you have to remember, “I’m Electric, baby”…

Enjoy!

Cheers!

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