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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Cult Hits Point Blank



The Cult - Choice of Weapon
2012 Cooking Vinyl Limited
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

When it comes to The Cult, you've either fallen amidst the groovy-alt Love gaggle, the AC/DC-kissed Electric camp or the mainstream league of Sonic Temple worshippers.  This band has found little necessitation in answering to any of those dynamic albums, though some eighties party diehards and strip joint habitues are still laying in wait for another sexfunkrawk jam like "Fire Woman" to come along.  Fat chance of that, since The Cult have all but since rebelled against that 1989 commercial juggernaut.

Interesting enough, the tune this band now answers to (at least from the opinion of their enduring fans) is the crunky "Rise" from 2001's Beyond Good and Evil.  You can hear it and read it across message boards and Facebook posts these days.  Following the lukewarm reception cast towards The Cult's 2007 outing Born Into This, the band's listeners come to the propsect of a new album with "Rise" as the standard to meet--and henceforth, beat.  It's like U2 being called upon to outdo "Elevation" instead of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" or Metallica to outslug "Until It Sleeps" instead of "Enter Sandman," or "Master of Puppets" for the old brigade's purposes.

Not every band sustains itself on two core members and manages to stay relevant, yet this year Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy engineer one of the most worthwhile recordings of The Cult's considerable lifespan.  Ushering Born Into This carryovers John Tempesta and Chris Wyse back for the band's ninth full-length, Choice of Weapon, The Cult once again restructures their method of attack.  There's a pleasurable swing amidst the fuming power plays at work here, and the payoffs on Choice of Weapon are superfluous.

You may hear shades of the happy-go-lucky "She Sells Sanctuary" sprinkled about "The Wolf" and you'll detect a nervy tread between sorrow and tranquillity on "Wilderness Now," but make no mistake about Choice of Weapon.  This is one of The Cult's most aggressive and confident albums in their entire catalog.  An automatic third best ranking behind Love and Electric, Choice of Weapon plays to win and it's an instant grab.  Full-frontal tone blasts, harmonic, eco-championing angst and soul-tagging histrionics are the foundation blocks to Choice of Weapon.  Moreover, this album is a proud restoration of the Astbury-Duffy alliance yielding some of the touchiest and ultimately gratifying rock rumbles of the year.

Ian Astbury rides the snake once again and sets his mojo free in a forceful vocal performance you can't help but label iconic.  Astbury's recent dabblings with Japanese distortion lords Boris unchained something cuffed on Born Into This (aside from the held-back production layers on that album), because his pipes are the figurative embodiment of the title Choice of Weapon.  He's shamantistic on "Elemental Light" and his combined roughneck-cavalier guidance through the rocksteady "Honey Like a Knife," "For the Animals" and "Amnesia" is almost unbelievable.  "Amnesia" alone is one of Astbury's finest hours on the mike.  Likewise, his snarling bravado on the fangy "Lucifer" sends shivers from the clavacale down to the tailbone.  Carrying a shivery Morrison hangover on the morose anti-ballad "Life > Death," Astbury reminds us why he was hauled in for The Doors 21st Century and this tune might be the best cut The Doors circa L.A. Woman  never wrote.  "Life > Death" is tormented by the otherworldly shadow of The Lizard King and exquisite in transition.

Billy Duffy will always be adored by contemporaries and followers for his upfront riffs and Choice of Weapon's mix (fielded in chief by Queens of the Stone Age producer Chris Goss and finished by Bob Rock) throws Duffy back into the limelight at the hip of Astbury.  As ever, the two are as synonymous with their performances as their songwriting.  Tempesta and Wyse, far more resplendent on this album than on Born Into This, elevate Astbury and Duffy as any seasoned rhythm section should.  Tempesta throws a clever spin on Flea's flowery bass lines from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Pretty Little Ditty" towards the end of "Life > Death" and it's to Astbury and Duffy's credit for giving Tempesta the opportunity to improv.  Astbury himsef has credited Tempesta and Wyse for pushing him and Duffy to a new brink and that teetering edginess resounds on Choice of Weapon.

All of it combined spells an album saluting the coolest chops of The Cult's vintage years as interpreted by a wiser collective.  This is a Big 80's album devoid of the glam and nostalgia.  It rocks with a purpose in the here and now on behalf of the planet and in condemnation of the de-calibration of society.  In part, Choice of Weapon wields the piss and vinegar and the polished guitar wizardry that Guns n' Roses purists have been hankering decades for.  The Sonic Temple straights will only be partially satiated here, but Astbury, Duffy, Wyse and Tempesta jack the wattage and stamp the skins from their respective stations for the band's truly devout.  "Rise" is one of The Cult's fiercest songs, but it hardly needed replication.  Nor did "Edie (Ciao, Baby)" or "Sweet Soul Sister" and you can expect none of it on Choice of Weapon.  Seriously, folks, that's a good thing.

Coupled with a four-track compilation from The Cult's 2010 Capsule EPs, Choice of Weapon is a citadel of rock refinement for a fragile period in music appreciation that has all but forgotten what a monster rock album sounds like.  Love begets Electric begets a latter-day rare diamond cut from artists who care more about the edges and grooves than the luster.

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