It is an event.
Like a perfect dawn or a cosmic aligning.
Something new, unknown, evolutionary is happening.
A moment of quiet slowly becoming a distant sound, more heard then felt. It is changing, rising slowly from subliminal to your conscious perception. If you are a devotee, you are waiting—hoping—praying for it to be all you know it can be.
A cosmic blend of haunting melodies, tribal rhythms and soaring guitar straight from the hearts and minds of the gods. It is a true sonic temple!
It is the new album from a band that has captured the attention of rock fans for over thirty years. It is Hidden City by The Cult.
I remember the first time I heard the sound of The Cult.
I was in my teens and mostly listening to bands like The Beatles, R.E.M. The Cure, The Smiths and INXS, when I heard “Fire Woman”. I stopped what I was doing and just listened without moving or speaking while the song played on the radio.
I begged my mom to take me to our local record store that night and I bought the album, discovering other musical treats like “Edie” and “Sweet Soul Sister”.
After listening, no consuming, that record for a week non-stop, I once again prevailed on my parents to take me shopping and I backtracked and bought every Cult album I could find. Of course who doesn’t love the Love album, but, the song that made me know emphatically that I wanted to play rock guitar was “Wild Flower” off the Electric album.
Thus started my dreams of being a guitar guru like my hero Billy Duffy.
The thing about the guitar on The Cult recordings is that they blend the perfect amount of hooks and great melodies with true in your face rock guitar prowess. It is the ability to sing, whistle or hum the guitar lines because they are so melodic, while at the same time being invigorated with the energy of the guitar so you jump around like a marionette on uppers that make The Cult music so compelling. I am a guitarist for a living, so I am a bit guitar crazy in this article, but, well, Duffy is one of the greats! However, it would be criminal not to talk about the incredible vocals that are the perfect counter point to the guitar magic. Called a “true poet” and “all heart” by his band mate Billy Duffy, Ian Astbury’s vocal contribution to the rock ethos is wonderful to experience and impossible to deny.
Whether shouting out a refrain that is setting the audio spectrum afire or singing a delicate phrase that reaches straight in to your heart, Astbury has a place in the rock pantheon all his own.
If there ever was a successor to Led Zepplin, it is The Cult. While vastly different from Zep, it is the dynamic contrast between the power of the guitar and the equal but different power of the vocals that puts one in mind of the best that Zepplin had to offer.
It is truly an alchemical balancing act that Duffy and Astbury pull off with such ease that make imbibing their music a necessity.
If you are a Cult purist and only love the stuff from the 80’s and early 90’s then be reassured, the band sounds better than ever!
I have to say I am a fan of every album, of course, each fan will find what speaks to them on each offering, but, for me, I am glad that the guitar has its rightful place in the mix, yeah, in your face, on Hidden City.
According to a quote from Astbury, Hidden City is the final installment in a trilogy of recordings, completing 2007’s Born Into This and 2012’s Choice of Weapon. That might be true from a lyrical perspective, however, Duffy cautions that from his perspective and that of the other musicians it is not a continuance of those earlier albums, all the music is new and contemporary, but, the band owes its current sound to the journey that started with Born Into This and Choice of Weapon.
Looking at the cast put together for Hidden City, it is no wonder that it is full-on Cult goodness.
Produced by Bob Rock and written by Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy it is a forgone conclusion that Hidden City has the hallmarks of what you want as a Cult fan. The founding members of Duffy and Astbury are joined on drums and bass by John Tempesta and Grant Fitzpatrick respectively and Damon Fox on keyboard and additional rhythm guitars.
If you ever asked the question, do good lyrics matter for a rock song, then The Cult’s answer is a resounding yes.
Astbury’s lyrics are always interesting to listen to and absorb. On Hidden City, I wondered about the lyrics to “Deeply Ordered Chaos”. Interestingly, we find the heart and mind of the Cult’s front man considering the same things their fans are.
The song was inspired by a quote from painter and visionary Francis Bacon and January attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. In light of the most recent events in Paris last November, Astbury created a lyric video of the song with Juan Azulay, which
premiered on Billboard.com. Says Astbury, “I have performed at Le Bataclan on four occasions and was deeply shocked by what occurred on the evening of November 13th.
In the video, we chose to depict scenes of wildlife and outer space to create a counterpoint to the wave of violent images we are constantly bombarded with and acknowledge the profoundness of being,”.
Well, this journalist is a blind person, so I can’t speak to the imagery of the video, but, this song is a real standout track for me.
But whether you want to rock your socks off, or wax philosophical, Hidden City is a must have for Cult fans and lovers of great music alike. If this is your first introduction to the band, you couldn’t be in better hands for your first trip down the rabbit hole, I promise you Alice, you won’t want to wake up!
Before I leave you, dear reader, I have to admit, I used the opportunity of having a 20-minute phone interview with Billy Duffy to get my geek on and ask some guitar hero questions.
So, for those of you that are guitarists, this part of the article is just for you!
I asked Billy about his roots in music and how it was that he came up with such guitar riffs and phrases that were rockin’ but also so lyrical.
He credits his Irish heritage because the Irish are a “Lyrical people’”. While his family weren’t musicians, music was always a great part of family life and his parents always supported his passion for music.
While the sounds of Manchester England will always be in Duffy’s DNA, he isn’t only a punk aficionado of that sound ala Sex Pistols and Buzz Cocks. Rather, he is a lover of music and lets good music of all genres seep in to his being.
Duffy says that “My music is definitely from the heart not the head, I get it out and if it feels right it is right”.
Early on, Duffy had a great affinity for Bill Halley and the Comets, while also diggin’ Hendrix and Mott the Hoople.
He remembers with a smile in his voice about how he always had the “cheap records”. He never went to the trendy record shops, but, a general styled store near his house that sold music as a minor source of income. This meant, says Duffy, that he would find odd recordings and digest those. For example, his first remembered Hendrix record was a live recording not on a major label.
Again, I was curious about how Billy got his guitar tone in the early days and how that changed to the ground breaking sounds he gets for his musical endeavors.
He told me that before he was a Gretsch player with his own signature model guitar, he was drawn to the Les Paul style guitars. His first guitar was a cheap knock off of the classic Les Paul and his first amp was a good looking solid state amp, not a tube. He remembered wondering why his amp looked like a million bucks and sounded “like shit” and the other guy’s amp looked like it was falling apart but sounded amazing. He quickly became a tube man and gave his solid state amp (that his dad had driven across Manchester to get him) to Johnny Marr– yeah that’s right, my other guitar hero got Billy’s old amp.
I knew my time for the interview was almost up, but, I had to ask one more pressing question–Did you really introduce Marr to Morrissey, ask I? The answer “Yes, but it wasn’t like I told them they had to form a band.” Well, nevertheless, I say Duffy had a part in making another one of the most iconic bands form –The Smiths.
So besides owing Billy a great personal debt for helping me make music my career by the inspiration I gleaned from this playing, he also had a part in influencing the other guitarist, Johnny Marr, that I love and that I am inspired by and that has changed my musical life.
So why did I start this article by calling The Cult a Dynasty?
It is simple, the band are living legends because they can blend powerful elements of rock, punk and Goth expertly and in a way that is genuine.
So while you might not see The Cult in the rock and roll hall of fame, it is no doubt that they are one of the best, most honest bands out there and that is why they are and will always be a Dynasty of Rock!
Now stop reading this and go listen to some Cult, crank it up and don’t worry if the neighbors call the cops, I am sure it will turn in to a block party!