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The Cult’s painfully disappointing Born Into This can’t simply be the result of an aging band out of touch with a musical landscape it once electrified in decades passed. 2001’s Beyond Good and Evil proved to be some of the group’s darkest, heaviest work yet, reaching back to reference the dusky, reverb-drenched elements of Dreamtime and Love, while simultaneously injecting a wicked metal kick from the riff-driven rockers Electric and Sonic Temple. Barely six years have gone by since that disc was released, during which time The Cult toured across Europe and the States, and IAN ASTBURY and BILLY DUFFY branched out with THE DOORS and CIRCUS DIABLO, respectively. Judging from this record, however, none of those years served to inspire anything vital from the band.
The title track opens the album with funk-infused rhythms of the kind that drove 1993’s RICK RUBIN-produced single, “The Witch.” The similarity ends there, however, because just as former WHITE ZOMBIE heavy hitter JOHN TEMPESTA forces the beats forward, and Astbury’s baritone starts in on a promising verse, teasing you with the notion that there might be some sort of satisfying tension and release, we’re left with a very stale, predictable chorus. This is the problem with most of the album: the skeletons of good songs are there, but the flesh is poorly formed and the feeling falls flat.
While there are hopeful moments when the power and passion associated with The Cult’s best music surfaces, namely in the verse and densely layered breakdown of “Diamonds,” along with the introductory texture and guitar line of “Tiger in the Sun,” those moments are fleeting. Again, these songs have elements that invoke the excitement of older material, but too often the chorus sounds awkward with a verse or doesn’t do it justice (or vice versa). This is a re-occurring and unrelenting problem throughout the record.
Then, there are the lyrics. Even as a major Cult devotee, it would be a lie to say that Astbury ever approximated Dylan or even Morrison with his words. But he surely had his moments. The Sun King always managed to conjure up interesting imagery – whether it be the flames formed by Egyptian gods licking at your heels in “Phoenix,” or the trials of ANDY WARHOL’s favorite doomed debutante, EDIE SEDGEWICK, in “Edie (Ciao Baby).” Unfortunately, Born Into This finds Astbury at his most stilted and cliched. Sexily warbling “baby baby baby” on repeat a la “Peace Dog” or any number of other classics would be far preferable to lines such as, “they’re keeping it punk rock” or “taste the whip.” The first single, “Dirty Little Rockstar,” racks up a healthy count of the worst rock ‘n’ roll lyrical one-liners I’ve heard to date. “You sold your soul for the paper,” Astbury sings, to “be a slave, be a media whore.” Then there is a description of said rockstar “passed out on the bathroom floor” followed by Astbury sarcastically egging him on to “stay in the game you sick little hipster.” Ouch.
The final two tracks, “Savages” and “Sound of Destruction,” might, however, may be the saving graces of the album. The former begins with the murmurs of a Buddhist or shamanist chant and the shaking of small ceremonial bells. The unexpected crescendo and melodic development that follows this moody introduction in a burst of electric fury is pure magic – solidifying a synthesis of the beatific and the bombastic that informs The Cult’s greatest achievements. “Sound of Destruction” is far more heavy-handed, but in the best way possible. It’s Astbury at his most aggressive, snakeskin bootheel to the grind, easily matching the gritty, nicely distorted bass and guitars that move this song along so well as he spits out stories about his “fistful of ice.”
But, enjoyable as these songs are, they just can’t save the entire record. It may be futile, but I still had to indulge my depression over this sad little release in the hopes that other fans who may have pondered The Cult’s creative death might come together in mourning. Here’s hoping the next one’s better.
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