“By the time you guys get your sweaty paws around this epistle, ‘Electric’ will probably be upon you. ‘Electric’, The Cult’s third album, The Cult’s electrifying new album that once and for all blows away certain accusations that continue to linger on much to the band’s distaste. To whit, that they are Goths/Hippies/post-Punk pinheads.” I wrote this back in the spring of 1987 in a four page feature for Kerrang! that rejoiced under the header ‘All You Need is Love’. In a nice touch the word ‘love’ was crossed out in that inimitable style created by the mag’s legendary designer, Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule, to be replaced by the word ‘rock’. The text goes to prove two things. Firstly, that I couldn’t write for toffee. I mean, ‘Epistle’?! Come on! And secondly, that I was right all along about The Cult.
From the first time that I saw the band, sometime back in ’85 in Oxford, when soon-to-be-dead drummer Nigel Preston was still in the band, I’d been in love with The Cult’s new manner of filtering rock through both post punk and psychedelic influences. I’d championed Astbury and Duffy with the fervour of a religious convert because I truly adored the band and thought they had something new and different and vital to offer. And at the age of 23 my love of The Cult’s music and my position at Kerrang! meant it wasn’t long before I came into close contact with them. It was a marriage made in heaven. A writer who wanted to expand his musical horizons and a band that was starting to realise that there was more to life – and more of a career to be had – outside of the UK’s limited and parochial indie scene.
Astbury was an interesting case. Aloof and intense, he wasn’t the kind of guy to sit drinking in the bar with you into the small hours, though judging by the size of him at the end of that band-breaking ‘Electric’ world tour he must have done a fair bit of it on his own. Duffy meanwhile, was the singer’s polar opposite, a fella who simply didn’t do pretence and who was much happier talking about a shared love for Man City than he was about guitar technique. I liked Duffy more than Astbury because I felt more comfortable around him, even though I knew he was a guy who used both who and what he’d got around him with the clear (if unstated) goal of becoming successful and making money. I’d already nicknamed him ‘Billy Business’ even back then! The Cult’s two driving forces were the ultimate odd couple and they didn’t seem all that matey. It looked more like they’d already worked out that mutual need was the best way to keep a band together, rather than adhere to my misplaced belief that you had to be the last gang in town for rock to work.
Of course ‘Electric’ was The Cult’s breakthrough moment, the album that took them out of the ‘weird Englishmen dabbling with guitars’ bracket and into the realms of America and the first foothold in the lucrative world of arena rock. Time and album sales proved that ‘Electric’ producer Rick Rubin knew what he was doing. Despite my protestations to the contrary in that Kerrang! article, though, deep down I was less than convinced about this Spinal Tap-style ‘hope you like our new direction’.
‘Electric’ was fun and it was undoubtedly rock, but its blueprint of ‘AC/DC thinned out’ just didn’t excite me in the same way as the earlier ‘Electric’ recordings with producer Steve Brown that had updated the band’s sound to be more riff-heavy and sinewy, but still retained plenty of ‘Essence Of Cult’. “We learnt to really look at ourselves and we learnt through Rick who it is that we really are,” Duffy told me in that interview. Maybe. Or maybe Rubin had simply explained to The Cult what it took to break America. Arena rock with easy-to-understand riffs, rock hair and rock clothes.
But whatever, I still loved The Cult. Loved their embracing of rock culture. Loved their swagger at a time when rock music only existed in a ghetto. They turned loads of British people with their heads too far up their own arses on to the power of rock. And loads of blinkered heavy metal fans onto a whole world of new. I can still remember Astbury playing me Soundgarden and Lenny Kravitz tracks on the tour bus way, way before they were household names. Astbury an early adopter of Seattle and grunge. Imagine that! So for me ‘Electric’ is still worth its place in the canon of work from a band I can’t help but hold very dear. But truth to tell for me it wasn’t until the following album, ‘Sonic Temple’, that the band really found their feet, their sound and their true moment in rock history.
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HoJo rocked as a top journalist on legendary UK metal magazine
Kerrang! and now runs a way-cool rock T-shirt site at www.saltyrockz.com.