Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Cult – Hidden City [album review]

Released on February 5th

Hidden City represents The Cult’s best collection of new material since 2001’s Beyond Good And Evil, which I consider their best album after 1987’s Electric. Group mainstays Ian Astbury (vocals) and Billy Duffy (guitars) are joined on Hidden City by drummer John Tempesta for his third Cult album, with bass duties handled by producer Bob Rock and Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney. New Cult bassist Grant Fitzpatrick joined the group after the album was recorded. 

Rock has now produced half of the band’s ten studio albums, overseeing ventures both highly commercial (1989’s Sonic Temple) and jarringly experimental (1994’s self-titled release). Hidden City finds itself somewhere between those two points, with a slight lean towards the commercial end of things and songwriting that sounds more inspired than the rather pedestrian material that’s dominated recent outings. That may be attributable to The Cult allowing themselves a lengthier amount of recording time for Hidden City, which was tracked intermittently over a two year period. 2007’s Born Into This and Choice Of Weapon from 2012 (which I reviewed here) had their moments, but generally had a going-through-the-motions feel to them.

There’s actually nothing on Hidden City that matches the levels of “Sound Of Destruction” or “For The Animals” from those respective albums, which are two of the finest songs The Cult have ever released. What it does have, however, is a much greater consistency of quality running throughout its dozen songs. There’s no outright duds and just a few merely average numbers in the album’s final three tracks, “Heathens”, “Lilies”, and the surprisingly jazzy piano ballad “Sound And Fury”. 

“Dance The Night” adds a welcome poppy, upbeat counterbalance to the dark tone that pervades Hidden City. The fighter-themed “G O A T” (an acronym for “greatest of all time”) is one of the few other album tracks that has an airier, less sombre feel, as Duffy dips back into his Electric-era bag of dirty blues guitar riffs. “Dark Energy”, “No Love Lost”, ”Hinterland”, and “Avalanche Of Light” all deliver the goods and qualify as notable additions to the long list of first-rate mid-tempo hard rock songs that The Cult has produced over the years. The album highlight is the Zeppelin-ish “Deeply Ordered Chaos”, a haunting mini-epic adorned with effective synth strings. As Astbury recently told Billboard magazine, the song’s lyrical inspiration came from the two terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris during 2015.

Hidden City treads nicely through musical territory explored previously throughout The Cult’s 30+ year (off-and-on with breakups) history, with enough new wrinkles and angles to the songs to keep things interesting and not feeling overly recycled. Astbury’s lyrics are, as always, steeped in spiritual mysticism that don’t exactly lend themselves to easy interpretation. The Cult also knock it out of the park once again in the album artwork department. Hidden City has one of the most striking covers I’ve seen since, well, their last album cover

One final minor quibble about Hidden City — Tempesta’s sizable drum skills don’t get much of an opportunity to show their might on the album. The Cult is, of course, the Astbury and Duffy show, and their songs aren’t particularly conducive to percussive showmanship, so this restriction just goes with the territory. You can’t blame Tempesta, a former member of White Zombie, Rob Zombie’s band, Testament, and Exodus for holding down a steady gig in a band with a pedigree like The Cult’s. Still, one wonders how musically constrained he might feel within the group. 

Rating: B+