Working with two great producers gave The Cult a dilemma, which weapon to choose?

Taking a lead from film studios, The Cult release a ‘prequel’ to this year’s critically acclaimed and fan devoured album, Choice of Weapon. Rather than a collection of demos with little substance, Billy and Ian have released the tracks at a stage of their development where they can be considered an interest to fans, and an accompaniment to Choice of Weapon.

“These songs were turned over and over, forged in long rehearsals and writing sessions, and emanated from challenges both personal and professional,” stated lead vocalist Ian Astbury on The Cult’s website.

Chris Goss started work with The Cult in their Witch Mountain studios and the tracks got an arena polish from Bob Rock for the initial release. This time The Cult are offering the Goss recordings with different lyrics, arrangements and song titles: less a work in progress more a second option on what it could have sounded like.

Goss was previously at the helm for the ‘Capsule’ releases, and Weapon of Choice’s content reflects this. A straight forward assessment would be that these are highly worked demos deemed to be lacking until Bob Rock heard them, turned a few knobs and raised a few sliders in the studio, which is unfair to all parties. Goss has captured The Cult’s raw, wild side that was roaming the Hollywood Hills. It’s a looser record, almost having a live feel as there is a vast amount of space in the songs giving it clarity.

Ian and Billy felt that the songs had enough life and merit that they could not only be available in this form but also in a different order, giving the album a newer feel, an alternative vibe. Knowing how long to come up with a running order can take, this is a brave move and could unsettle what a fantastic album Choice of Weapon is, demean it and then relegate it’s prequel to the aforementioned demos with sideways glances from critics and fans.

The album opens with the closing song of its successor. Aurora is a sparser, more considered song – quite at odds with the usual opening roar from The Cult. John Tempesta’s drums have a prog feel, slow and played with sensitivity rather than a driving timekeeper, even during its frenetic ending he is measured. The throbbing bass line is farther back in the mix on this occasion, but Chris Wyse is not pushed back too far behind Astbury’s vocal. It is Duffy’s guitar who suffers most, the atmospherics of This Night In the City Forever having a less defined, yet no less effective feel.

It is this sensitivity and understatement that The Cult have been showing intermittently for years but it gets pushed to the side through cock rock clichés, of which the band didn’t help themselves, but critics are lazily still peddling. Astbury hates the view of The Cult as knuckle-dragging neanderthals. Weapon of Choice showed this isn’t true, it’s prequel is giving it more weight.

The cutely named Blackie, the sister version of A Pale Horse, has a stripped down to Electric coarseness with clear lyrics about death riding a pale horse. No more cuteness, then. Even less when Astbury declares that you’re going to live to regret not killing him the first time, “I’m gonna crush your sweet skull.”

Whilst singing in the first person, I doubt he’s talking to the journalists who have rubbished The Cult. But in these days of misconception and misplaced ideals, the emotional lyrics full of death and violence lend itself to defiance of the state of the world today.

Through careful listening the differences between the Goss and Rock production becomes clear. The band stated that they were after the same skills Rock used on Sonic Temple, and he succeeded, where as Goss, it seems, was channeling Rick Rubin’s work on Electric, both sticking with the Astbury/Duffy vision.

The roughness, almost garage like feel on this version creates small club imagery for a band tearing up the venue with untreated, high energy, rock ‘n’ roll, all bare wooden floorboards, sweat and spilt, cheap beer. The decision to remove Honey from The Knife’s backing vocals for Supreme certainly gives it the dirty edge aligned with those venues.

Life>Death is a true highlight of their career and is puzzlingly renamed Lucifer – also a title from Weapon of Choice – but here it allows Astbury’s croon to feel more emotional and less honking. The textures are more obvious from Duffy’s guitar, the bass rumbles while Tempesta’s drums again slowly guide the song’s tempo.

Earlier in their career, The Cult had a similar production issue. After his work with the young Beastie Boys, the band approached Rick Rubin to remix lead single Love Removal Machine from what, at the time, was called the Peace album. After being unimpressed with the muddle of overdubs, Rubin wished to re-record the song and several other tracks. In the aftermath Peace got canned and the public got the aforementioned Electric, with the scrapped finally lp appearing within the Rare Cult box set in 2000. But Weapon of Choice is more of an alternate take record, rather than an unsatisfactory version. It won’t sell in as huge numbers as Choice did upon release, this is a fan treat only, especially as it is only available for two months on download only, and then not in all territories.

Compressed files aside, Cult fans will be intrigued. It shows a contrast in production vision, revealing the foundations for the resultant Rock record. The rough-edged Goss taking the band into sonic areas they’d not visited for sometime, a stripped down feel creating gaps for the bass to breathe. It’s almost a two-for-one offer giving fans an option on their preferred Cult sound, but the decision to have Bob Rock’s version as the principal release was the right Choice of Weapon.

The Choice Of Weapon review can be read here, Wolves, wilderness, life and death.

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