The Cult’s high voltage album sparked back to life with Electric 13

The Cult band WP“I’d like the band to play Electric live, get the original line up back together, Les Warner, everyone,” dreamed Loz, a tattooist in Brisbane’s West End. This was 2006, seven years later Loz almost has his wish.

The Cult have announced Electric 13, a world tour playing their platinum selling rock behemoth in its full, big haired, windmilling arms, Steel Panther influencing, glorious racket whole. Minus Les Warner though, who was last seen trudging off with a drum kit between his legs which the band gave him as a payoff in late ‘87.

Electric 13 brings The Cult to Australia for the first time since 2010 when they toured Love Live, a replaying of their Love album. Since that visit the band released and comprehensively toured the storming Choice of Weapon, a raucous return to the studio reviewed here. And now the boys are on the road again. Have you no homes to go to?

The Cult’s life blood has always been playing live, we are between albums and decided to continue the momentum created by Choice Of Weapon, stay in people’s hearts and minds.” – Ian Astbury.

But The Cult are a touring band and have for many years been as lethal a live act as any one the rock circuit. They know what they have to do and deliver with their hands on their crotch, fists in the air, knowing it looks ridiculous but is, in all reality, an insane amount of fun.

But it wasn’t always the case. Steve Brown had produced the sessions for Peace in 1986, the follow up to the acclaimed Love LP, amid increasing hostility between Astbury and Duffy, who, claimed bassist Jamie Stewart, were “evolving into different people.” This lead to Duffy working in daylight hours and Astbury preferred the moon for company, and his Stonesian back to basics vision was becoming obscured. Astbury stated at the time, “I was more wigged out on the romanticism of it, the feel and the taste,” which lead to asking Brown to record an opening door as it ‘sounded like a dolphin.’

The Cult were on the eve of releasing Peace but wanted Love Removal Machine remixed for a single release, and were considering Bill Price. With the record in the can singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy headed to the CMJ Music Awards to collect a gong for best song, the perennial student disco classic She Sells Sanctuary. Rick Rubin, leader of Def Jam and Beastie Boys cajoler of their rock to rap trip, was also in attendance. They eventually got talking and Rubin took to them like a shark to kicking legs and agreed to remix ‘Love Removal Machine.’

peace dog WPIn late November 1986, Astbury and Duffy flew to New York with the mastertapes. Rubin, however, was unmoved by the muddle of overdubs, the mosaic of Billy’s effect-laden guitars, the horns and the backing singers. He gave the band another, more radical option; re-record Love Removal Machine and a few others from scratch. To sound like AC/DC or Led Zep, they had to start again. In Electric Ladyland the superfluous layers were peeled back leaving the raw flesh of the songs long since muffled with overdubs. The elongated, freewheeling psychedelia of Love reined in to three and four minute radio friendly, hard hitting slabs of rock.

Rubin pushed, almost bullied, for change. This was an environment where Jimmy Page ruled, Free and Lynyrd Skynyrd were not frowned upon. Billy’s multi-layed guitar was distilled down to lean riffs and he spent three uncomfortable hours getting the bend on L’il Devil just right. Wild Flower is now a start me up slap across the cheek compared to the bloated buzzing it was earlier. Peace Dog was so grandiose it practically took up one side of vinyl but the shortened Electric version has a snappy, vicious bite. When you finish Conquistador there’s a cloudy, muddled feeling in the mind as the songs begin to bleed into one, and this is where the problems lay. After the success of Love, instead of refining the sound, the band turned the same ingredients up to eleven and created a rather leaden, stodgy pudding.

As stand alone songs it all sounded fine, but as a whole is was too similar. If played on the new vinyl edition I’d suggest sliding the treble up. Who was responsible for the mix I do not know, but the band obviously weren’t happy. Listening now it was just noise with some guitar work and Ian’s vocals offering a difference between tracks. Rubin recognised the songs had a foundation so got the band to build them up again.

Within 19 days and 16 hour sessions, Rubin and The Cult had re-recorded the entire album.

Electric was a perfectly timed fusion of Electric sleeve WPBritish and American rock culture, a stripped down, straight up, no frills rock album. The biker imagery giving The Cult a harder look, stepping away from their gothic, post punk aesthetic, their new blade-like logo cementing the danger – something else to thank Rubin for. It is this directness that appealed to audiences both sides of the Atlantic leading to multi-million sales, high charting singles and apocalyptic mammoth tours.

But the quest for their inner Valkyrie almost tore them apart. At the conclusion of the world tour, and the band barely in existence, they severed ties with their management, sacked Warner and touring guitarist Kid Chaos, and relocated to L.A., hurting, under attack from critics and heavily in debt.

So why revisit the songs, especially the cover of Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild? In a recent interview Astbury validated the decision: “‘Love Live’ was such an incredible experience, we have decided that performing the ‘Electric’ album, an event that has been demanded by our fans and followers as the perfect live set to play in 2013.”

It’ll certainly make one Brisbane tattooist very happy.

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