I am young again. I am skinny and long-haired and tight-jeaned and cowboy-booted.
This is because in my head, and on my iPod, and in my car stereo, I have Choice of Weapon, the first Cult album since 1989’s Sonic Temple that didn’t make me say “Sure, they’re my favourite band, and it’s good to have a new record, but …”
There are two kinds of Cult albums: Billy music and Ian music. When Astbury has his way, the music is trippy, atmospheric, cinematic. When Duffy forces his hand, the tracks are bigger, louder and more ferocious, all about the riff, with everything else secondary.
Choice of Weapon is the first Cult record in decades that manages to capture both mens’ passions. Not since Love, in 1985, has Astbury’s esoteric snarl meshed so perfectly with Duffy’s Gretsch-grinding guitar work.
The songs on Choice of Weapon remind me most of Love, largely because of the way they insinuate themselves. There are few huge hooks here, but a lot of great little moments, whether vocal or guitar, hidden usually in the bridges of the album’s tracks.
Bombast? Yeah. Lots. The Wolf, Pale Horse, Honey from a Knife, Lucifer and first single For The Animals are raw, raunchy rock, and listening to them offers a glimpse of what 2007’s rushed Born Into This might have been able to achieve.
Turning away from the rough-from-the-floor sound of Born Into This (and, by extension, 1987’s Electric), The Cult has wrapped its tattooed arms around the studio tricks and effects layering that made Love and 1989’s Sonic Temple work so well. There are little reminders, too, like the jukey piano lick in For The Animals, a direct lift from Sonic Temple’s New York City, and little desert-rock tributes to Duffy’s skeleton spider guitar on Dreamtime, the 1984 album that launched the band while also managing to sound like it was made by a totally different crew of dudes.
The desert sound is honest this time around, as the band worked with Chris Goss, frontman of Masters of Reality, a band I like almost as much as The Cult. Goss, who produced Astbury’s slick solo CD (you really should seek it out) is the mastermind behind the Palm Desert scene (Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, etc.) and he brings that esthetic to Choice of Weapon in a big way.
This involves envoking big, wide skies, heat, crashing waters and passion, both through Astbury’s lyrics and Duffy’s playing. Astbury is better here than he’s been since the 80s; rougher, angrier, his trademark yelping toned down to something solemn and dark. There are no “Baby baby baby” chants here. “I came to you with love in my heart,” from For The Animals, carries a weary weight that Astbury has always seemed to be trying for. The man has been through a lot, and he finally sounds like the bluesman he’s always wanted to be.
And Duffy … this man can do no wrong on guitar, if you ask me. He sounds amazing even when playing on pure bona fide Cult garbage like Gone (from the band’s self-titled 1994 disc) or Sweet Salvation (from Ceremony, a song I listen to only because my cousin Donny Gerrard sings backup on it, and even then, it’s a challenge). Duffy knows that space can say more than noise, and he knows how to keep it simple, so we get big riffy songs like The Wolf and Pale Rider that have as much air as riffage, and they work.
Rhythm section: This is the first time the Astbury/Duffy team has produced two consecutive albums with the same bassist and drummer. Chris Wyse and John Tempesta know enough to hang back and do what has to be done without getting in the way, and they sound solid here.
Goss didn’t wrap production on Choice of Weapon; the band took the work they’d done with him and paid a visit to old crony Bob Rock, the Canadian pop star, super-producer and all-around cool cat. And it’s that combination, that rare mix of Goss, Rock, Astbury, Duffy, Wyse, Tempesta and, of course, my stuck-in-the-past musical tastes, that makes Choice of Weapon my album of the year. And it’s only May.