REVIEW: The Cult – Sonic Temple (1989)

By special request of reader Wardy!

THE CULT – Sonic Temple (1989 Polygram limited edition hologram cover)

The Cult went into 1989’s Sonic Temple with nothing but promise.  New hotshot producer Bob Rock had struck it rich with Kingdom Come the year before.  Critics raved about his drum sound and other Zeppish tendencies on that album.  The Cult themselves were following up the incendiary Electric album, a stripped back record produced by Rick Rubin.  Anticipation ran high.  Considering that Robert Plant was quoted as saying that “Led Zeppelin is being continued by The Mission and The Cult”, I think a few people expected Sonic Temple to be the second coming.

Some fans hoping for another Electric or even another Love were disappointed by the mainstream rock direction of Sonic Temple.  Mainstream though it may be, Sonic Temple burns with the same middle finger up attitude of old Cult, just with the edges sanded off and sound enhanced by Bob Rock.  Rock’s production is similar to that of Dr. Feelgood released the same year.

You couldn’t ask for a better double-whammy than the opening salvo of “Sun King” and “Fire Woman”.  Even though The Cult were able to score a major hit with “Fire Woman” it’s still a tough little song based on a killer Billy Duffy guitar hook.  Both songs have aged well, as has “American Horse”, a slow Cult stomper.  I love the interplay on the verse riff between Duffy and bassist Jamie Stewart.  Stewart, a member since the band became The Cult, departed after this tour and moved to Canada.  Here he produced a few up and coming bands such as Gut-Sonic.  I think Jamie Stewart was the underappreciated Cult member.  His grooves (with session drummer Mickey Curry*) are a part of Sonic Temple‘s drive.

The big hit ballad was the dramatic “Edie (Ciao Baby)”.  Here they really benefit from Bob Rock’s lush rock production values.  Strings and acoustics ring crisp.  Add in a howlin’ Ian Astbury chorus and you have one hell of a song.

“Sweet Soul Sister” was the third single (after “Fire Woman” and “Edie”) and another killer Cult song it is. You can really hear Bob Rock’s touch on the layered vocals for better or worse. It’s a touch that I find dated today, but the bare organ intro is magical! Unfortunately it gets dicey after “Sweet Soul Sister”.

I wouldn’t call any of the songs that follow “Sweet Soul Sister” poor or filler. None of them lack hooks or massive Billy Duffy guitars. Yet compared to the first side of the album, everything from “Soul Asylum” onwards fails to ignite like that. There are certainly lots of memorable moments, such as the breakneck “New York City” featuring an Iggy Pop cameo. It’s a good song, and so is “Soldier Blue” and the rest of the tunes…just not as good as side one. (By the way, if any song on Sonic Temple recalls Led Zeppelin, it the massive “Soul Asylum”, which is basically The Cult’s “Kashmir”.)

SONIC TEMPLE_0002

My copy of Sonic Temple is a limited edition with mirrored hologram cover. I bought it from this guy Todd, who worked at the HMV store at the mall. A buddy of mine had a crush on his sister, or something, and that’s how I knew him. He treated me right when I shopped at his store, and I returned the favour when he sold his stuff to us. That’s how I got this, and also how I got the Sonic Temple Collection 3 CD set complete with mail-away box.

I still like Sonic Temple today, but I only love side one.

3.75/5 stars

*Eric Singer played on the demos, released as part of the Rare Cult Demos box set.  Ex-Tori Amos drummer Matt Sorum appeared in the music videos and played on the tour, where he fatefully met Guns N’ Roses, and the rest was history.

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44 comments

    1. Hey thanks!!! Sorry it’s hard to keep up…I’ve been pondering dropping the frequency of my posts in the near future. I really love posting something new and fresh every day but in the real world, I’m running out of backlogged material to use!

      I would like this on vinyl personally, although I think the vinyl is short one track. I MAY be wrong!

      Thanks so much for the comment!

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  1. Smashin’ review, Mike. I was actually listening to this earlier and I enjoy it loads. Particularly the first half … tremendous stuff on there. A slight dip in the second half, but it’s still a really great bunch of songs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you J! Great bunch of songs indeed. Early Cult was fairly consistent. I’m glad to have revisited Sonic Temple. Now I need to do the same for Love, of which I have a 4 CD version…

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      1. Ah! Now that’s one I don’t have … nor have I heard it, actually. I only have the three (others being Electric and Beyond Good and Evil). I’ll look forward to reading about Love!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I could probably do a Love review. I’m taking a break this week though. I spent the last 10 days or so preparing my next series so I’m gonna just relax and enjoy the music for a bit.

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        2. It’s probably Monday somewhere!

          Yeah hope you like it. It’s not as big as my Kiss or Iron Maiden series. It’s not as detailed as my Van Halen series. But it was fun and fresh to me.

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        3. You may have told me that, but I may have thought you were just trying to be nice!

          That one was a labour of love, a lot of passion went into it, so thank you.

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        4. Not at all – I hadn’t ever bothered with Van Halen until that point. A friend gave me a best of (Both Worlds, I think) and I was all “mnah”. The series spurred me to check out the first album, though – man, it’s a favourite. Even went out and bought the record!

          Liked by 1 person

        5. Yeah their best-ofs have yet to be perfected. It’s a shame how they have really kind of refused to make a GOOD best of!

          That first album is something. I’m sure a lot of boys lost their air-guitar virginity to it.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m probably newer to this album than most here. I totally agree with you. It’s the front half that sells this. And I loved Popoff’s description of the production as being “carsick”. I totally get that. Don’t what it is but this album always leaves me feeling a bit woozy. Like I might boak.

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        1. Ain’t no sucker, ain’t no fool, just talkin’ about the automatic bluue-uuue-uuuues!

          Ring any bells?

          That bugs me — you bought the 7″ single and just got an album track B-side. That sucks!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Sorry, I’d help if I could, Mike, but I’ve only ever seen you play air guitar to KISS in Sonic Boom. You didn’t sing, that day.

          Haha that was on a deep cut from Monster, too. You know I still never bought that one?

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  3. Ha! I love side 2 …for sure Soul Asylum is a Kashmir rip but I just love the big sonics as it twirls and swirls around the musical stratosphere and just pulls Ya back right into NYC …..boom now we’re riding Shotgun with Iggy and Ian and headed into Hells Kitchen and were not gonna make it back ….hahaha…
    No! I’m not high!
    Seriously though I really dug this record and I do like Side 2! Medicine Train is perhaps one of my all time fav Cult tunes! Sure the album is perhaps cooked a bit sonically but that was the times.
    I wish they would have had that awesome drum snare hi hat mix like they did on Electric! Just love how Peace Dog sounds on Electric…..those drums…..

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    1. Fair enough buddy! One thing I love is your perspective on albums we both like. We often go to different songs. I learned that as I was working on some of my upcoming reviews :)

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    1. Soldier Blue was supposed to be the 4th single. They had cover art made for it and everything! But the art didn’t go to waste, the used it for the Best of Rare Cult CD.

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  4. That is a dandy of a Hologram cover version! I love ‘Sonic Temple’ and you listed all the right reasons as to why I do. I used to have the (very large) promo poster for this album, I got it for free at a chain called ‘Strawberries Records & Tapes’ (that is now defunct). The poster I no longer have and wish I did. Fantastic write-up! \m/

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    1. I was thrilled to get it. Still don’t know much about it — where it was available, for how long, in what numbers. I was lucky to work in a place that things like this fell into my lap, literally. But then again I did the work of building the connections with the customers like this guy.

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  5. Firstly yes, the vinyl version (my preferred version and the sublime cover art better in stereo size too!) misses Medicine Train, albeit that was advertised as the CD exclusive bonus back when released anyhows.

    And of course thanks for getting this one reviewed Mike. Musta missed it in my inbox although busy as heck lately so perhaps then it only fair then I suggest one or two reviews a week from you would suffice anyhoo considering the few days we here seem to take in discussing such album reviews hmmm?

    While an instant fan of Sonic Temple must admit it took some years to hook line sinker the ears proper. So can appreciate the buzz surrounding side 1 as it certainly was hard to get past those first couple openers in particular (is that Sun King intro and tune one of the best examples of high class 80’s excellence? You bethca!) Fire Woman has lost none of its touch nor ANY of the songs about side 1 (and I mean Eddie, right there is the Cult peaking in the songwriting dept right?).

    But the years have indeed been kinda to this one and count me in a fan also of Sonic Temple both sides in equal abundance, love me some of that fat bottomed Soul Asylum, and New York City is all kindsa hot cruise with windows down and stereo blasting. Suffice to say here DownUnder it’s rare not to listen to this record in full on full each and every time \m/

    Be aware though this hasn’t been remastered like is advertised about the place, re-issued yes and with sweet booklet but NOT yet remastered…

    Woulda rated this a 4 back in its day, but they rarely if ever make albums like this anymore so can’t go less than a tasty 4.5 fer these ears baby whoah!

    Thanks Mike was a blast ;)

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  6. I never owned this one, but had the Fire Woman cassette single! Yep! I played that until I wore it out! :) And I am acquainted with the album because my sis had it. Great review, Mike!

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  7. I love this album. I’d probably give it 9/10. Must be one of Bob Rock’s best productions ever. Funnily enough, I just read a three page article and interview with sound engineer Mike Fraser in Sweden Rock Magazine and he brought recording this album up and how the differences between Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy added to the dynamics of the record. Very cool reading indeed.
    Really cool that you mentioned Rock’s work with Kingdom Come as well. People tend to forget that he produced a lot of cool records besides his most famous work with Metallica, Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi – like Little Caesar and Blue Murder.

    Oh, what did you think of Ceremony? Any chance of a review?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Really? You missed out, bro. It’s darker and a bit heavier than this one, but man, that album is really, really great. Very much more than what the singles might say to you.
        I highly recommend it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Alright, fair enough. The nice thing is even if I miss out it’s never too late to pick it up.

          Damn…you know what?? I’m looking at my collection here. It appears I have damn near everything they ever released…except Ceremony. I have two box sets…I have a dozen singles or more…I have a live album and two greatest hits…and every studio album except one. Hell I even have Southern Death Cult.

          Gotta fix that.

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        2. Haha. That’s funny. What are the odds? Any idea why you never bought it?
          Did you buy the albums after Ceremony? Their self-titled grunge record. Between Good & Evil? The two latest ones, whaddaretheirnames?

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  8. Hey Mike, following on from yours and e-tainment’s discussion did you end up getting yer copy of Ceremony? Wasn’t a fan of it either (thought it tried too hard to be SonicTemple II and still think that), but years of dabbling with it revealed much to like in songs such as the excellent IF, White, Earth Mofo (great song title that), Indian and of course the excellent Heart Of Soul…

    Yeah, so would also love to get yer take on Ceremony when ya have a spare few hours HA ☺

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    1. I still don’t have it! Having been out so long Ceremony didn’t find itself very high on my “need” list. I have the three singles, which have most of the good tracks. White, Earth Mofo, etc.

      Maybe since I can’t do the album (yet) I could do the White EP and some of the singles.

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