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”.)
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.
*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.