Only 25 years late, I have finally acquired the Cult’s Ceremony CD, thanks to my kind and generous reader Wardy. I somehow missed this album all those years, even though I own all the singles. There are some songs here that are completely new to me. Ceremony received mixed reviews when it was released, as it represented the band’s furthest move away from their roots, into commercial radio rock. Let’s see how accurate that is.
It starts sounding more like some lost Deep Purple album, with big organ and jammy sounds. Richie Zito co-produced this disc, and the band got a sharper sound out of the studio than they did with Bob Rock last time. Sonically, Ceremony has more impact, more heft, more oomph than the big and echoey Sonic Temple. The “Ceremony” in question on the title track is the rock arena, as the Cult had definitely become arena rock. They had also been reduced to a core duo. Jamie Stewart and Matt Sorum were gone, and the Cult used session musicians during this period. Charlie Drayton (bass) and Mickey Curry (drums) helped the band achieve what sounds like a very sincere crack at this kind of rock. Accessible it is, but the Cult didn’t really sell out. Check out the frantic “Wild Hearted Son”. Like the sound of a stampede of horses across the plains, “Wild Hearted Son” does not let up. I think I lot of fans were disappointed that the new Cult sound wasn’t more esoteric, but that doesn’t make it bad.
Just as relentless as “Wild Hearted Son” comes the “Earth Mofo”. One thing I had never really paid attention to before was the bass. Drayton’s get some great bass chops. The production of Ceremony leaves a lot of space between the instruments, so you can hear them. Those who find Sonic Temple overproduced may dig on this, so give “Earth Mofo” a spin. That’s nothing though compared to the powerful “White”. Epic in scope, “White” is a massive groove with layers of acoustic instruments a-la Zep.
I didn’t see the tender sound of “If” coming, just piano and Ian’s crooning. Not after all that heavy hitting rock. But then “If” also explodes into something bigger, anthemic and memorable. I’m starting to think that if Ceremony got a bad rap back in ’91, it’s because people weren’t paying proper attention.
“Full Tilt” is a great name for a rock song. Riffed out with generous helpings of rock sauce, “Full Tilt” was reported to have knocked a picture of at least one journalist’s wall.* Just wait until the afterburners ignite in the last minute of the song. Strangely, the very next track is the acoustic ballad “Heart of Soul”; a good song indeed but not as great as “Edie (Ciao Baby)” was. Back to the rock, “Bankok Rain” lacks the charisma that the rest of the tunes seem to have in common, though there is certainly nothing wrong with it’s staggering riff. By the end you won’t care, because the whole thing burns like fire and gasoline until all the fuel is spent.
A fascinating Cult song is “Indian”, a basic acoustic song with cello accompaniment. As Cult ballads go, this is definitely a peak moment. Ian infuses more passion into one line than most singers can do in a whole song. Unexpectedly, the album moves right on to another ballad, “Sweet Salvation”, which is actually less a ballad and more a soul song. It’s powerful, as are all these songs in their own ways. Ian Astbury breaks out the Morrison poetry jams to kick off the ending track, “Wonderland”, a riff driven slow broil.
That’s the album, and it’s hard to gauge where it sits among the whole Cult catalogue. Certainly, this and Sonic Temple are brother records. They are stylistically more similar than Cult albums tend to be. Ceremony possesses track after track of scorching rock music. Does it make as strong an impression as the bombastic Sonic Temple? Not quite. By stripping the production to a more sparse and live sound, perhaps the Cult sacrificed the nuances. Ceremony gleams shiny with amped up guitars and drums aplenty. It is hard to find fault. It is still a fine album.
* That’s a true story, but I can’t remember what magazine I read it in. The reviewer said, quote “‘Full Tilt’ knocked a picture off my wall.”