The 90s were a weird time. For all intents and purposes, one of the biggest bands in the world was gone: Guns N’ Roses. We had to settle for solo albums from Duff, Slash, Gilby and Izzy.
Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan teamed up with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, and John Taylor from Duran Duran, to form the punky supergroup Neurotic Outsiders. They made one album. One and done! But what an album it was. We’ll be discussing all this and more tonight on Grant’s Rock Warehaus!
7:00 PM EST
I just want to send all my support and love to California Girl today as she completes her marathon that she has spent months preparing for! I know she was nervous and I’m hoping today goes as brilliant as possible for her. I got your back California Girl! (No, she’s not running in the silver boots, unfortunately!)
SLASH’S SNAKEPIT – It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (1995 Geffen)
Somewhere in the multiverse is an alternate reality where Axl Rose did not reject Slash’s songs for the next Guns album. In that version of history, the new Guns N’ Roses was not titled Chinese Democracy; perhaps it was called Back and Forth Again. And it would have sounded a lot like It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, the debut album by Slash’s Snakepit that we received in our reality’s year 1995.
As it went down, Axl said “no” to the songs Slash had finished, so Slash put them out as his first solo album. And then Axl wanted them back. In 1994, on the VHS The Making of Estranged: Part 4 of Trilogy, you can hear Guns working on one of these songs. In the background, the music that would eventually become Slash’s “Back and Forth Again” is playing with Axl whistling overtop. In the alternate reality, somebody’s listening to it right now as a Guns N’ Roses song. In ours, it will only be Slash’s Snakepit.
Although Slash was enthused about his new music, and was eager to make a raw bluesy rock n’ roll album, Axl had other plans. Who was right in the end? It’s hard not to see Axl’s point of view. Slash’s 14 songs had just one hit and 13 fillers. Most of the best GN’R tracks were not written by Slash; they were written by Izzy Stradlin. Left to his own devices, Slash’s batch of songs here lack memorable hooks.
Let’s start on a positive note at least — the lead single “Beggars & Hangers-On”. Written by Slash n’ Duff with lead singer Eric Dover, this is a song that any band from Skynyrd to the Crowes to Zeppelin to Guns N’ Roses would have been proud to play. Check out that riff — it’s as regal as the blues gets. Powerful and soulful aching vocals from Dover. The chorus roars, bright and bold, and you could only imagine what Axl could have done with it. Matt Sorum’s drums splash at all the right moments, in his trademark fashion. It’s a damn perfect song. And it made people really excited for the album that was to come, Guns or no Guns.
Well, there were some Guns. Slash had been working with Matt Sorum and the recently fired Gilby Clarke. On bass was Mike Inez from Alice in Chains. Though not in the Snakepit lineup, Slash also imported Dizzy Reed and Ted “Zig Zag” Andreadis from GN’R. With those players, it sure sounded like Guns. Only Dover really differentiates them. Dover…and the songs.
There are fragments of brilliance through the whole record. The acoustic intro to “Neither Can I” for example. The circular snaky riff to the manic “Be the Ball” (not to mention Slash’s lyrics, which seem to be his personal life philosophy). The boogie-woogie of instrumental “Jizz Da Pit”. The wicked Inez bass on on Gilby Clarke’s “Monkey Chow”. The Aerosmith vibe to “I Hate Everybody (But You)”.
And it’s a long album. 70 minutes of solid rock without a lot of variation. Which is one reason why Slash’s 14 songs wouldn’t have cut it for Guns in 1995. Appetite for Destruction had a variety of different songs on it, even if all shared a go-for-the-throat ferocity. Slash did get the straightforward live sounding rock album he desired. The guitars sound absolutely thick and offer a hint of what Slash and Gilby would have sounded like together on an original Guns studio album (like naturals).
It’s just a damn shame Slash’s solo debut is so disappointing. It bears witness that Axl might not have been wrong. You could make a hell of a GN’R album* out of the best tracks its members came up with. But this isn’t it.
“November Rain” was played live for the first time by Guns N’ Roses on this day in 1991.
GUNS N’ ROSES – Dramas & Traumas (Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN, May 29 1991 – Deep Records bootleg CD)
The market is littered with live Guns N’ Roses bootlegs from the Use Your Illusion tour. The band’s own official Use Your Illusion World Tour Live in Tokyo VHS tapes are an ideal source of live music from their biggest tour. But what many fans seek is an earlier show, before Izzy Stradlin went his own way and was replaced by Gilby Clarke. Nothing against Gilby, but Izzy only lasted about six months and has been missed ever since. This bootleg is from the seventh show on the tour, when the material was new, unheard, and rough. Some of the songs were dropped or rarely played later on.
Audio is average as far as bootlegs go; it’s an audience tape job with some occasional issues. The set is complete. “Double Talkin’ Jive” is unlisted, hidden within the larger “Patience” track. It is also the historic live debut of “November Rain”. Opening with “Right Next Door to Hell”, which was dropped by the start of ’92, the energy is high. Axl takes no mercy on the demanding song, giving 100%, especially on the obligatory “fuck you”!
Guns wisely played familiar songs mixed in with the new stuff. The albums would not be out for over three months. Axl asks if the audience wants to go dancin’, which means “Mr. Brownstone” is up next, a low energy version comparatively. It might be too easy to blame the new guy Matt Sorum, but you do notice the lack of Steven Adler when you think about it. Back to new tracks, it’s the bluesy “Bad Obsession” which Axl explains was written long before “Brownstone”. Slash rips out the slide guitar and Axl gets distracted by a hottie. It’s the first audible appearance of another new member — keyboardist Dizzy Reed on piano. Later on, Axl makes a big point of announcing that Dizzy is, contrary to some media reports, “a goddamn a-fuckin’ official member of the band!”
Regarding live debut of “November Rain”, Guns didn’t have a setlist. Axl just called out the songs, feeling out the crowd. According to Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan in a later interview by Dan Gallagher of MuchMusic:
Matt – “Axl said ‘November Rain’, and we hadn’t played it since we recorded it…in July! In front of 20,000 people, we’re going, ‘Uh, do you remember how that goes?’ Damn near a year ago we cut this track.”
Duff – “And he has this grand piano, that raises up out of the stage. And all of a sudden the piano raises up and we’re going, ‘What the hell is that…’“
You can almost hear the fear. Sorum tentatively taps the cymbals, but doesn’t miss his cue when it’s time to come crashing in. Axl mentions he can barely remember the words, but only flubs a couple. Slash’s first solo nails most of the big hooks, while the second is more improvisational. They all struggle a bit on the outro, but damn — they did it!
After “November Rain”, a microphone catches Slash saying, “A fucking curve ball, man!”
The two most significant tracks are the two sung by Izzy that were necessarily dropped when he left: “Dust N’ Bones”, and “14 Years”. Both feature raspy, Keef-like lead vocals from the guitarist. These two tracks are very good reasons to want an early set like this.
There are long solos, intros and outros, and all the stuff you expect from a Guns N’ Roses show. The solos had yet to evolve into the forms they would take by the time they hit Tokyo, though the “Godfather” theme has its place. They play a bit of Rod Stewart’s “I Was Only Joking” as part of the “Patience” intro, and of course “Only Women Bleed” before “Heaven’s Door”. The “Voodoo Chile” lick always works well going into “Civil War”. It’s also interesting to hear how the songs started out early on tour. “Civil War” seems a bit shaky in the start, but goes nuclear by the end.
The main set ends on “Perfect Crime” and the encores consist of “Estranged”, “Sweet Child”, “Jungle” and “Paradise”. A pretty slam-dunk way to send ’em home. Unlike “November Rain”, “Estranged” was already humming like a well-tuned car by this time.
The two bonus tracks are interesting curiosities from the 1989 MTV music video awards. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers performed “Free Falling” and “Heartbreak Hotel” with Axl Rose. They are here as a little bit of added value, but make no mistake — it’s just Axl from the band, nobody else.
As mentioned earlier, there are some sonic anomalies of the type that usually come with bootlegs. The disc goes silent for very brief moments during “Right Next Door to Hell”. Not a deal breaker considering the rest is very listenable.
Use Your Illusion wasn’t even out yet, but Guns N’ Roses were two solid weeks into a tour chock full of new and old music. MuchMusic’s Dan Gallagher talked with Duff McKagan and new member Matt Sorum before their show on June 7 in Toronto. Was there an album really coming?
MuchMusic was into adding strange visual effects to their videos in the early 90s. That choppy visual is not mine. That is from the source broadcast.
Axl Rose had hurt his ankle and was giving the injury a stretch, riding around backstage on a bike. Stay tuned to the end! I hope that was gum.
“Popping the question” with Matt Sorum.
The broad appeal of Guns N’ Roses.
Unexpectedly playing “November Rain” for the first time in a year in front of 20,000 people.
HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – Rise (2019 Edel Japanese edition) – Discs 2 & 3 Live
How do you do a Japanese edition up right? How about including 21 bonus tracks in the form of a double live album? Get your credit cards out, folks.
Hollywood Vampires Live unfortunately lacks any English documentation, but Japanese readers might know when and where this show was recorded. It focuses on the covers with a handful of originals, the basis of the first Hollywood Vampires album. Unfortunately a few more fallen heroes have been added to the list of rock casualties, and so Lemmy and Bowie are among the stars honoured.
The original tune “Raise the Dead” (featuring an intro by the late Sir Christopher Lee) opens the show, but it’s just preamble for the better known covers. “I Got A Line On You” is the first track where you realize you’re listening to Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses, The Cult) on drums. He’s unmistakable. The big surprise is that the bassist is Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots)! Alice first covered this tune back in ’88 and it sounds like it’s one of his own songs now. “20th Century Boy” has bite, a little more than the studio cut.
Alice pauses to explain the concept of the band. “We are the Hollywood Vampires,” he asserts. “We pay homage to all of our dead drunk friends. And here comes one now.” It’s Keith Moon and “Pinball Wizard”, a Who cover that was not on the Hollywood Vampires’ debut album. “My Generation” was however, and here it’s injected with the live fire of the sweaty concert stage. Jimi Hendrix is honoured next with “Manic Depression”. Joe Perry playing Jimi Hendrix. Cool. Alice Cooper has no problem jumping from style to style, expert performer that he is.
“This one’s for John,” states Alice. That would be John Lennon, with both “Cold Turkey” and “Come Together”. Joe Perry, of course, is no stranger to “Come Together” which Aerosmith scored a hit with themselves. “Come Together” is another nice bonus because it wasn’t on the Vampires album. It has a different feel from Aerosmith’s take even though it’s the same guitar player.
“Seven and Seven Is” (by Arthur Lee and Love) goes next, which is a late addition to the canon. The Vampires recorded it as an iTunes bonus track for the debut album where it remains an exclusive. The live version is a blitz; Matt Sorum’s sticks must have caught fire. Contrasting that is the band’s interpretation of “Whole Lotta Love”, with Alice and Tommy Henriksen singing lead instead of Brian Johnson.
“I met these guys in 1968. They were my best friends. And I drank a little bit with Jim Morrison…” The Doors are next to be saluted. “Five to One” and “Break On Through” kick ass; Alice really gives ‘er. David Bowie gets the nod on “Rebel Rebel” and “Suffragette City”. It all sounds natural to the Hollywood Vampires.
“As Bad As I Am” is an original song about Johnny Depp, and another track that was only on the iTunes version of Hollywood Vampires. It sounds a bit like “Reckless Life” by Guns N’ Roses. Joe Perry takes the next lead vocal on “Stop Messin’ Around”, the old Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac blues number. It’s an obvious choice since Aerosmith covered it on their 2004 blues album Honkin’ on Bobo. This one is an extended jam, far beyond what Aerosmith did with it.
“My Dead Drunk Friends” is a Vampires original, sort of their raison d’etre, that being paying tribute to Alice’s deceased drinking buddies. It pales in comparison to “Ace of Spades” (lead vocals by Henriksen), easily the heaviest song that Joe Perry’s ever played on. Possibly Alice too. Check out DeLeo on bass, doing his best Lemmy. It’s sad that Lemmy Kilmister joined the list of Rainbow regulars who didn’t make it, but holy shit, what a version!
Only now, at the end of the concert, do the Vampires roll out their own past hits. “I’m Eighteen”, “Sweet Emotion”, “Train Kept A Rollin'” and “School’s Out” sound brilliant. In particular, to hear “I’m Eighteen” with Joe Fucking Perry playing guitar? “Sweet Emotion” with Alice Cooper singing? Sweet Jesus Murphy, is this a fever dream? As usual, Alice melds “Another Brick in the Wall” to “School’s Out” pretty much making it the definitive “school” song.
Closing the show, Alice reminds us: “And remember, give blood! To us!”
If the Vampires keep putting out quality releases, then that’s a distinct possibility.
GUNS N’ ROSES – Use Your Illusion I&Use Your Illusion II (1991 Geffen)
In my review for Guns N’ Roses’ smashing debut Appetite For Destruction, I stated that “Appetite is great, but Illusions are better”. A strong and controversial statement. How could I say such a thing?
Use Your Illusion I and II are a case of “Bigger, Better, Faster, More!” Consider:
Certainly in terms of length, Illusions are far bigger: 2 hours and 32 minutes compared to 53 minutes for Appetite. I concede that the Illusions albums have far more filler than Appetite. Given that the grand total of awesome material on Illusions still exceeds the length of Appetite, I think “Bigger” is a given. They made us wait and wait and wait, but they made it worth our while. You can’t always say that for Guns N’ Roses.
Guns N’ Roses’ lineup was “new and improved!” in 1991. Original drummer Steven Adler was given the boot due to severe issues with substances, replaced by Matt Sorum, who they knew from The Cult. I won’t argue that Matt Sorum is a “better” drummer than Steven Adler, because they are too different. Regardless of this, Sorum was able to expand Guns’ rhythmical pallette. He could play things Adler could not at the time, such as “You Could Me Mine” and “Double Talkin’ Jive”. As for the core members, each of them expanded their own talents on these albums. Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin were now lead vocalists on a few tracks. Slash’s guitar playing grew exponentially. Izzy blossomed as a songwriter with some of Guns’ most diverse material. And Axl Rose really got into the piano, contributing a ton of it, and even the techno influence that would later evolve into Chinese Democracy. His vocal stylings also expanded, with more use of his lower voice. Everybody had gotten…better.
It’s possible that “Right Next Door to Hell” is the fastest Guns track ever recorded. “Perfect Crime” and “Garden of Eden” also qualify.
Guns expanded their official lineup to a six piece with the arrival of keyboardist Dizzy Reed. They also had plenty of special guests: Alice Cooper*, Michael Monroe, and a guy named Shannon Hoon from the then-unknown Blind Melon. Hoon appeared in the “Don’t Cry” music video. Steven Adler was even on “Civil War”, one of the earliest tracks finished. How’s that for more? Not enough? Throw on some orchestras, then.
Of course the weakness to this argument is the old saying that “less is more”, and that theory holds water. Ultimately, it comes down to taste. Do you prefer the nuclear assault of Appetite, or the complex stew of Illusions? Fortunately, you don’t have to choose. You can buy and love them all.
We reviewers, however, are not afforded such luxury. We are expected to rate these things and answer tough questions about why. I cannot deny how I feel about the Illusions albums. I think II tops I, but from first listen, these albums were very special. The ambition, the indulgence, and the time paid off on these albums.
Breaking it down, there are numerous top tier bonafide classics on Use Your Illusion I and II. I think if you boiled the album down to these basic original tracks (colour coded by original album), you’d have a hard time beating it.
Dust N’ Bones
Double Talkin’ Jive
Pretty Tied Up
You Could Be Mine
And look…that’s enough for a perfectly awesome single CD. It doesn’t even include the excellent covers “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die”, both hit singles for Guns. It also excludes dumb but fun stuff like “Get in the Ring”. You know you and your buddies have recited the words. Don’t lie to me!
I always choose to listen to these albums in full, in sequence. I find that to be the best way to go, as they intended it to be.
Appetite showed the world that rock and roll could still be dangerous and loud. The Illusions albums immediately proved that Axl was a hell of a tortured genius. However it’s not a one man show. The dominant songwriter is Izzy Stradlin, with 11 credits on most of the best material. His singing added a Keith Richards rasp to the band’s repertoire as well.
You don’t have to agree with my rating, but I feel that all of the above really overshadows the filler on Use Your Illusion. Some of the material I consider filler were singles. “Dead Horse” and “Garden of Eden” were both hit music videos. The sheer bloat and indulgence of this set was a sharp and delightful contrast to the first waves of back-to-basics grunge bands. It kept Guns on the charts for years.
In a 1991 M.E.A.T Magazine interview, Slash stated that after Appetite, every band in the world copied their style. He challenged bands to try and copy them this time. “To copy us, you’d have to be us.” Slash was correct. Nobody could touch Illusions.
* The story behind the Cooper cameo is that Axl has originally sung all of “The Garden” himself. He sang it in a very Alice Cooper voice, and there was concern it was too close for comfort. So they called up Alice (who they worked with before on “Under My Wheels”) and Alice just nailed “The Garden”.
In 1993 Duff McKagan was not clean yet, at least not for good. It would take a critical medical emergency for him to get close enough to death and stop drinking. The cover of Believe in Me, a skeletal Duff bathing in a martini glass, reflects the last of the old Duff. It was his solo debut, following Izzy but before Slash. Guns’ own Spaghetti Incident? hit the shelves two months later, as the end of the original band creeped on the horizon.
Fans were probably experiencing a bit of Guns overload. Two albums, two live concert video tapes, loads of touring and music videos…Guns were everywhere from 1991-1993 and then it was the dawn of Guns solo albums.
Duff’s solo debut was a grab bag of different styles: punk, rock, funk, jazz and ballads. It was also loaded with rock star guest shots: Lenny Kravitz and Sebastian Bach sang one song a piece. Dave Sabo and Rob Affuso from Skid Row joined Baz on the album while Slash laid down a couple trademark dirty guitar solos. Jeff Beck dropped by, and just about every Guns member except Axl himself contributed.
Despite Duff’s ambition, the best tracks tend to be the rockers. Opener “Believe in Me” was a very Guns-like single: short, sweet, catchy and with a Slash guitar solo to hit it home. “I Love You” isn’t a ballad despite the title, in fact it’s a rocker and perhaps the best tune on the album. “Just Not There” also rides the GN’R train, normally bound for hitsville. Sebastian Bach’s “Trouble” is plenty of fun, and Lenny Kravitz gets angry on “The Majority”. These songs would have made a fine basis for a Guns album, but Axl wasn’t looking for songs that sounded like Guns N’ Roses.
An angry “(Fucked Up) Beyond Belief” (a song birthed from GN’R rehearsals) is noisy punk-rap, while “Fuck You” itself is basically a rock rap song featuring a guy named Doc. “Punk Rock Song” is exactly what it claims to be, but isn’t particularly memorable. The biggest mis-step is the muted trumpet jazz number, “Lonely Tonight”. At least Duff was trying something different, but his vocals and lyrics leave a lot to be desired.
During the period that Guns N’ Roses were inactive or just working behind closed doors, a lot of these solo albums really represented an alternate universe. “What if the original members didn’t leave and instead recorded a new album?” It’s possible these songs or songs like them could have been on that hypothetical album. Instead, Believe in Me was a launch pad for plenty of Duff projects and albums: Neurotic Outsides, 10 Minute Warning, Loaded, Velvet Revolver and many more. Duff has proven that clean and sober, he can be one hell of a prolific songwriter. Believe in Me is a good introduction to the many stylings of Duff McKagan.
25 years ago on this day, millions of fans used their illusions.
1991: First year of university, and I was hard at work on some reading. My sister and my mom were out shopping at the mall. The record store I eventually worked at opened up just that summer. Unbeknownst to me, they popped in on my behalf and returned with a present.
“Mike!” yelled my sister excitedly as they returned home. The dog barked loudly in shrill Schnauzer barks as she talked. “Did you know Guns N’ Roses have TWO NEW ALBUMS OUT?”
I sure did! Use Your Illusion I and II were the long-awaited true followups to Appetite for Destruction. With 30 brand new songs, Guns released the music as two separate but complimentary albums. My sister eagerly handed me a gift: a new cassette copy of Use Your Illusion II!
Why she chose II, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. For this fan, II was the first. I had it a whole week before I caught up and bought Illusion I (again, at the same store I would work at only three years later). It was $10.99. Perhaps because I had the second album a week ahead of the first, I still really prefer II over I. Songs such as “Breakdown”, “Pretty Tied Up”, and “Locomotive” are three of the strongest and most ambitious rock songs on an already strong set. They stand up today as my personal favourites.
The Use Your Illusion albums spawned a combined eight singles: “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, “Civil War”, “You Could Be Mine”, “Don’t Cry”, “Live and Let Die”, “November Rain”, “Yesterdays” and “Estranged”. Additionally, music videos were made for the tracks “Garden of Eden”, “The Garden”, and “Dead Horse”. Guns N’ Roses assaulted all formats as they trounced the world in a two year long world tour, with acts such as Skid Row, Metallica and Faith No More. They even suffered their most devastating lineup change right at the very start of it. Chief songwriter Izzy Stradlin departed in November of 1991, to be replaced shortly after by Gilby Clarke. Although he has made numerous guest appearances since, Izzy has never rejoined Guns N’ Roses.
Did you buy Use Your Illusion I and II 25 years ago today? Do you have a favourite?
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.
When The Cult finally reunited, the rock world rejoiced. It felt like a long time, in that post-grunge wasteland, since the world had been blessed with any new Cult music. Not only had they reunited (with their former drummer Matt Sorum, also formerly of Guns N’ Roses) but they had also reunited with producer Bob Rock, for the third time. Much like his last outing with the band (1994’s The Cult), this Cult album sounds like none before it. This time, The Cult have gone full-bore ground-shaking heavy metal. The template was a song the old band were working on before they split “In the Clouds”, from 1996’s High Octane Cult. The resemblance is uncanny.
“War (The Process)” invites you to the stage. Its weight is astounding; Duffy’s guitars crushing while Sorum attacks his kit as he always has. Duffy’s guitars have acquired a much heavier metallic tone. Bob Rock applies them in layers, which has always worked well for The Cult. When “The Saint” enters, your head could be blown from your shoulders. This is The Cult at their heaviest, but Billy’s melodic sensibilities are intact, and his guitars always sound like Billy Duffy. Ian, of course, sounds like Ian, howling at the ghosts.
The single from this album was “Rise”, which is no less brutal than the first two tracks. Its stuttering de-tuned riff recalls Kyuss or Queens of the Stone Age. Song after song, the album crushes. “Take the Power” is a rallying crying over a noisy Duffy arrangement. This time, the layers of guitars form this wall of awesome that threatens to fall on you at any moment. Astbury is delivering a lot more melody with his lead vocals than he did on The Cult.
“Breathe” offers a respite, but it’s only brief. It soon turns into a mid-tempo groove rocker, but a forgettable one. “Nico” is a highlight, an “Edie”-esque beauty. It would have been my choice for a single. Somebody should really start asking me.
No sooner have you had a chance to relax before “American Gothic” smashes through the wall. This is one of the heaviest Cult songs to date. Cult bassist Chris Wyse (back in the band today) has a solid groove but is overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the Duffy guitar layers. “Ashes and Ghosts” too is groove laden and heavy as plutonium. “Shape the Sky” has a little bit of the old Cult’s prowl, but it’s still pretty heavy like spent nuclear fuel. Ian has a knack for a cool chorus, and this is one of them. “Speed of Light” has a bit of that robotic pulse from 1993’s “The Witch” before it descends into a detuned metal riff and chorus. Then, “True Believers” gives you some breathing room again, although still slammed by electric guitars. This slow tune is a bit more about the melody than the headache.
The final song on most editions of Beyond Good and Evil is “My Bridges Burn”. The Cult bow out on a scorching rocker, blowing the speakers out for those who dare to follow them. Australia received an additional song, “Libertine”, on which to close. This song feels like a coda and is powered by an Anthrax-esque stomp. Top that with a soaring Astbury howl and those patented Duffy guitar melodies and you have a good summation of The Cult 2001.
I think many old-school Cult fans, the kind who think they made a wrong turn on Sonic Temple, would dislike Beyond Good and Evil. For those of us who don’t mind the Cult when they just fucking rock, I think it’s a brilliant album. The songs are not designed to be instantly catchy. They are designed to create a sledgehammer of an album that relentlessly powers its way into your soul. For me, it worked. You could listen to it once and say, “Sure, it’s heavy, but there are only a couple memorable songs.” Keep listening. Let Beyond Good and Evil pummel you with body blows until all you can do is let it sink in.