The Cult – Choice of Weapon

The Cult are one of those bands that’s just never done it for me. Sure, I enjoy songs like “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Fire Woman” whenever I hear them, and I recognize that the band has done some solid songwriting and created some of hard rock’s most enduring numbers. But I guess there are two things that have prevented me from drinking The Cult’s Kool-Aid: the undying devotion of most of the band’s fans (who seem to think front man Ian Astbury can do no wrong) and Astbury’s seemingly bloated ego (especially when he took over the role of Jim Morrison in the early 2000s as singer for The Doors of the 21st Century).

But just because I don’t quite get why the band’s fans seem to be so ravenous doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate The Cult’s contributions to rock ‘n’ roll during their almost 30-year existence. And the band’s latest album Choice of Weapon shows that Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy’s songwriting hasn’t weakened with age. If anything, it rocks as hard as the stuff the band was releasing in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Co-produced by Bob Rock, who has produced some of The Cult’s most ambitious and successful albums including Sonic Temple and Beyond Good and Evil, and Chris Goss (perhaps best known for his work with  Queens of the Stone Age), Choice of Weapon is a semi-conceptual album that explores humanity’s current path towards losing its spirituality and sense of self. And though the band’s weapon of choice here is the hard rock sound that initially garnered mainstream attention in the late ‘80s, this album also finds the band returning to its earlier post-punk roots with glimmers of ‘70s glam rock and ‘60s psychedelia.

Joined in the studio by former Ozzy Osbourne bassist Chris Wyse (who has been with The Cult off-and-on since 2001) and drummer John Tempesta (Exodus, Testament, Rob Zombie, Helmet), Astbury and Duffy seem to be on the same type of mystical journey that has previously resulted in some of their best music. Leadoff track “Honey from a Knife” is a rollicking Stooges-like celebration (rather than condemnation) of the seductive power of addiction. “Elemental Light” is a return to Astbury’s goth rock roots with a Bauhaus-y sound that is complemented by Duffy’s psychedelic guitar work. “The Wolf” and “Amnesia” bear the closest resemblance to the “Fire Woman”-like pop rock the band has become known for, while “Live > Death” is a piano-based David Bowie-esque glam rock song about how the younger generation is our only hope in a world where the value of humanity seems to be continuously diminished.

“For the Animals” is another post-punk anthem that uses animals as a thinly veiled metaphor for the lesser privileged from the point of view of higher society, and “Wilderness Now” is another piano ballad that takes a slightly spiritual look at the depths to which humankind can stoop for the sake of money and power. The electro-tinged “Lucifer” picks up thematically where “Wilderness Now” and “For the Animals” leave off and “Until the Light Takes Us” (included on the bonus disc of the deluxe edition) is a dirge-y sequel to “Life > Death” that includes a searing solo from Duffy that reminds us of his talents as a guitarist. Just as many of the album’s previous tracks seem to expound upon similar ideas, “Siberia” (also on the bonus disc) is an even more apparent sequel to the album’s first track with its goth rock bass line and a line about “licking honey off a knife.”

Choice of Weapon shows Astbury channeling his Morrison-like mysticism just enough to keep things interesting (namely on “A Pale Horse”) without delving too far into self-absorption. Does this album make me want to take a vision quest atop a secluded mountain or in the California desert? No, not really. But it is an uplifting look at otherwise depressing topics, and a solid rock album that ranks up there with some of The Cult’s best work. So if you’re an Astbury devotee, you just might want to crank it up while you prepare to do peyote with some shamanistic figure like the one on the album cover. But you don’t really need an excuse to want to crank it up just for the sake of rocking out, either.

The Cult
Choice of Weapon
[Cooking Vinyl]