The Cult – Sonic Temple 30 (Beggars Arkive)
Of the four albums produced by Bob Rock in 1989 only one proved to be a genuine game changer. Blue Murder’s self-titled debut barely dented the charts despite founder John Sykes’ high profile and even higher hopes while Loverboy’s Big Ones was a run-of-the-mill compilation (Rock contributing to the new material) coinciding with the Canadian rockers’ latest split. Mötley Crüe’s Dr Feelgood went on to become the band’s best-selling record but it was an album more about consolidation than reinvention.
Rock’s greatest triumph that year was overseeing The Cult’s metamorphosis from (cult) indie oddities to chart-busting MTV-ready poster boys. Sonic Temple catapulted Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy into the big leagues with a pair of Billboard hits, critical acclaim and US sales in excess of 1.5 million. By Dr Feelgood’s standards it was small fry, but Rock was justifiably proud of a radical reboot that nevertheless stayed true to The Cult’s post-punk, gothic tinged roots.
And so he should be.
Two years before he repeated the trick with Metallica’s Black album, Rock remodelled Astbury, Duffy and co. as commercially astute kings of the killer riff and catchy chorus. Earworm Fire Woman combined a haunting vocal with some furious fretwork and the alluring, alliterative Sweet Soul Sister should have been The Cult’s biggest ever hit.
Thirty years down the line and both songs still send a shiver down the spine with Astbury in the form of his life and Duffy’s instinctive guitar playing a pleasure to behold. But for true fans the treats come in the shape of a deliciously satisfying feast of demos, outtakes and live cuts spread across a full range of formats.
Plump for the retro-fuelled box set and enjoy 40 tracks on three vinyls and a cassette. Live tracks and one-off mixes rub shoulders with Sonic Temple’s original songs but it’s not all about the music…tour memorabilia and more is packed into the limited run of 3,000 boxes curated with the die-hard Cult follower in mind.
For the completist, the five-CD set features a mind-boggling 53 tracks including the full Live At Wembley set on the fifth disc. Discs three and four are a treasure trove of revealing demos and it’s easy to imagine Rock pouring over the band’s best work before settling on that definitive Sonic Temple sound.
That The Cult are continuing to celebrate this landmark album’s impact with a string of live dates across the UK next month only serves to further whet the appetite. It would be wrong to suggest Sonic Temple defines The Cult but a remarkable record represents a unequivocal career high.