Albums Revisited: The Cult’s ‘Sonic Temple’ Turns 25. It was the album that made the Cult megastars, but it almost did them in.
Last year the Cult embarked on the Electric 13 tour, where they played their rough-edged 1987 classic rock opus from start to finish.
And in 2009, they played their Goth breakthrough Love in its entirety as well.
But on April 10th, Sonic Temple, the band’s biggest commercial hit will celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Conventional wisdom says to expect a tour celebrating that album as well, and while it’s a possibility, this is an album that divided the band at the height of their popularity.
After their 1987 Electric tour, the band was deep in debt (due to singer Ian Asbury’s then-habit of destroying their musical equipment post-gig). Plus they were demoralized by tour openers Guns N’Roses eclipse their success.
So guitarist Billy Duffy spearheaded the effort for more commercial appeal (as he boldly stated in an VH-1 Behind The Music special, which crushed my fanboy heart).
Working with super-producer Bob Rock, Sonic Temple was a glossy, arena rock juggernaut. It put the band on the Billboard top 10 on its début, but Astbury was not fully on board.
As he told writer George Varga in a 2012 interview; We were so polarized. Billy and I just had completely different visions of what it should be. I was anxious to deconstruct. ‘Sonic Temple’ had become this monolithic, MTV moment. I wanted it to be more like (Cream’s) ‘Disraeli Gears and I struggled in the studio. I was becoming more and more detached from the songwriting team, and I had my own personal mission to get the band back to the garage musically speaking).
But despite his misgivings, Sonic Temple held wide appeal. Billy Duffy had upped his musicianship and the album marked the perfect fusion of their goth beginnings to their cock rock attainment.
Fire Woman remains their biggest hit, and while it copies the same formula of She Sells Sanctuary (slow intro-charging verse/chorus…rinse-repeat) it still has a charming bombast.
The band did a power-ballad, but Edie (Ciao Baby) still had more meat to it than most from that era.
Tracks like Sun King and Soul Asylum allowed for some economical psychedelia, and the band explored bluesy roots with Medicine Train and Automatic Blues. And they still managed to get some punk-street cred by having Iggy Pop do a voiceover on the band’s ode to the Big Apple NYC.
But Astbury’s complaints with the slick production aren’t entirely undeserved. While it was their biggest hit, Love and Electric still remain more timeless and essential.
The Cult would go on to tour Sonic Temple for a long trek, starting off as an opener for Metallica on their And Justice For All Tour’, which culminated with Metallica fans taunting the band and Cult fans (I was at the Dallas show in ’89. I remember several mulleted jackasses yelling ‘Cult sucks!’).
Astbury lost his father to cancer over the course of the tour, and the band fractured to a perilous degree, with bassist Jamie Stewart jumping ship and Astbury and Duffy touring in separate tour busses.
Stewart commented on such in the liner notes for the Sonic Temple reissue: I made up my mind going into that tour that it was going to be the end…No one else was talking to anyone else…Ian and Billy couldn’t talk to each other…this enormous castle was built on these shifting sands.
The Cult would go on with just Astbury and Duffy for the bland follow-up Ceremony. Astbury would finally get his wish to go back to their rawer roots with their excellent self-titled 1994 release, but it was released to little fanfare and they imploded shortly afterwards.
Click here to see where the Cult’s self-titled 1994 album ranks on our list of most Underrated Alternative Rock Albums
They survived Sonic Temple, but just barely. We’ll have to wait and see if they’ll revisit it in full one of these days. I’d certainly love to hear American Horse live.
Do you have fond memories of The Cult’s Sonic Temple? Think it pales when compared to their other material? Tell us in the comments.
Want to own Sonic Temple on Amazon or iTunes? Check out the links below:
[amazon_image id=”B000S5963Y” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Sonic Temple[/amazon_image]
You might also like these other Albums Revisited segments: