The Cult ‘Hidden City’ Review: veteran rockers return with their most subtle and nuanced effort to date on tenth studio album.
It’s been four years since The Cult’s last album, 2012’s Choice of Weapon. Now the alternative/hard rock veterans return with Hidden City, an album that frontman Ian Astbury calls the end of a trilogy, alongside Weapon and 2009’s Born Into This.
The Cult have always been fascinating in that each album shows them trying on new stylistic clothes, while their core sound remain intact. And such is the case with Hidden City, which feels both familiar and alien.
But despite that upbeat opener, much of the album drifts into darker waters: In Blood is a throwback to their post punk beginnings, with a touch of Doors-y influence shining through.
Likewise the gloriously gloomy Birds of Paradise has one of Duffy’s most evocative riffs–a shimmering Spaghetti Western thing of beauty.
Single Deeply Ordered Chaos tips its hand to the group’s 1985 goth masterpiece Love, with a haunting Duffy riff and Astbury lamenting the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.
Chaos’s lyrical content follows the band’s 21st century trajectory, moving further away from their libidinous heyday to world-weary reflection.
While this suits a group with 50-something founding members, it also illustrates the album’s biggest deficit: a lack of euphoric, high energy tracks like She Sells Sanctuary or Wildflower. The earthy G O A T comes close, but the lack of anthemic chorus fails to achieve full liftoff.
But the tradeoff comes with subdued atmospheric songs like the Roxy Music-esque Dance The Night or the Spanish flavored Lillies, with longtime producer Bob Rock adding classic rock authenticity to the proceedings.
In a recent interview with Consequence of Sound, Astbury offered a touching reflection on the passing of David Bowie, which feels prophetically fitting that he channels the late icon at times–especially on the haunting closing ballad Sound and Fury–which also tips its hat to the band’s underrated atmospheric self-titled 1994 album.
Backed by piano and ethereal keyboards, it shows Astbury at his most exposed, trying on a jazzy croon to inspired effect.
That song is the crux of what makes Hidden City special, but might get lost on fans expecting another Electric or Sonic Temple. But open-minded listeners may find it an oft-bewitching, haunting and cinematic affair.