when hard rock went back to its roots and met New Age

Back In Time

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Take a band that grew up in early 80s gothic: The Cult. Take a hip-hop producer: Rick Rubin. A New York white man who discovered and launched not a few key protagonists of that scene at that time, with his Def Jam label, founded when he was still at university. Let’s assume that we were now in the second half of the decade and hard-rock was once again the goose that lays the golden eggs of the recording industry: Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Europe, are just some of the bands that would have prepared that 1987. Year that, for hard-rock began in January with the bang of “Appetite for Destruction “.

In the summer of 1986 The Cult had been in the studio to try to follow up on the already lucky “Love ” (1985): gold record in both UK and USA. But they weren’t satisfied with the result. Coincidentally, the frontman Ian Astbury listened to the debut of the Beastie Boys, released in 1986 by Def Jam and decided to go to New York to meet Rubin.Licensed to III ” was a rap-rock record that used samples from Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, bands that were in the DNA of Astbury and the band, who was captured by the clean sound of the record. While the 80s were the era of hyper-productions, of bombastic sound filled with layers of instruments, Rubin
he had chosen another path.

At just 23 years of age, he was already an innovator and a producer of hits, such as the crossover “Walk This Way “, in which he enjoyed putting together Aerosmith and Run-DMC: fun guaranteed even to his bank account, since the piece was making a splash in half the world. The young producer evidently saw the potential of a band that already had its feet planted in the British hard-rock of the previous decade, which he too loved and decided to start by stripping them of that new-wave and gothic patina that they carried with them. He decided to put the voice in the foreground and give priority to the guitar riffs, pushing the guitarist Bill Duffy to get rid of too many effects and to keep his solos concise and on point. In short, he decided to start over from the roots of hard-rock: the opposite of The Final Countdownthe pompous hard / glam anthem of Europe that raged on radio and MTV at the time, supported by an explosion of synthesizers.

The sound engineer tells us Tony Platt: “Rick Rubin he was recording The Cult in Studio A and we engineers were in the airlock just outside the studio. A piece of “Highway to Hell and then one of “Back in Black and then one of the Led Zeppelins, and we thought, “What the hell is going on there?” [Un assistente di studio] he said, “Well, he’s taking the guitar sounds fromBack in Blackthe sound of the drums from “Highway to Helland the sound of the voice from Led Zeppelin! ” Literally, while he was mixing, he would take a guitar sound of the Cult and then he compared it directly to the guitar sound he wanted to get from “Back in Black. The same with all the other instruments. “

And that’s how it was born “Electric”: from the will and the intuition to capitalize on a sound that had sold millions of records at the beginning of the decade (AC / DC) and in the previous decade (Led Zeppelin). A sound that could return to sell millions, when the genre was returning to dominate on both sides of the Atlantic. Maybe that’s why it was decided to attack the disc with Wild Flower: a compendium of raw hard-rock in 3 and a half minutes. To immediately set the record straight with the fans who will buy the record. Peace Dog follows and is not far behind. Billy Duffy he’s buckshot on this record and seems to have riffs galore for the fans. An English clone of the Young brothers. And he still proves it with Lil ‘Devil completing a deadly opening threesome.

Aphrodisiac Jacket see Astbury mock Steven Tyler with his introductory screams: a hard ballad, in the Aerosmith style. Electric Ocean instead it picks up on the incessant rock-blues riff rhythm of the first tracks. Here Astbury gives it all: as the song progresses, his voice stretches and reaches new heights of musical range. Duffy makes, in 20 seconds, the perfect and timeless hard rock solo. With the riff of Bad Fun it runs in a 2/4 rock’n roll that the rhythm section supports between the drummer’s rolls Les Warner and the bass player’s twisted Jamie Stewart. Here the solo of Duffy
it is always very short but gets a little dirty in the sound. Overall, the track shows us that these are not AC / DC, but a band capable of all rock knowledge. The same could be said for King Contrary Man: another fast track, a bit syncopated for the rhythm section, completed by a masterful and melodic solo a la Ritchie Blackmore.

Love Removal Machine is the top piece, the stickiest, with that riff reminiscent of the Rolling of “Start Me Up “. A track that, live is the band’s workhorse, as I have been lucky enough to testify a couple of times, with the audience losing their minds forced to pog under a riff that delivers Bill Duffy to the Olympus of the gods of rock’n roll. It’s those riffs that hit you in the breastbone giving you that instant feeling of well-being that only sex or dark chocolate can do. The track unfolds according to the best hard canons of all time, with the solo appearing after two minutes and two choruses: 40 seconds in which Duffy plays the role of the best Jimmy Page, going fast and then slow, in a series of stop and go, perfectly supported by the rhythm section.

Born to Be Wild it’s a bit of a misstep on a great record. A cover made out of a sense of duty, without conviction: When we went out with Electricwe felt we had to somehow certify that we had rock and roll in our blood and we thought that Born to Be Wild it would have been a good way to do it ”- he said
Astbury – “I said it didn’t feel right, but Rick he said go for it and I said, ‘Okay, let’s go for it, I’m open’, so it ended up on the record. We didn’t need it and it didn’t seem like the right thing to do, but we were kids and it was a try ”.

Fortunately, he comes soon after Outlaw to remind us where we left off and to resume the interrupted conversation. Closing with Memphis Hip Shake: solid rock-blues that Astbury dominates and leads to port, on a heavy groove and an acid guitar to which it makes the verse.

Here is the result of the work of Rubin with “The Cult”. Commercially, the band went a step further: gold confirmed in the UK and, this time, platinum in the US. The cover image presents 4 guys immersed in their era, styled as post-punk / glam to Billy Idol as they were, but with the New Age touch of Astbury sporting a Native American headdress, declaring to the world his fascination for that culture. No AC / DC brawler and drunk bad boy look, as the sound might suggest. There are other references of Cult.

“I am a young wolf, girl / Howling for you / Wild flower / Star of my dreams / The most beautiful thing in the world, yes / Yes you / Sweet feeling of a nation / Oh, my soul / You are a perfect creature / You are an angel, baby / And I cry for you / My heart is beating fast ”. Here’s what Astbury sings about Wild Flower: Native American romantic love. Certainly not the themes that frequented Bon Scott or Brian Johnson. Same AC / DC riffs, same raw sound, but different attitude. The pacifist text of Peace Dog, ol the “electric ocean of love” of Electric Ocean.

Electric ” it is the new world of hard-rock, relocated to its era, in full New Age spiritualism. A sound and a music that are periodically reconfirmed and reiterated in the current situation by great records like this one. And 35 years later, we find ourselves celebrating the hard-rock “New Age” of the gods Cult, not the contemporary one but a favorite of Europe. Something will mean.

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