After endless breakups, disappointing record sales, and the haunting memories of cut-off sleeves and tight leather pants, you have to admire the determination of The Cult in releasing their eighth studio album. The first record in six years from the iconic British hard-rockers, “Born Into This” marks yet another attempt at reviving the mainstream success that the band enjoyed in the late 1980s — a goal that they’ve achieved with predictably limited success. But they’ve been at it for over fifteen years since their fall from glory, so why stop now, right?
Not that it’s a horrid album altogether. The current Cult lineup continues to provide the things they do best: screeching guitar riffs, menacing drumbeats and vocals from Ian Astbury that’ll turn even astronomy problem sets into head-banging, foot-stomping experiences.
Well, for the first ten minutes or so, anyway. Time has been unkind to The Cult, and, over the course of the ten tracks that make up “Born into This,” it’s unkind to the listener as well. Repetitive guitar chords refuse to go anywhere near a melody; relentless drum pounding becomes monotonous; and Astbury’s faltering attempts at raging wails remain identical in almost every song, blurring nearly the entire album into one long screech. What was once classic arena rock now sounds more like a group of balding has-beens pitifully trying to revive their glory days by singing about the sex, drugs and rock-n-roll that they should have left behind twenty years ago. It’s like watching your parents imitate metal gods.
The album opens with its title track, “Born into This.” Abandoning the Doors-esque pseudo-mysticism and Native-American fetishes that characterized early Cult albums, the song is instead the first of several tracks that prefer the ever thought-provoking topics of New York, Paris, and each city’s hipsters. Astbury begins to sing what he evidently believes to be a youthful call to rock-n-roll action: “Savage scene/ You gotta taste the dream/ Stand tall / You gotta root it all,” leaving the question, “But aren’t you, like, forty-five?” echoing in one’s mind. Astbury’s only response? “They’re chasing us around/ All over town/ Oh no.” So yes, in fact he is forty-five — forty-five and still sexy (a.k.a forty-five and in denial).
Astbury’s denial, including his apparent belief in his sway over the ladies, takes form in several other songs. Singing like an infatuated twenty-one-year-old, he proclaims on “Diamond”: “She’s my girl / She’s got diamonds / on the inside / she’s my world.” The track “Holy Mountain” shows the world Astbury’s soulful side by slowing the tempo, leaving out the harsh riffs, and throwing in a keyboard. “I fell in love with your face,” he sings.” You’re a wild thing / You say wild things / but much too wild, I think.” He seems to have left out the deep, soulful lyrics, however.
The best track of the album, “Savages,” starts out with the soft jingling of a tambourine and an uncharacteristically subdued guitar, a vestige of the Native-American influenced early Cult. And if you ignore the cheesy lyrics (“Don’t surrender to The Man!”) it’s actually a really good song, with an almost-melody and war-march drum and tambourine beats supporting the now tired guitar.
One good thing that can be said about “Born into This” is that it’s hard to pick out one particularly painful aspect of the album — of course, after five or so songs of monotonously scraping guitars, it’s impossible not to zone out completely. But it’s evident that The Cult’s sound now feels out of place, and the reign of arena rock is long over. But if you’re at all disappointed by this, The Cult does offer one excellent consolation prize: the really cute sticker on the inside of the front cover.