Monday, April 5, 2010

Classic rock rediscovered and repackaged: 'Love' by The Cult

With the irresistibly lavish packaging of the British recording company Beggars Banquet’s Omnibus Editions, and the man at Heartland Records telling me that this is one of the greatest and yet most inexplicably underrated of all rock albums, I really had little choice the other day but to buy The Cult’s 1985 album Love.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t know much about The Cult until I bought this album, but it’s solid, tightly beaten rock, with just the right tinge of darkness to draw me in at the album’s opening ‘Nirvana’, certainly conjures up much of the almost gothic feel of Britain’s mid 80’s post punk period, shunning the keyboard-driven excesses of prog rock and instead creating its big, full, engulfing sounds with fantastically strong playing of the tried and trusted staples of rock – some guitars, some drums and some vocals. There are some keyboards there, too, but Love is an album that seems more intent on doing a lot with a little, creating its effects by the tautness of its playing, tense, tight guitar work over hard drums, and Ian Astbury’s vocals with their understated gloom, maybe nowhere more powerful than in ‘Brother Wolf, Sister Moon’, where his voice sings and cries above the simple, darkened arpeggios of William H Duffy’s electric guitars.

There’s discipline in this music that, were it not for the conviction and talent of the musicians, could almost make the album sound restrained – but, instead, it just makes it sound all the more potent, like a volcano on the edge of eruption.

There’s the fantastic way notes and chords slide up and back down to one another throughout ‘Rain’, with drums and guitars pelting down in their own storm of hail and sleet, music that revels in the cold, chilled world it creates around you; there’s the awesomely good rock of ‘She Sells Sanctuary’, literally aflame with energy, while a heavy, solid bass line keeps your feet on the ground, so you can’t really escape the sparks that fly in all directions around you, singeing you; there’s the elegiac ‘Black Angel’, music that takes the album, and you with it, into a dark, mysterious emptiness, sailing into a black and barren, far-away horizon.

The sound, especially the vocals, has a dark, cavernous acoustic, giving the music a feeling of some sort of looming doom or, where there’s not doom, of post-apocalypse, like in ‘Phoenix’, where human desire rises from the ashes of destruction and chaos, amidst wild, passionate guitars, burning with primal lust.

Love is one of those albums that people like me listen to and wonder why we neglected the rock genre for so long; but it’s also an album that even those who lived the genre for decades could, it seems, easily have missed – for no reason, it seems, other than it never really got into the limelight of the American market, which only goes to show yet again how fickle and unreliable the marketplace can be.

Love is not an album that smashes down the walls of convention – but, in capturing the dark side of British post-punk so well, so expertly, it leaves its own unique footprints on a musical territory that even now many of us are too easily taking for granted, musical territory that even now, decades after its discovery, is still showing up new little nooks and crannies that many of us didn’t know were there.

This would be classic album, even without the packaging.

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