The Cult, now reduced to the duo that was/is the band’s creative force (Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy), have always been the type of band whose albums seem to reflect which one of the two were the dominant force during the pre-production. Astbury’s been the experimental one (if you consider the idea of a British Shaman Priest as told through the voice of the world’s best known Doors impersonator “experimental”) while Duffy’s a study in reliability (turn on amplifier, create an awesome quarterstick of chords and repeat).
For this reason, the vast majority of Cult albums have been frustratingly inconsistent. When one considers their catalog, Love stands at being Astbury’s highpoint while Sonic Temple remains Duffy’s. Their most recognized album, the Rick Rubin produced Electric, sounds like it may be the lone example of when Astbury and Duffy’s egos were in check and their roles were clearly spelled out.
And because The Cult has never really managed to get their shit together after Electric, they never really managed to get the credit they were due after or success they should have received.
So their core audience has become people like me: people that appreciate the finer moments of The Cult’s back catalog while quietly hoping this frustrating unit can get it together for one more undeniably great capital “r” rock album.
Born Into This sounds like a Duffy-led endeavor and it sounds like Astbury’s cool with that direction. As early as the opening title track, Billy does a pretty good job of creating enough racket to make this effort the most riff-heavy since Temple, but that doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near as good as Temple…Or Electric…Or Love.
Instead, Born Into This sounds like a lukewarm attempt at updating all of those albums into one, with nearly two decades of aches, pains, and disappointments taking up a few mics in the studio too.
Lyrics have never been a strong point with The Cult, and on Born Into This, the trend continues. The difference is that you’ve now they’ve had an additional twenty years to work on their clichés, and the best they can come up with is “Not a pussy cat at all / She a leopard / But she don’t crawl” (“Savages”).
Even some of Duffy’s riffs sound as tentative, struggling to create anything remotely memorable even when the title (like “Dirty Little Rockstar”) promises so much. Instead, we get a couplet like “Bite your lip, baby / Shake your hip, babe / Taste the whip, babe” while the guitar sounds about as vicious as a garter snake.
This is unfortunate as the album clocks in with a tight ten tracks and at less than 45 minute running time there’s simply not enough time here to spare on sub-par tracks. There are a few that work (“Born Into This,” “Diamonds,” “Tiger In The Sun”) but there’s a bunch more that remind you why you stopped caring about The Cult almost twenty years ago.
For me, Astbury sums up my feelings about Born Into This and The Cult quite nicely during the track “Tiger In The Sun:”
“We hope for so much more.”