Few rock bands ever break the mainstream market. And those that do walk a long path to their success. But every now and then there comes a band that challenges that formula; that shows you don’t need to make album after album to break the charts.
Enter Bradford-born alternative rockers, The Cult, with their songwriting and guitar fusion of frontman Ian Astbury and guitarist, Billy Duffy. Spliced with pseudo-Native American imagery and early 80’s psychedelia, they proved unstoppable in their quest to rock and roll. And in 1985 they released their second album out into the wild: Love.
Featuring chart-favourites, ‘Rain’, ‘Revolution’ and the legendary ‘She Sells Sanctuary’, Love thrust the band into the limelight, spawning countless interviews, appearances on video game soundtracks and bigger live performances. Where their first record, Dreamtime, had failed in its ability to quite capture the mainstream public, Love sold them on tales of paradise, heartbreak and tempting women.
But all too often this album is remembered on those three hits alone, and the album tracks are cast aside as mere accomplices of such live staples. Love is an album that covers so much in so little time, and almost every track is worthy of a mention in its own right.
Side A opens with a chugging stomper of an opener, ‘Nirvana’, featuring some of Astbury’s best vocals and a guitar sound from Duffy that encapsulates the 80’s. It could have received the single treatment in itself, and is everything you could want in a rock ‘n roll track. ‘Every day, is like Nirvana!’, Astbury proclaims, full of naïve hope that would end up proving true for the band. From the opening chords alone, it was obvious this would be a hit.
‘Big Neon Glitter’ is pure 80’s alternative rock in more than just name alone. Continuing the big psychedelic guitar sound, it’s an awesome track. It’s a testament to the enduring songwriting strength of Astbury and Duffy. The title track, ‘Love’, has a guitar riff that would rival anything off the band’s third record, Electric, building and building into a six-minute titan of an anthem.
‘Brother Wolf, Sister Moon’ plays right into the pseudo-Native American hands of the band here, providing a slower, more toned-down track that’s full of mysticality and images of spiritual dances. It’s not a stomping peal of thunder, no, but if nothing else creates a contrast to the band’s sound that’s interesting nonetheless.
‘Rain’ provides the apocalyptic pierce of Duffy’s guitar here, closing side A with possibly the best track they ever did. Many would argue – including Astbury himself during an interview – it’s (not so subtly) about sex. After all, ‘I’ve been waitin’ for her, for so long… Here she comes again, here comes the rain.’ could certainly conjure up images of hedonistic practices. But I’ve always seen it from the other supposed meaning of the track – of a traditional Hopi rain dance – bringing forth the rains that flood the world. It sounds so ultimate, so final, and wouldn’t be out of place in a movie full of desolation and destruction. The riff – though repetitive – just keeps rocking, that final minute battering into you and filling your very bones. It’s no secret it’s my favourite song The Cult have done – it’s just flawless.
Side B opens with ‘The Phoenix’, another great piece that sounds perfect live. Coupled with the album track, ‘Hollow Man’, it continues the sound of big guitar and big choruses, tinged with stormy weather. Then The Cult bring it back down again with ‘Revolution’, ultimately the final single released from the album.
If there’s one thing The Cult love singing about more than Native American symbolism, it’s peace. And ‘Revolution’ provides barrels full of that, calling for the people to rise up for the sake of the human race. ‘Joy or sorrow, what does revolution mean to you?’, Astbury poses to us. It’s a poignant note in the middle of an otherwise rock ‘n roll jungle, but by no means feels out of place.
And at long last we have come to the first single of the album. The track that made it, that made them. Reaching 15 in the UK Singles Chart and peaking at 36 on the US Billboard, reigning there for six weeks straight. With its iconic opening – supposedly spawned of guitarist Duffy putting all of his guitar peddles on and raking a violin bow across the fretboard – and simple lyrics. ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ is a tale of being outcast, of finding, well, sanctuary in whatever it may be. Whether it’s a sex worker (as the song implies), a loved one, an interest or even just good old-fashioned rock ‘n roll, Astbury taps into all of our basic human needs to be accepted.
Of course, it also helps that the song is punctuated with a driving backbeat and the same chord progression of the other singles from the album. At four-and-a-half-minutes, it’s the epitome of 80’s alternative rock. It’s impossible not to leap around like Astbury to.
Love closes with ‘Black Angel’, a more sorrowful tune that builds up slowly and fervently. It’s a fever dream of a tune, each chorus more aching and punchier than before. It’s a truly bittersweet way to end an awesome album: telling the story of a fugitive on the run from the ominous ‘lawmen’ – but I love that. The Cult will knock you down with their battering rams, nay, siege engines of air-pumping rockers. But at the end of the day, they’ll get you in the heart with a heartbreak tale of woe.
The Cult’s Love is an album that transcends such mundane boundaries as genre and time. It’s full of great rock that sounded brilliant then and still does today. It deals with women, woe, outcasts, loss and hopelessness. But it’s also a record of pure joy, of Nirvana, of sanctuary and finding light in the darkness.
It’s tragic and it’s beautiful. It’s The Cult. It’s Love.