The Cult

Hidden City

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The Cult have been many things over the last three decades; consistent isn't one of them. Hidden City, the band's tenth studio album -- and fifth with producer Bob Rock -- is the final installment in their loose-knit "spiritual" trilogy that began with 2007's Born into This and continued on 2012's inspired Choice of Weapon. This set touches on almost every period in their history. First single "Dark Energy" is an excellent choice for an opener. Billy Duffy's signature boogie-matic post-Electric riffing struts out in front of drummer John Tempesta's hard-swinging snare and thumping tom-tom vamp. Ian Astbury's baritone remains a tremendous thundering force, authoritatively delivering a typically messy lyric swamp of Tibetan Buddhist mysticism and Native American spirituality that warns of coming karmic consequences for exploitative and destructive behavior. Rock's wildly busy, over the top production swirls around it all. "G O A T" is even stronger. It blasts forward, buoyed by an unapologetic cock-rocking swagger that approaches "Wildflower." Duffy's manic wah-wah soloing and fills compete with enormous kick drum, crash cymbals, and rim shots. Astbury is way over the top, wailing away, almost babbling. "Hinterland" combines aesthetic textures found on Sonic Temple and Ceremony. The squalling guitar atmospherics and thrumming, in-the-red bassline counter the modal melody. Astbury's apocalyptic neo-hippie lyrics would be hilarious delivered by another vocalist; but he is so committed, he's almost convincing. "Deeply Ordered Chaos" looks back on Dreamtime and Love simultaneously. But oddly enough, Astbury deliberately invokes post-Scary Monsters-era David Bowie in the bridge, even aping his phrasing and vocal timbre. The well-placed synth strings underscore that notion. Bowie is also the referent in the midtempo, multi-textural smear of the even more effective "Lillies." "In Blood" harks back to Dreamtime, while the gothic glam of "Dance the Night" is a nice campy touch that points in a direction the Cult should explore further. But Hidden City contains a lot of filler. "Birds of Paradise" is only a half-baked idea that sounds like a jamming demo and goes on forever. "Avalanche of Light," with its off-key vocals, sounds like it came from the cutting-room floor of a Lou Reed session. The two closers, the rocker "Heathens" and the utterly silly ballad "Sound and Fury," should never have have been recorded. Hidden City would have made a great EP, but falls far short of the mark as an album. It closes this arbitrary trilogy on a strange and unsatisfying note.

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