The Cult

Pure Cult Anthology 1984-95 [DVD]

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Although Ian Astbury and company rarely receive the critical plaudits they merit -- a failing that has come close to actually breaking up the band in the past -- there is no denying that they have created an impressive legacy. Their "regular" albums are accompanied by a host of live and rarity collections, while a box set of old Cult singles serves as a history of the 1980s in each of the decade's grandest guises, from Gothic rock to alternative shock, from proto-metal leviathan to stadium-stuffing demi-god. And if you add pictures to the sounds, you might never need to watch oldie's TV again. Pure Cult Anthology is a straightforward, chronological rendering of every Cult video shot between 1984 and 1995, bolstered by a couple of live performances ("Go West" and "Sun King"), plus British TV footage of that spellbinding moment when the band first stepped -- literally, it seems -- out of the painted trappings of their Death Cult past to become the Cult of future destiny. And the shock of that moment is engraved on the faces of everybody in the studio audience, as Astbury half-dances/half-strides on-stage, half his face smeared in the garish war paint of the past, and the other half staring, bare-skinned, into the future. Arguably the earliest videos are the best, as the band slapped dry ice and theatrics onto the roaring wall of guitar-led vision that saw "Resurrection Joe," "Rain," and, best of all, "Sanctuary" nail down the premise for the next decade-worth of convolutions. But even at their most bombastic ("Love Removal Machine," "Lil Devil," "Fire Woman" -- you know the drill), there's a precocious delicacy to the proceedings that refuses to drag the band's posturing down to the level of farce. It's a delicacy that peaked, of course, with the still beautiful "Edie," and resurfaced for "Star" and "Coming Down." But it's even there for "The Witch," the buzzing, twitching, electronic dance demon that sprang so unexpectedly out of the band's darkest (post- Ceremony) hour to prove that there was still life left in the grizzled old beast. Say what you like about the Cult, but they always know where your heart lies. The DVD offers two choices of main programs, with or without spoken-word introductions from Astbury and bandmate Billy Duffy lifted from the 1993 MTV Pure Cult Anthology TV special. Close to an hour of behind-the-scenes footage includes further interview material from 1986, 1991, and 1994, while a 74-page discography brings up original British sleeve art for the Cult's entire 1984-2000 output. There are also two bonus videos: a live "In the Clouds," shot at one of the band's final performances before their 1995 disintegration, and a 1993 remix of "Sanctuary," all adding up to an entire evening's worth of entertainment in the lap of one of the era's best-loved, yet most underrated bands. Pure Cult Anthology should certainly change the second half of that equation.