This album begins with a riff. It’s a succinct, simple riff. It ranks among some of the best purveyors of riffs (Black Sabbath, ZZ Top). A good riff is too rare a thing, but a guitar player figures it out, it’s one of the most satisfying contributions a musician can make. You can see Tony Iommi tap into it and keep it going for years, and then, unfortunately, lose it (he being the king of riffs, to my ears). In the years since The Cult has clearly been about Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy. When I encountered them, though, I saw British bikers ensconced in fur, the band’s logo written in flame-like characters.
This album found me at a point of transition. I don’t remember how I heard of this album. I do recall critics mentioning that it owed a lot to AC/DC. Maybe it does. Ian Astbury is more Jim Morrison than Bon Scott, though even that comparison has never quite worked for me. He is, at heart, a rock star and performer, like both of them. The album connected easily with me, coming out of years as a metal fan and into what was then called “college rock.” It was dirty and simple, guitar-driven. Listening to it today, I can hear a punk influence, or maybe at least Motorhead.
This album is likely significantly a Rick Rubin creation. There are Rick Rubin detractors. I don’t agree with them. When it’s all said and done, Rick Rubin will have been responsible for some of the most significant music of my lifetime–Beastie Boys, Slayer, Johnny Cash, Jay-Z, and yes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Cult began by mining some of the same territories as U2, but the Native American mythology was there from early on and became more pronounced. By its third album Love, a classic in itself, it was producing gothic rock a la Sisters of Mercy. The early demos of Electric show it going in something like that same direction. Rubin seems to have stepped in and insisted that the songs are kept short and the guitar and drums hit the listener with immediacy.
This album launched a long-term Cult obsession for me. I bought it on cassette and then replaced it with the CD version. I went back to the Southern Death Cult album and followed them forward, seeking out b-sides. I bought their early concert video. I have been able to see them several times and have not been let down. There are cerebral points in The Cult’s catalog, but this doesn’t so much contain them. It was good music for me to skate to, at the time. Others were easily converted as well. My brother’s metal friends were promptly on board. If Jane’s Addiction is credited with bridging the gap to alternative music before Nirvana did it on such a larger scale, I’d posit that The Cult got there a year or so before Jane’s. We don’t always remember it this way now, but metalheads were fairly open to bands like The Cult, Jane’s Addiction, and Soundgarden, as the bands were hearkening back to such revered bands as Zeppelin.
This album is a wolf’s child, baby. It speaks of the devil, a woman who is a devil, outlaws, peace. It really does owe its debt to the 60s, maybe Easy Rider. Maybe that’s why Born to Be Wild is on here, which is perhaps the one misstep. It is a credible cover, though, and does fit the vibe of the rest of the album. (Maybe I’d change it out with Zap City or one of the other songs scrapped from the pre-Rubin demos). In King Contrary Man, the narrator first refuses Satan’s crossroads deal, recalling the famed Robert Johnson story, but then he says, “Yeah, you can take my soul. I want it all!” There’s something special about Electric. The Cult wouldn’t quite sound like this again. They stayed comfortably within the hard rock/metal genre, but they’d never again hit quite this hard. I daresay the deal paid off.