More fun than I deserve

Posted: March 6, 2016 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Cult

When I was younger I wanted to find a band that rocked as hard as AC/DC but that didn’t view women as subhuman breeding stock. A band that was as heavy as Led Zeppelin minus all the mystical claptrap. I don’t know if this band has ever existed (I’m open to your recommendations), but I do know that there are albums that qualify. One is Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991). Another is my subject this evening.

Southern Death Cult was formed in 1981 by four boys from Yorkshire. By 2012, when they released their 40,000th comeback record, Choice of Weapon, 23 boys had worn the uniform. The only constants were Ian Astbury (vocals) and Billy Duffy (guitar). Ian and Billy were goths with a taste for metal and a fixation on North American Indians. Sure, why not.

Southern Death Cult gradually phased out the goth and the Indians and the Southern and the Death. (Why would you mess with a name as venomous as Southern Death Cult?) For their third album, they corralled a new producer, Rick Rubin, a man who eats transformation for breakfast, and with his help they broke the chains of gravity with their magnum opus, Electric.

What we have here are songs that embody the one thing we love about AC/DC – mindless butt-shaking – with the one thing we love about Led Zep – guitar solos that pull 4 or 5 G’s. There’s no moody-teenager philosophizing, no misogyny, no Middle Earth, and no intelligence. This album rocks like 12 Republican governors running for president inside a cement mixer.

Tracks 4 through 8, the heart of the order, hit harder than a brass knuckle barn dance. “Bad Fun” has so many layers, it’s as if somebody cloned every dork in Yes and suctioned them into a Yugo. The guitar solos – all of the guitar solos – are awesome because they all sound like metal guitar solo gibberish. Were The Cult subversive or satirical? There’s no way to tell. I don’t care. I love this shit.

An homage to “I Am the Walrus” or plain old drug abuse?
And yet Electric is also one of the funniest albums ever recorded. The lyrics have been brilliantly deconstructed and rebuilt, often with no translatable meaning, as in this unrhymed couplet from “Aphrodisiac Jacket” (a song that sounds like Cream has a brain tumor):

Sittin’ on a mountain looking at the sun
Plastic fantastic lobster telephone

In “Bad Fun,” a song that mixes atomic bombs, “fancy clothes,” and “ghetto stars” without telling you why, the boys break into a chorus about a woman alone with her personal assistant:

Spirit like a rumblin’ train
Spirit of the thunderin’ rain
Vibrations got you on the run
Electric child on bad fun

You can’t not laugh when Ian rolls his r’s or when they swing into their insightful commentary on intimate relationships, “Love Removal Machine,” a song my wife claims she has never heard and yet her life runs along just fine. You can’t not laugh when Billy lights this candle with another solo he checked out from the library, or when the band chants PEACE. DOG. PEACE. DOG. PEACE. DOG. on a song that’s called – let me see, what was it? I knew it a moment ago – yes, I have it: “Peace Dog.”

The only poor choice on this disc was covering “Born to Be Wild” at two-thirds the speed of Steppenwolf. If you’re headin’ down the highway and people on the sidewalk are passing you than you’re not born to be wild or even mischievous.

On The Cult’s previous release, Love (1985), you can hear the transition to a harder rock sound, but it was not until Electric that these ex-goths achieved nirvana. Oh right, “Nirvana” is a song on Love. “When the music is loud, we all get down,” Ian sings. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Postscript courtesy of the concert listings at
AC/DC, Tuesday, Feb. 2, Tacoma Dome
“The band isn’t playing Portland tonight – apparently we’re not good enough – but it’s probably worth the drive to Tacoma. Because, you know, they might die soon.”


  1. Matt says:

    I remember well, as a high schooler, being very disappointed in Electric since the sound was completely different than Love. It grew on me sort of over the next few months, but it has only been recently that I’ve been able to appreciate the energy this album brings. Electric is Now definitely on my list of albums I can play straight! And by the way I found this blog post after googling aphrodisiac jacket I am the walrus. I was curious if anyone else had the thought that there might be an influence there.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Matt – I hesitate to suggest anything influencing Ian Astbury, as in his prime he seemed to carom between influences like a pinball. The Beatles seem as likely an influence as any other. (Fake John Lennon on National Lampoon’s “Genius Is Pain”: “I was the walrus! Paul wasn’t the walrus! I was just saying that to be nice!”) I’ve listened to this record a lot and I feel exactly as you do. One of my guilty pleasures.

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