The Cult was in a bit of a conundrum. Last year’s “Choice of Weapon” was the veteran rock band’s first album in half a decade, and the accompanying tour had reached its natural end point. With new material still in the development stage, the group was looking for some way to maintain its momentum. And that’s when attention turned to 1987’s “Electric.”
“‘Choice of Weapon’ has kind of run its cycle,” says singer Ian Astbury. “So we thought, well, there’s such an incredible demand for ‘Electric.’ If not now, then when? This is the perfect moment. So we thought that ‘Electric’ would be a great vehicle for us to use. That’s what we’re doing. We don’t sit around doing calculated things. We’re musicians, and this is what we do.”
Over the course of a career that stretches back 30 years, the Cult has touched on goth, psychedelia, and metal, among others, with songs like “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Fire Woman” helping the band earn two platinum albums and one gold despite never quite crossing over to the mainstream. And it’s arguably never fused its influences more tightly than on “Electric,” which the band will play in its entirety (minus the cover of “Born to Be Wild”) when it comes to the House of Blues on Friday.
It’s a record that seems to imagine Jim Morrison fronting Led Zeppelin – “but early Led Zeppelin, psych Led Zeppelin,” Astbury says – with the added assist of soon-to-be-legendary producer Rick Rubin, then known primarily for rap records. According to Astbury, the clean crunch favored by Rubin marked a shift from the Cult’s previous recordings.
“He didn’t like all the textured production,” says Astbury. “He liked the stripped-back production. That’s what the Doors sounded like, and that’s what Zeppelin sounded like, and that’s what even the Sex Pistols and the Stooges sounded like. It’s like taking things away, as opposed to adding things. The ‘Love’ album was pretty dense. It was very textural, the reverbs, whereas ‘Electric’ was just as it says on the box.”
The current tour isn’t the first time the Cult has played one of its older albums live, having done the same for 1985’s “Love” three years ago. But Astbury insists that the idea goes back even further.
“Now it’s pretty commonplace that artists tour their successful records,” he says. “The real genesis of the idea of playing an album for us was when Bowie went out and did ‘Low’ in its entirety. It was in the ’90s at some point. And that was before anybody was touring their albums. Bowie did it first, of course.”
But, Astbury continues, “we really didn’t immediately say, ‘Let’s go and tour one of our albums.’ Because for Bowie, it's ‘Low,’ for God’s sake. There’s nothing in our canon that could come close to that.”
Duane Bruce might disagree. From 1987 to 1992 (during which time “Electric” was released), he was host of WFNX’s free-form all-night Radio Free Boston show and spun records at the station’s weekly club nights at Axis. He matter-of-factly puts “Electric” in his all-time top 10.
“It comes at you like a punch,” says Bruce. “‘Electric’ is a road trip disc and has cost me at least two speeding tickets over the course of its release. When you listen to it on the highway, it takes on an even greater sense of ‘freeing power.’ You wind up at a speed that keeps pace with the music. It drives you.”
While “Love Removal Machine” and “Wild Flower” have been in the band’s set list ever since, Astbury admits that there were some “Electric” songs that hadn’t been played live before. But he says that getting back into the groove of a 26-year-old album turned out to be “surprisingly quicker than I thought it would be.” Some of that may be thanks to what Astbury sees as some current similarities with the societal frictions at the time of his own musical influences.
“It’s militant, in the sense of that music at the time was cultural terrorism,” says the singer. “There was a very tumultuous anti-Vietnam movement and civil rights. That was all going into that music. And it’s interesting, because there’s certain parallels between then and now. In fact, some issues are even more amplified today. Environmental issues, racial issues, sexual issues like gay marriage, the Trayvon shooting. The wars that are raging in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc., etc.”
Even so, Astbury insists that focusing on “Electric” isn’t about trying to duplicate a moment that’s already passed. “One thing that that was very constant was, I didn’t want to plan this tour on the imagery from 1987,” he says. “Because it’s not 1987, so we’re actually giving a fresh concept for the tour.”
So the live show about putting the old clothes back on. “Oh,” says Astbury with a laugh, “they wouldn’t fit.”Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.