By the time the nineties rolled around The Cult seemed out of time and out of touch. They had released Ceremony in 1991 which was mainly pure imitations of Sonic Temple style material. Could they reinvent themselves? The first sign was a one-off single, The Witch, which featured dance beats, fuzzy guitars, and a lyric about how “you finally found your rhythm man”, which could have been about the band.
So what of this album, their sixth, released in 1994? Self-titling it was a clue, as were the short haircuts and nineties threads the band were wearing. The departure of drummer Matt Sorum to Guns n’ Roses and the recruitment of Craig Adams (Sisters of Mercy, The Mission) was a further clue. And the music? While falling short of complete reinvention, it is nonetheless a departure for them. Rock music had undergone a change with grunge and the influence of dance music. Opener Gone is a bit all over the shop with Billy Duffy’s staccato riffs and Ian Astbury’s yowls of “cmon mothuhfucker, fucking stayyyy”. Much better is the driving, indie pop/rock of Coming Down. Despite the relegation of Duffy’s guitar riffs to the background, the song has an insistent, winning melody, with a nod to rave culture. It just doesn’t really sound like a Cult song!
Real Grrrl is a fine example of the band’s attempt to update their sound to the 1990s, the spiraling guitar joined by a Primal Scream-like beat. The brooding Joy works well, again guitar is used sparingly, but it works, in a not-what-you’d-expect-from-The-Cult kind of way.
They can still kick out serious jams, on Star and especially the rollicking Be Free, and Universal You is a fine example of The Cult doing their version of grunge, with its grimy guitars. On the other hand, Black Sun with its title and its driving riffs sounds soaked in the influence of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.
Elsewhere they edge a little too close to Achtung Baby-era U2 on Naturally High. Also, when the Cult try serious it doesn’t really suit them. The downbeat strum of Sacred Life, where Astbury laments Abbie Hoffman, River Phoenix, and Kurt Cobain among others sounds clumsy, to say the least.
This Cult reinvention turned out to be short-lived, as the band disappeared for the rest of the nineties.