RATINGS: A = must own B = buy it C= average D = yawn F = puke

The Cult — Hidden City
Cooking Vinyl

Rating: B-

The Cult has done it again. Whether that reflects triumph or tragedy depends on the listener.

Fans declaring Dreamtime and Love as the British act’s finest hours may dismiss Hidden City, The Cult’s 10th and newest offering. But those enamored of Electric and its stripped-down energy have much to love with this latest batch o’ tunes.

Tribal drum beats? Check. Hip-slamming tambourine? Check. Serpentine guitar leads? Check again, for singer Ian Astbury and guitar slinger Billy Duffy know what they do and they know what they do best.

On Hidden City, the duo — the band’s essence, alongside a rotating rhythm section — crank out bare-knuckled hard rock.

“Dark Energy” makes that clear, with John Tempesta’s propulsive backbeat and Duffy’s riffs summoning the blue-collar energy exemplified by Electric, the sonic salvo that ushered in the band’s Rick Rubin rebirth.

The man’s production oversight (or lack thereof, depending on who you ask) led Slayer, the Beastie Boys and similarly eclectic acts to platinum riches and did so for The Cult so many decades ago.

On the heels of Electric came Sonic Temple, which embraced ‘80s arena rock and Bob Rock’s era-appropriate production (massive overdubbing, fat reverb and guitar tracks aplenty).

Then came Ceremony and The Cult, deservedly forgotten offerings that preceded Beyond Good and Evil, an underrated and overlooked gem.

Six years after that 2001 release came Born Into This. Flat production and even flatter material saw the band at its nadir until Choice of Weapon showed glimmers of promise in 2012.

Hidden City makes good on that promise. While not the greatest Cult (I’m a card-carrying Love acolyte), Hidden City harbors some worthy gems.

“Birds of Paradise” and “Hinterland” kick ass, offering proof that the band that once wore paisley shirts and kicked up psychedelic goth alongside Sisters of Mercy can retain that style while cranking the Marshalls.

Meanwhile, “G O A T” oozes barroom sleaze, with Ian’s harmonica and Duffy’s guitar accompaniment the perfect foil for Tempesta and bass guitarist Chris Chaney’s rhythmic underpinnings (looking forward to seeing this stuff live with Bigelf main man Damon Fox on keyboards and rhythm guitar!)

Is Hidden City what Love fans have been awaiting for decades? No. Does it capture the primal spark of Electric or Sonic Temple’s ‘80s excess? Again, no. But it does offer a more inspired mix of music than the last several albums, and given the low expectations surrounding this release, that’s a good thing. Not great, but good enough.

Track listing:
1. Dark Energy
2. No Love Lost
3. Dance the Night
4. In Blood
5. Birds of Paradise
6. Hinterland
7. G O A T
8. Deeply Ordered Chaos
9. Avalanche of Light
10. Lilies
11. Heathens
12. Sound and Fury

— A. Lee Graham