Your ears aren’t failing you, the Cult has delivered a bummer of a record. It’s hard to pick where exactly it goes wrong, but it’s somewhere in the early moments, perhaps the first 12 bars of the album opener “Dark Energy.” That track, like much of the record, is a mess. Garage rock/White Stipes-style beats provide the bedrock for lifeless vocals that are hesitant at best. As for the lyrics? Well, they don’t seem to have much to say either. Then there are the guitars. It’s programmed noise, some kind of ProTools collage project that sounds like a computer’s idea of what loud rock guitars should be like.

In fact, the mix there and throughout is simply awful. That’s surprising given that the record was produced and mixed by Bob Rock, the man who worked with the Cult on some of the group’s most iconic material. This is a guy who could write a textbook on bringing definition and clarity to mixes. Instead, the record sounds like it was mixed by a deaf wildcat who’d been left for dead for two weeks in a Russian winter before being brought into the studio to give new, er, life to the Cult’s latest record.

It’s hard to pinpoint a particularly weak track too because it all kind blurs together after a while, not unlike your insurance rep’s golf jokes. There are individual tracks, and titles that correspond to said tracks, but it really is a wash of indistinguishable noise played at varying speeds most of the time. “Deeply Ordered Chaos” only differs from the tracks around it because it’s sluggish and turgid rather than just being turgid alone. “Hinterland” at least has something approaching a pulse and attempts to have a rock-worthy energy before the computers take over and the tune dead-ends in a streaming mess of noise.

Somehow, Ian Astbury’s normally expressive voice is rendered numb, incapable of emotion as though the singer is being weighed by some sort of depression that’s short-circuited his ability to feel anything at all. Even if his voice is worn, there were certainly places where Rock could have helped his old pal use the character of his cords to enhance the songs, but that would require some sort of human touch and this record had none of that. And the self-parody only inspires more grief when the once-mighty vocalist utters some noir-ish nonsense about a dead hooker. It’s drivel, frankly, and far beneath the band that once gave us Sonic Temple and the astounding “Love Removal Machine,” smart songs that could take even cliché themes and transform them into something humorous and alive.

Too often, the Cult sounds like its imitating the bands that came after it, like it’s trying to latch onto the glory of mid-90s alternative rock music in the style of Bush or a billion other bands that never got out of the studio parking lot. The best thing that can be said about “No Love Lost,” for instance, is that it sounds like something the guys in Buckcherry threw out the window of their bus before anyone caught wind of them writing something so forgettable.

“Birds Of Paradise” has some rockin’ bass and almost recaptures some of the Cult’s former glories, but at over six minutes and with paint-by-numbers chord movements and lyrics, the best parts are over within the first couple seconds. Listening all the way to the end, to the tired catalog of excess that is “In Blood” (the hooker tune) becomes a sport of endurance. You feel as though you’re doing Catholic penance rather than engaging with art.
What happened? Perhaps it’s best not to speculate. One could blame prior excess, bad blood between the major players, a strong desire to get out of a contract or maybe just not having the ears for good music anymore. But this is a band that plenty of us would love to see triumph over the naysayers, to defeat the odds and give us something as good as its classic material.

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