Guitarist Billy Duffy is a driving force of that sensibility, offsetting his crunchy rock rhythms with dark, atmospheric melodies and screaming solos.
Hidden City is that rarest of beasts: a compellingly vital album from an established band that could easily play the legacy circuit for the rest of their days and continue to draw big crowds. But The Cult refuses to rest on their laurels. If you’re an old-school fan but haven’t checked in with them for a while, the new album deserves some heavy rotation before you rock up to the show. “We play about 18 songs per show, and we play about four off the new album,” Duffy says. “Four or five, maybe. Four’s good, in context. There’s quite a dramatic bit in the middle where we play a couple of new songs. We’ve been playing four or five over the last year and that seems to be the best combination for our own gigs as a whole. When we play festivals, or for example when we played with Guns N’ Roses this year, we’ll play one new song because it’s not your fanbase.”
Hidden City is the fifth Cult album to be produced by Bob Rock and the band’s tenth overall. At this point they have a very natural workflow established, especially when it comes to laying down guitar tracks with all sorts of esoteric gear. “It’s a Bob Rock record so we used the kitchen sink,” Duffy says. You name it, they used it, from handmade boutique amplifiers worth tens of thousands of dollars to humble practice amps sold through mail order catalogs in the ‘50s and ‘60s. “We did a week just doing guitars on Maui where Bob lives,” Duffy says. “I went over there around my birthday last year and I did it as a combination birthday and some work. Bob shows up in this pickup truck that’s got to be worth about six hundred dollars and it won’t die, and the gear on the back of it was worth about a million bucks, strapped to the back of the pickup truck. He had a lot of stuff.”
One of the superstars of the record was a red Fender Jaguar, a guitar Duffy usually despises, but in Rock’s hands (as an occasional co-guitarist in the studio) it took on a whole new life. “The riff at the beginning of the album, Bob’s playing a red Fender Jaguar, which as you know are horrible guitars, but this one isn’t horrible, it’s really nice,” Duffy says. “He bought it in LA from some store and he snuck it out from under the nose of my very good friend from the old days Johnny Marr – who has his own signature Jaguar by the way. Bob bought this Jaguar that doesn’t suck. It sounds good, it plays well and everything works on it.
“That’s Bob playing that riff because that’s how a guitar can affect a song. He walked in with that guitar, plugged it in, started messing around and that riff was much slower but he sped it up and started messing around with it and it went from there. The guitar inspired him to take a riff that was okay but then inspired him. That’s how that song came together: on the back of Bob’s shopping spree.”
A hallmark of Duffy’s own guitar style is the dark, lonesome melody of tracks like She Sells Sanctuary and Rain. It sounds almost like a surf-guitar approach to songwriting, although the overall sound is nothing like that genre. “It was never a thing I was into. I always found it a bit. I liked The Shadows and Ennio Morricone but I wouldn’t call that surfy. Maybe somewhere along those lines. I’ve definitely got that melodic ear. But we don’t do too cheerful around The Cult, that’s for sure.”
By Peter Hodgson