25 Years Ago: The Cult Lose Their Way With ‘Ceremony’
By 1991, when the Cult released their fifth studio album, Ceremony, they had established a reputation as perhaps rock's most accomplished chameleons, capable of adopting radically different musical directions with ease without losing their songwriting mojo.
All the way back to their birth in the early '80s, the English group, led by singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy, had successfully delved into post-punk and goth-rock on 1984's Dreamtime, modern psychedelia on 1985's Love, blue-collar hard rock on 1987's Electric, and arena-sized heavy metal on 1989's Sonic Temple.
Yet, for all these changes, hit singles had never been hard to come by, and even though the Cult's fan base inevitably morphed as fans hopped off or on their bandwagon, enough of these seemed willing enough to tag along for the group's wild ride across multiple genres. But something changed on Ceremony.
For the first time in the Cult's career, the creative relationship between Astbury and Duffy couldn't find common ground, let alone commit to a clear-cut musical approach like its predecessors had. On the one hand, there was Duffy's enduring passion for straightforward heavy rock, very much rooted in the dying decade's musical values; on the other Astbury's ever-more spiritual lyrics and an awareness of the alternative rock revolution already taking root all around them.
As a result, muscular rockers like "Wild Hearted Son," "Earth Mofo" and even the acoustic ballad "Heart of Soul" felt like lazy throwbacks to Sonic Temple, while the folksy "White," piano-led "If," strings-laden "Indian," and soul-singer backed "Salvation" merely flirted with novel styles and textures instead of committing wholeheartedly to innovating the band's sound.
Adding insult to injury, Sharon Isaak of Entertainment Weekly reported in June 1992 that the Cult was being sued for millions of dollars by the family of the Native American boy featured on Ceremony's cover. At this point, it was also clear that Ceremony wouldn't match the sales figures of previous efforts. After two consecutive platinum records, Ceremony didn't even go gold in the U.S.
Indeed, larger clues of the Cult's diminishing popularity wouldn't become evident until the end of the Ceremony tour and their poorly received, self-titled sixth album. By this point, the next generation's grunge era was in full effect, and Duffy and Astbury were that much further apart personally and professionally, effectively marking Ceremony as the end of their band's career peak.
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