Even though Johnny Rotten was brutally candid about the Sex Pistols' reunion tour in 1996, they were vilified in many circles for making such a blatant money grab. It was seen as the ultimate sellout, and to top it all, the shows weren't that great, either. Yet the Cult, another band with British roots, apparently can do no wrong as it goes on tour six years after its crack-up. Critics who liked the Cult in the late '80s have scuff marks on their knees from all the ass-kissing, describing the outfit as the only true link between old-style rock/metal and the alt-grunge movement of the early '90s.

To get past the puffery, we offer a Cliffs Notes version of what made the Cult a badass live band when its music swept Britain and Canada in 1985 before reaching the States with the "She Sells Sanctuary" single. Singer Ian Astbury, a Brit who grew up in Canada, was the Jim Morrison of his time, all balls and charisma, who could sing with clarity or with a guttural howl. Billy Duffy was a guitarist's guitarist. Slinging a Gretsch White Falcon or Les Paul Custom in front of his Marshall stack and stomping on an array of pedals in his oversize motorcycle boots, Duffy played overdriven, wah-wah and reverb-assisted notes that rang like a campanile and gave the Cult its signature sound.

When Duffy played one of his trademark descending riffs and Astbury brought an ascending melody line up over the riff to a crescendo, it was a hairs-standing-on-neck kind of moment. (That was certainly the case when they regularly blew Billy Idol off the stage in a 1987 tour.)

Now, we're told, Astbury and Duffy have patched things up since the days when they would avoid each other for months at a time. After deciding to tour following the release of The Cult in 1994, the duo's love-hate relationship ended with a wee dustup at a 1995 concert in Rio de Janeiro (which seems to have conveniently slipped their memory).

The wounds apparently healed, the band now has a new studio album out, the Nietzschean-titled Beyond Good and Evil, which contains a couple of good cuts, therefore making it scads better than the Cult's vacuous aforementioned eponymous disc.

But let's face it: The group peaked on 1989's Sonic Temple. Duffy has given a nod to the Godsmacks of the world by down-tuning to add mega-crunchy riffs to some songs on the new record, but he'll always have more Angus Young in his veins than Lars Ulrich. And to make sure he keeps that vintage sound, he's pulling out his old Marshall stacks, just like the ones he sold to Steve Jones for the Pistols' reunion.

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Greg Barr
Contact: Greg Barr