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The Cult: Many Happy Returns To 'Love'

Tuesday, 20 October 2015 Written by Graeme Marsh

As wrong as it may seem, one song can make or break a record and there have been many examples over the years of sales figures swelling thanks to a game-changing track.

Led Zeppelin’s ‘IV’ has Stairway To Heaven, while less than five years after that album’s release, Queen unveiled ‘A Night At The Opera’ and Bohemian Rhapsody. Both albums’ sales are measured in tens of millions. The Cult’s ‘Love’, their second LP, could be viewed from the outside as another from that stable. Easily recognisable as the band’s signature track, She Sells Sanctuary remains one of the greatest rock songs of its time and was particularly head-turning for teenagers in 1985, surrounded as they were by showy extravagance from Spandau Ballet, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Wham!.

“Punk was great because it brought back the excitement and emotion but it was too rough to last,” Ian Astbury, the band's frontman, told the Chicago Tribune in 1985. “Now you’ve got all these smoothie pop groups like Wham! and Duran Duran who’re on top of the world, and the whole scene’s gone the other way again. But they can’t last either.”

It was She Sells Sanctuary that crystallised the Cult’s own vision and launched their riposte to the glam bands of the ‘80s in stunning fashion. Their first genuine success, the song’s rise up the charts also neatly dovetailed with the staging of Live Aid that summer.

“This was a coming together, where people weren’t thinking about their economic situations and the negative situations in their own lives,” Astbury told the A.V. Club in 2012. “All of a sudden, we were asked to consider other human beings and their plight. That particular day was such an incredibly powerful moment, and we were right in the epicentre of it. We were coming of age right in the epicentre of that energy, and that affected me deeply because the potentiality of human beings when we get together to do something positive can be magnificent. We seemed to write an optimistic song at the right moment that encapsulated that kind of spirit.”

At that point, She Sells Sanctuary stood alone, written and released before ‘Love’ as a complete work was truly on the cards. Astbury, guitarist Billy Duffy and bassist Jamie Stewart would part ways with drummer Nigel Preston following its recording, with his failure to appear for the video shoot at a Wimbledon theatre the final straw. He had been arrested in the early hours of the morning and Mark Brzezicki, sticksman with Big Country, stepped in for filming at short notice, later manning the stool for the recording of ‘Love’.

“Obviously at that point ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ had already been recorded with Nigel on the drums but we’d had some problems with him in the studio too,” Duffy later wrote on his personal website. “His drinking had affected his performance, though with a bit of work we overcame that so it didn’t effect [sic] the final recording. We were about to start recording the ‘Love’ album but with Nigel was out of the band we got Mark in to play drums because he was a session player.

“So Nigel is the drummer on Sanctuary but he is not the drummer on the rest of the ‘Love’ album as it’s Mark Brzezicki, which is the irony of all ironies that the drummer in the video for She Sells Sanctuary didn’t play on the recording of that track but he played on all the other songs on the album that it appeared on.”

One of the most striking aspects of She Sells Sanctuary was Duffy’s playing of the riff on the G string, while also playing an open D. “I got into this habit because there was only one guitar player in the band and it just helped fill the sound out,” he told Premier Guitar in 2012. “I also started adding a little echo which filled the sound out even more, but partly gets eaten up by the band, so it’s not so obvious.”

This usage of the open D isn’t only confined to She Sells Sanctuary on ‘Love’. Its second single, Rain, features the same technique and is an oft-overlooked gem that remains in the shadow of its more famous predecessor. For the third single, they turned their hand to a power ballad, Revolution, but close inspection reveals plenty of similarities to what went before it.

“I think it’s the simplicity of the songs,” Astbury told Aquarian Weekly. “They’re not overblown. They’re very simply arranged and the chord structures are very simple. They sound pretty fresh and youthful and were performed in incredible earnestness. There’s no contrivance on the record; what you hear is what was going on. Sometimes as you progress in your career you get a little more professional or whatever and lose that bit of naivety. That’s one of the aspects of this album that makes it so endearing.”

On first appearances, ‘Love’ could certainly be classed as merely the home of She Sells Sanctuary, but there is a glut of highlights and every track is worthy of its place on one of the best rock albums released by a British group during the ‘80s. ‘Love’ also gave the band a taste of Stateside success, an aspect that would fascinate Duffy in particular and become the catalyst for the much heavier, Rick Rubin-produced follow up, ‘Electric’, in 1987. ‘Love’, arriving before the band left their goth trappings behind for adventures in hard rock, remains the peak of their early work, and for that reason it also represents a cornerstone for British guitar music.

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