Like Metallica, R.E.M., and so many other bands who hit their stride in the ’80s, The Cult have been systematically reissuing their classic albums in grand style. The latest of which, 1989’s Sonic Temple, is being celebrated with Sonic Temple 30, which is available as a 5CD set, a digital edition, an 8LP vinyl version, a 2LP vinyl edition, and a limited boxed set that has 3LPs and a cassette. But while it has a lot of great music beyond just the album, the necessity of this Cult collection really depends on how diligent you’ve been since the ’80s.
Photo Credit: Andrew Macpherson
Released in 1989, Sonic Temple was The Cult’s fourth studio album after 1984’s Dreamtime, 1985’s Love, and 1987’s Electric. But while Dreamtime and Love mixed punk and Goth in a unique way, and Electric had them stripping down to a raw rock sound, Sonic Temple melded the two approaches into what would become the band’s most fundamental style. Not only did it continue on 1991’s Ceremony and resurface for 2001’s Beyond Good And Evil, but it’s how they’ve essentially sounded live on every tour since, including ones in support for such different sounding albums as their eponymous and electronic-infused disc from 1994.
For Sonic Temple 30, the band have gone into their archives, and are augmenting the album with fourteen B-sides, remixes, live recordings, and demos. Chief among these are a trio of finished tunes they released on the flipsides of singles: the slow burning epic “The River,” the beautiful “Bleeding Heart Graffiti,” and the fun acoustic ditty “Messin’ Up The Blues.” All three of which are keepers. And the same can also be said for the three remixes — the “NYC Rock” and “LA Rock” mixes of “Fire Woman,” and the “Rock’s Mix” of “Sweet Soul Sister” — and the acoustic version of “Edie (Ciao Baby).” While none are better than the original versions, they do put interesting spins on these tunes.
Unfortunately, not everything in this part of Sonic Temple 30 is as necessary. There’s a radio promo for the album that’s an interesting artifact, but nothing you’d want to hear more than once, and the same can be said for radio edits of “Fire Woman,” “Edie (Ciao Baby),” “Sun King,” and “Sweet Soul Sister.” Though, having said that, it’s good that they were included in some versions of this collection, since they are part of the history of this album.
It’s just too bad the same attention to detail wasn’t paid to the next two volumes of Sonic Temple 30, which present twenty of the original demos for this album, including ones for the songs “New York City,” “Automatic Blues,” and “Sun King.”
Now, as with any collection of demos, the ones in Sonic Temple 30 are a mixed bag at best. Most are just rougher or unfinished versions of the song, and that includes tunes that never got finished and are only available in this form. Which is why, of the twenty included here, only two are worth keeping: “Spanish Gold” and “Star Child.” And even “Spanish Gold” is debatable since a finished version of that song appears as a B-side from the album Ceremony, and thus will probably be included if the band releases Ceremony 30 in two years.
But the real issue with the demos of Sonic Temple 30 is that it doesn’t have all of them; there were another nine included in the 2002 limited edition boxed set Rare Cult: The Demo Sessions. Even more annoying, three of the missing demos — “Indian,” “Bite On The Bullet,” and “Lay Down Your Gun” — are ones you’d want to keep, while a second demo of “Edie (Ciao Baby)” is more interesting (read: different from the finished version) than the one included here, and is also a keeper.
Sonic Temple 30 also, annoyingly comes up short when it comes to the live disc. Recorded by the BBC, the show has The Cult blazing their way through “Sun King,” “Soul Asylum,” “She Sells Sanctuary” and six other tracks. The problem being that the BBC broadcast included a tenth song not included here, a cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” while the show itself reportedly had another five: “Lil’ Devil,” “Love,” “Edie (Ciao Baby),” “Wild Flower,” and “Love Removal Machine.”
The lack of a proper live album in Sonic Temple 30 is especially glaring because concert recordings from that era of The Cult are hard to come by. While there is Live At The Lyceum, which was recorded a few months before they released Dreamtime in 1984, and the now out-of-print Live Cult: Marquee London MCMXCI from the Ceremony tour, there’s no official live albums from the Love, Electric, or Sonic Temple tours.
Still, if you didn’t get to see The Cult back then, the live tracks they did include in Sonic Temple 30 are really good, especially “Sweet Soul Sister” and “Sun King.”
There’s also a bit of weirdness when it comes to how Sonic Temple 30 is configured. For starters, the 5CD version does not have the song “Medicine Train” after “Wake Up Time For Freedom” at the end of the album, which is where it appeared on the original CD and the reissue Beggars Banquet released in 2000, but not on the original cassette or vinyl editions. And while it is on B-sides CD — and, oddly, on the three vinyl versions — it’s still odd not hearing it at the end of the album CD in the 5CD version.
Similarly, it’s also odd that the vinyl versions don’t just have “Medicine Train” after “Wake Up Time For Freedom,” but also “The River.” Not only does it not belong there, it’s also not a great end-of-album song like, well, “Medicine Train.” Though it is cool that the last side of the vinyl versions do have “Bleeding Heart Graffiti,” “Messin’ Up The Blues,” the acoustic version of “Edie (Ciao Baby)” and the “Fire Woman (NYC Rock Mix).”
But the most disappointing thing about how Sonic Temple 30 is configured comes in the limited-edition version. While it has a third LP with some of the B-sides and live tracks, it’s missing all of the edited versions, the “LA Rock Mix” of “Fire Woman,” the “Rock’s Mix” of “Sweet Soul Sister,” two of the live tracks that are on the live CD, and three of the demos, including the aforementioned good one of “Spanish Gold.”
Even more annoying, the demos they did include in the limited-edition version of Sonic Temple 30 are not on CD, LP, or a digital file, but a cassette. Which is great if you have a Camry from a year that started with 19, but not for anyone else. And no, including a book of rare photos and a new interview, as well as such collectibles as a replica of a backstage pass from the Sonic Temple tour, does not make up for the missing tunes.
In the end, Sonic Temple 30 isn’t for longtime fans who spent 1989 looking for the CD single for “Edie (Ciao Baby)” so they could get “Bleeding Heart Graffiti,” and then spent 2002 hunting down both the Rare Cult and Rare Cult: The Demo Sessions boxed sets. Nor is it for someone hoping to one day hear a complete, uncut live recording from the Sonic Temple tour.
But for fans of The Cult who weren’t so diligent, Sonic Temple 30 is a goldmine. Sure, it has some glaring omissions, but it does have an album’s worth of worthwhile non-album tracks that will keep any fan happy…well, until Sonic Temple 40 is released.