Ceremony – The Cult

the_cult_ceremonyReleased in September 1991, Ceremony, the fifth album by The Cult was the first time in the band’s career that an album wasn’t more successful than its previous one. A perfect storm of factors contributed to this: Band in-fighting, bad timing and a quickly-changing music scene all led to an album that peaked at #25 and quickly was forgotten.

The Cult started life as part of Europe’s alternative wave of the early/mid 1980s. Core members Ian Astbury (vocals), Billy Duffy (guitar) and Jamie Stewart (bass) were joined by a revolving door of drummers. The band quickly became a fan favorite in both America and Britain with “She Sells Sanctuary” off its second album, Love. The follow-up, the Rick Rubin-helmed Electric moved the band away from its alt roots and into the hard rock/heavy metal mainstream. It reached #38 and effectively bridged the gap between the alternative and commercial hard rock worlds.

Electric was followed by 1989’s Sonic Temple, produced by Bob Rock (whose engineering/producing resume included many successful mainstream artists including Survivor, Loverboy, Bon Jovi, Kingdom Come, Krokus and Aerosmith, among many others), Sonic Temple was a top-ten, platinum smash that moved the band into bona fide arena headliner status. It seemed that The Cult had finally made the big time.

The band’s reign at the top was short lived: The first crack in the facade was the sudden departure of Jamie Stewart in 1990. Citing that he was fed up with the constant stress between Astbury and Duffy, he quit the band and was not replaced. Around the same time, touring drummer Matt Sorum jumped ship to join Guns ‘n’ Roses, replacing drug-addled drummer Steven Adler.

The Cult, now reduced to the duo, were faced with these challenges in creating the follow-up to Sonic Temple. In addition, Bob Rock, whose production was an integral part of Sonic Temple’s success, went on to produce two heavy metal classics, both of which peaked at #1 and sold millions of units, Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood and Metallica’s Metallica (a.k.a the Black Album).

Both the Crue and Metallica albums were hits commercially (both peaked at #1) and produced hit singles and hit videos; both bands toured successfully on the strength of the albums. Metallica’s album featured particularly grueling recording sessions, stretching from October 1990 through June 1991, putting Rock out of contention for producing the follow-up to Sonic Temple.

The band elected to use Richie Zito, producer of hits such as Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight,” Cheap Trick’s “The Flame” and Bad English’s “When I See You Smile,” a move that no doubt alienated their fan base. Released on September 24, 1991 (the same day as Nirvana’s Nevermind), the band found the marketplace had changed since their last release – it was not very receptive to bands from the 1980s. Instead of a top-ten and platinum success, it settled for a gold album (500,000 units sold) and a peak of #25 in Billboard.

The music on Ceremony? For one thing it lacked the Bob Rock vibe that Sonic Temple benefited from. (Listen to Dr. Feelgood and Metallica a.k.a. The Black Album to hear what Rock brought to these bands.) Instead of going for Rock’s high-gloss sheen, it clearly went for the radio-friendly sound that Zito was famous for.

After Ceremony’s release, things only got worse for The Cult. The band was playing much smaller venues in support of the album; the lack of album sales and concert tickets only furthered the problems between Astbury and Duffy; finally, the family of the Native American boy on the cover of the album (and in the “Wild Hearted Son” video) sued the band and its record companies (Sire in Europe; WB in North America) for $61 million. (The case was eventually thrown out of court.)

The Cult never recovered from the downward slide that Ceremony started. Although the music isn’t a huge departure from the sound that the band was known for, the sterile, commercial production and band in-fighting, burnout and a changing musical landscape all took their toll and led to the band’s dissolutions after the next album. Although the band has since reformed, no albums released since have charted higher than #37 – 12 positions lower than Ceremony’s peak chart position in America. (Note: A UK only compilation, Pure Cult, released in 1993, peaked at #1 in the UK charts.)

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: The Cult
  • Album: Ceremony
  • Label: Beggars Banquet
  • Producer: Richie Zito
  • Released: September 1991
  • Billboard Peak Chart Position: #25

Skyscraper -David Lee Roth

skyscraperblogphotoSkyscraper was David Lee Roth’s second full album as a solo artist, the follow up to to his solo debut, 1986’s successful Eat ‘Em And Smile. It was also the last to feature the original “Eat ’em and Smile” band, as bassist Billy Sheehan departed shortly after the album was finished.

Following Van Halen’s monster 1984 album (and a #1 single, Jump), DLR went through a public (and quite nasty) mid-1985 divorce from the band. Both acts carried on – Van Halen snagged vocalist Sammy Hagar, while Roth went with “the best band money could buy;” guitarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette.

Many industry big shots put their money on Roth to be the more successful of the two, as they felt it was impossible for a band to replace such an iconic frontman. Plus, Van Halen’s management, crew and producer all stuck with Dave, so it seemed like they, as insiders, knew where the talent really was.

Round one ended in a draw: Both acts released successful albums and played arena tours in 1986; Van Halen sold more units, but they were considered “poppier” than before and had multiple hit singles (without videos, no less!) from their album, 5150. By early 1988, it was time for both acts to follow up.

Roth struck first withSkyscraper. This time around, he disposed of producer Ted Templeman (who produced all of the Roth-era Van Halen as well asEat ‘Em And Smile) and self-produced the album with guitarist Steve Vai. The result was a less unified, synth-heavy, cold sounding album that was too high-tech for most of his fan base. Although it spawned a top ten single (“Just Like Paradise” peaked at #6 in Billboard) and a couple of album rock tracks (“Damn Good” and “Stand Up”), it didn’t hold up in the long run. 

This was the album that broke the spell of David Lee Roth. The first crack in the façade was when bassist Billy Sheehan left the band post-album but pre-tour. (He was replaced on stage by drummer Gregg Bissonette’s brother, Matt.) Although it seemed like a minor detail at the time, it sent a loud and clear message out publicly: Being in Dave’s band is NOT the coolest gig in town anymore. Making it more painful, Sheehan didn’t even stick around long enough for the “Just Like Paradise” video. He then founded Mr. Big, whose first album came out in late 1989.

More dissonance occurred concerning the single; Steve Vai, who co-wrote the majority of Roth’s first two albums (but not “Paradise”), loathed the song (although this wasn’t common knowledge at the time). Additionally, having secured the high-profile gig with Roth, he became a known as an A-list guitarist and his name was out there for future projects. (More on that later.) But Vai, being the consummate professional, appeared in the “Just Like Paradise” video and completed the tour.

Once again, David Lee Roth embarked on a successful arena tour, supported at various times in the states by Faster Pussycat and Poison. Poison’s popularity exploded during the tour, and by the end of 1988, they were headlining arenas on their own. Some fans grumbled that his setlist routinely covered only four classic Van Halen tunes on his 1988 tour. (Five if you count “You Really Got Me.”) The US leg commenced in March (Lakeland, FL) and finished in August (Troy, MI). The international leg included Western Europe, Japan and Australia.

Meanwhile, Van Halen released OU812, their second Sammy-fronted album in May, and it replicated the 5150 chart position of #1, its several hit singles and a successful tour, though marred by the controversial “Monsters of Rock” traveling stadium festival. So once again, Dave wasn’t able to upstage his former band.

But in the end, the album was a letdown for the fans of Eat ‘Em And Smile and it marked the end of the Roth dynasty. After the tour, Steve Vai would jump ship (eventually replacing Vivian Campbell in the now-huge Whitesnake), a second blow DLR’s career would never recover from.

Roth’s next album, 1991’s A Little Ain’t Enough (recorded with guitarist Jason Becker) was far less successful and produced no memorable singles (or videos); the follow-up tour paired him with openers the downward-trending Cinderella (ironically an opener on the Eat ‘Em And Smile campaign now on a downward trajectory after their own arena-headlining tour) and newcomers Extreme, before being scrapped for overall apathy.

Meanwhile, Van Halen hit #1 for a third time with their 1991 album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (and accompanying tour); and for the first time in this rivalry, Van Halen produced the better-known video (“Right Now”) of the pairing.

It was all downhill from there for Dave, who never again regained a foothold on rock’s A-list, despite pairing up with Eddie and Alex Van Halen many years later.

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: David Lee Roth
  • Album: Skyscraper
  • Label: Warner Bros.
  • Producer: David Lee Roth, Steve Vai
  • Released: January 1988
  • Billboard Peak Chart Position: #6