Electric was the follow-up to 1985’s post-punk/gothic rock triumph Love, which produced the hit “She Sells Sanctuary,” as well as the singles “Rain” and “Revolution.” It was the band’s breakthrough record, coming on the heels of 1984’s Dreamtime, which had them firmly ensconced in the burgeoning U.K. goth scene.
Founding members Billy Duffy (guitar) and Ian Astbury (vocals) both had respectable pedigrees in the genre. Astbury had fronted Southern Death Cult, and Duffy had played guitar in Theatre of Hate, two notable bands in the scene’s earliest days.
When Electric hit the shelves, most of the Cult’s fans were perplexed when they were greeted by lean, mean hard rockers “Love Removal Machine,” “Outlaw” and the bluesy “Lil’ Devil.” Gone were the lush, chorus-laden guitar tracks and reverb-drenched vocals. The new Cult record was dry as a bone and in your face, “borrowing” riffs and attitude from Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. They looked different as well, trading in their paisley shirts and scarves for leather and denim. The album even included a cover of Steppenwolf‘s classic “Born to Be Wild.”
Had the Cult become a postmodern expression of themselves? There is a story here, of course. In actuality, the record known as Electric had begun life under a different name: Peace. The band had worked with Steve Brown, the producer of Love, at Richard Branson’s Manor Studios in Oxfordshire, U.K. On Peace, the recordings reflected the style that Brown had demonstrated on Love: swirling guitars layered with effects, the typical post-punk vibe. Ultimately, the entire production was rejected by the band.
"The songs were too long and just felt bloated and self-indulgent," Duffy explained in a 2013 interview with Sabotage Times. "We’d gone back into the studio too soon, as the label just wanted us to keep laying golden eggs. In reality, we should have kept rehearsing and gone through a pre-production process. We knew something was not right, but didn’t quite know what it was. I remember listening to a replay of the album at the Townhouse studios and thinking, ‘We’re doomed!’”
During the tour cycle for Love, the band had spent a considerable amount of time on the road in the U.S. During this period, they had discovered Rick Rubin through his work with the Beastie Boys, and formulated the idea of working with him on a remix of Peace. This was early in Rubin’s career, before he had worked with such rock giants as Danzig, Slayer and the Red Hot Chili Peppers; at this stage, the producer had only worked in hip-hop.
The Cult would enlist Rubin for what would become Electric, and in doing so saved themselves from obscurity. Rubin, alongside engineer by Andy Wallace (who also engineered Slayer’s classic album Reign in Blood), brought forth a heavy-handed fury in the material from the Peace sessions. Four tracks — “Zap City,” “Love Trooper,” “Conquistador” and “Groove Co.” — were dropped and, along with the aforementioned Steppenwolf cover, “Lil’ Devil,” “King Contrary Man,” and “Memphis Hip Shake” were added to the track list.
The new versions of the old songs were retooled for a no-nonsense heavy rock approach. In contrast to the picturesque British countryside that housed Manor Studios, Rubin tracked and mixed Electric at Electric Ladyland in New York City. Remember, this was the derelict, crime-ridden New York City of the ’80s and it’s hard to imagine that the roughneck environment of the city didn’t help mold the sound of the record.
This proved to be a wise move for the Cult. The 1986-’87 period was when the face of heavy metal and hard rock changed. The year before, thrash icons Slayer and Metallica both released their defining records, respectively Reign in Blood and Master of Puppets. Both had held respectable positions in the Billboard Top 200, dragging thrash metal — the most extreme music at the time — out of the pits and into the mainstream. Guns N’ Roses‘ Appetite for Destruction dropped in July 1987 on Geffen, changing the whole game and sounding the death knell of glam and hair metal that had been running the show for most of the ’80s. By embracing their new, heavier sound, the Cult ensured they would not be left behind.
The entire unreleased Peace album saw the light of day in 2013 as the two-disc Electric Peace, which presented, side-by-side, both versions of the record for fans to enjoy.