Review Summary: This isn't your Mother's Ministry. Wait – scratch that. Reverse it.
Brash, abrasive, dark and dirty, MINISTRY has never been a band to take lightly. Unless you count everything they did before 1986. Al Jourgensen would prefer to be remembered as the aggro-mouthed industrial front man with a propensity for harsh vocals and overbearing guitars, in favor of his earlier incarnation: Alain Jourgensen, the sniveling, needy, nancy boy of long forgotten past. If Jourgenson controlled time, 1983 would be erased from history. It was the year his core project, Ministry, released their cringe-worthy debut, With Sympathy.
Donning a fake British accent and dowsed in new wave flash and dazzle, With Sympathy
bears more resemblance to the Thompson Twins than the industrial thrash assault found on more recognizable albums like Psalm 69
and The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste.
Graphically described by Jourgensen as “an abortion of an album,”
Ministry was pressured by their Arista label to release a synthpop record in order to capitalize on a trend – Or so Alain would have us believe. Rumors circulate that Jourgensen would go so far as to destroy any copy of With Sympathy
he encountered; and with justifiable reason. The album, itself, actually has some sympathy for its listeners, by cutting short after just nine songs. Which is probably seven too many.
There are some good things on this album, but first let's explore the seldom spoken, shakiest territory of the groups suspect history. I'm not going to pretend I know a lot about DeBarge, but I suspect they sound a bit like “I Wanted to Tell Her.”
Specifically the verse. Combining the worst of disco, funk and soul, the track is a twisted freak that should have been killed upon birth; instead it was featured prominently at track three. What's scarier is that it's also one of the more enjoyable tracks on the album, if you can get over the embarrassment you feel towards yourself for actually liking it. You might also hate it. “Work For Love”
is another excruciatingly dated song that is somewhat rescued by it's highly entertaining lyrical concept. “And now you're taking applications / For your love / You wanted certain specifications / I circled the one that said all the above.”
A more shameless pleasure than it's predecessor, “Work For Love”
keeps it simple with sparse 80's riffs and intermittent crystallized synth loops over programmed beats. “Finally my letter arrived / And I knew you would be mine / Instead I had to prove my turf / For the first two weeks work overtime.”
Not quite awful, “Work For Love”
could win you over and land the job of avoiding a skip.
By far the ugliest skeleton in Jourgensen's music closet is the hideous “What He Say.”
Polluted with the worst “world” themed electronics, nonsensical, incoherent ooga-booga lyrics and the continued insistence upon dancing to the whole mess, the song is absolutely atrocious. Top it off with a refrain of “WHAT HE SAY""”
and your ears are irreversibly quality damaged. The remaining three tracks on the album don't do much to improve the overall quality of the record, but they do inflict more heavy damage to Ministry's image. “Say Your Sorry”
sets the mood with a clichéd 1983 impassioned sax solo, before introducing the sorriest, heart-broken cries of a pitiful Alain Jourgensen. The sadder side of Al continues to be revealed in “I Should Have Known Better”
and is finally put to rest on the album closer, “She's Got a Cause.”
Before this ship was sunk, it looked good and had a bit of promise upon setting sail. Opener “Effigy (I'm Not An)”
is exactly what you would want the synthpop incarnation of Ministry to sound like: Ticked-off vocals, dark, catchy electronics and a hard-hitting, programmed drum beat. It's not the most amazing new wave song ever written, but it's fun, aggressive and does little to tarnish the Ministry to come. The song lays blueprints for the kind of pop-industrial sound popularized by Nine Inch Nails on their 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine.
By far the greatest song of Ministry's synthpop era is “Revenge.”
Combining the aural aesthetics of early '80s new wave with the anger and aggression of late '80s industrial, “Revenge”
is a masterful darkwave tune that's thoroughly engaging with it's driving synths, pounding beat and highly contemptuous vocal. The track is enjoyable enough to forgive the faux-Brit accent used throughout. With “Revenge,”
Jourgenson conceived one of the greatest synthpop songs of the early 80's, and without question, one of the angriest. A brooding new waver's anthem, the song is good enough to warrant owning the entire album, regardless of it's flagrant deficiencies. Just don't let Al find out you have it, or he might come to your house to break it.
Ministry would abandon their synthpop origins pretty quickly after With Sympathy.
Jourgenson went on to leave Arista for Sire, where he would take the sound into a drastically different direction. Some fans prefer the early approach, found on With Sympathy
and the Twelve Inch Singles
collection (see: “Everyday Is Halloween”, “All Day”
) while the majority of Ministry followers are of the industrial fan base. Which is better" Depends on who you ask: Your Mom, or a hardass.