Ministry Flat-Out Refuses To Die!

So, there I was, somehow excited by the prospect of hearing some new Ministry music as I paid the $5 cover and entered into the dimly lit Lucky Number Grill, located in the Bucktown/Wicker Park section of Chicago.

Having been with Ministry ringleader Al Jourgenson for the better part of his 30-year run, I have enjoyed an intense love-hate relationship with the man and his music. It would seem that he has, too.

During the course of the night, though, when not partaking in the wonderfully explicit displays of fetish entertainment going on around me (and me without my camera, dammit), I was once again reminded that Ministry's best work has always been the songs that play well on the dance floor. I know that ain't at all what Jourgenson wants to hear, but, hey, he's the one showcasing his new album of remixes while a DJ blasts music from all phases of the man's career. And Jourgenson himself would have to be blind to see the throngs of dancing bodies that fill the dance floor anytime one of those particular songs starts playing.

Too bad he's so damn insistent upon being seen as a bad-ass.

From the very moment of the band's inception in the early 1980's, Uncle Al has been valiantly trying to elude his musical past like some foul stench one can never escape. Ministry, of course, was a quite intentional response to Jourgenson's tenure in under-achieving Chicago post-punk band Special Affect. The band, while talented and full of potential, ultimately failed to serve as a fulfilling outlet for his more esoteric musical ambitions.

After a couple well received 12" singles issued on the Chicago-based Wax Trax! label, Jourgenson and partner-in-crime/drummer Stephen George signed to Arista Records. Their first full-length, With Sympathy, was a slick, aim-for-the-fences, synth-based stab at the big time. With songs such as "Revenge" and "Effigy (I'm Not An)", Jourgenson melded synth-pop with a sneer and a fake British accent, but fame and fortune seemed to ignore him for the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Billy Idol.

Selling a respectable 250,000 copies, the album was not the gold-plated hit it perhaps should have been, but it did give Arista enough faith in their artist to finance demos for a second album. Jourgenson responded by cutting a handful of half-hearted new tracks, including a Roxy Music cover that was Jourgenson's final documented attempt at "playing ball" with the label suits. No longer able to hide his contempt for the proverbial "assembly line hit machine", Jourgenson sought his release from the Arista roster and, shockingly, the label obliged.

Jourgenson then returned to indie home Wax Trax! with a chip on his shoulder and a tune in his heart, so to speak. That tune was "Everyday Is Halloween", which became an immediate underground dance hit and the basis for the major labels to once again come a-courtin'.

(Click HERE to download a RARE live version of Ministry performing "Everyday Is Halloween".)

It was at this precise moment that Jourgenson, like the proverbial scorpion biting his own tail, turned against himself, openly dismissing everything he'd recorded as Ministry up to that point as nothing more than "synth-pop crap". Oddly, he seemed to loathe his own work as if someone had forced him to create such disposable fodder against his own will when, in truth, he was never anything less than commander of his own ship. Fans who'd been there from the beginning were made to feel as if they'd shown poor judgment in liking the music enough to buy it.

With a new label deal (Sire/Warner Bros.) and partnership with dub producer Adrian Sherwood, Jourgenson holed up in London's Southern Studio to record his follow-up.

Those hoping for an entire album of songs like "Everyday is Halloween" must have been immensely disappointed when they opened their copy of Twitch and played it for the first time. As someone who enjoyed the first half of With Sympathy, I recall hearing Twitch for the first time and believing that something was either wrong with my copy of the album, or my stereo system, or both.

Quite succinctly, what I heard challenged my very understanding of what I thought music should and could be. What I found most startling was the complete absence of conventionality in any sense. It was as if Jourgenson and Sherwood had somehow succeeded in erasing their minds of any previous conception of what pop music was and began anew, constructing a musical landscape that was completely their own. Those hoping to find a three-minute pop song within the grooves of this monumental record would walk away empty-handed. Granted, "All Day" is a song recorded during roughly the same period as "Everyday Is Halloween", but the remix that appears on Twitch seems intent on deconstructing the song.

(Click HERE to download a RARE live version of "All Day" from 1986.)

To this day, I've yet to hear anyone coax such monolithic slabs of dissonance and decay from their synthesizer. When I listen to Twitch, even to this day, I imagine a pile of discarded synths smoldering in back of a London studio, Jourgenson having rocked the life out of each and every one of them.

Twitch, of course, was Jourgenson's challenge to fans and record label suits alike. The message was very clear: Uncle Al was not going to make music for anyone but himself and, if, at the end of the day, he was the only one getting off on it, that was just fine by him. Oh, and don't ask him to play anything off of With Sympathy.

Jourgenson and new partner Paul Barker upped the stakes two years later with the nitro-burning The Land Of Rape And Honey, adding guitars to the mix and seemingly injecting lethal doses of adrenaline to the proceedings, as evidenced by tracks such as "Stigmata" and the title cut.

On 1989, Jourgenson enlisted a full band to create The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste and, in doing so, took the insanity to a whole new level. Synths seemed to no longer hold any interest for Jourgenson, who now seemed hell-bent on proving his prowess as a hardcore guitarist and producer. By doing so, he almost immediately washed his hands of any association with the artist who had created Twitch and, in doing so, willingly became a thrash rock cartoon character, which, sadly, he remains to this day.

What Jourgenson can't quite seem to understand is that no album full of his cookie-monster rants and speedcore guitar work is even half as heavy as Twitch was. No amount of multi-tracked Flying V's run through Marshall stacks turned to eleven can compete with the mammoth ferocity of a single synthesizer keyboard in Al Jourgenson's hands, but damn if he isn't commited to proving me wrong.

See, for every album that Jourgenson makes, the only way he can truly follow it up is by making a record that's heavier. The danger in that is that the ceiling's not as high as one would think and you very quickly fall into the trap of repeating yourself or, even worse, sounding like a third-rate "Metalocalypse" soundtrack.

If Jourgenson wants to make an album that's heavier and more defiant than his last one, he needs to lose the guitars and forget everything he's learned in the past twenty odd years. Crazy, I know, but it was that same level of crazy that gave the world Twitch and, while I'm not asking for Twitch, Part 2, even that would be preferable to another instantly forgettable Al Jourgenson grind-core record full of riffs that sound as if they fell off the back of Rob Zombie's hillbilly hearse.

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1 comment:

  1. you're spot on - he WOULD have to be blind to see the throngs of dancing bodies ....