Blatant Pop Attempts: Ministry, “With Sympathy”

Written by Music

There are those artists who get a couple releases into their career before they feel the pressure from the suits at the label to “have a hit,” and then there are those artists who sell out right from the get-go.

Ministry certainly falls into the latter category and their debut longplayer smacks of blatant commerciality…blatant, misguided, and downright silly commerciality.

Hailing from the urban mecca of Chicago, Alain Jourgenson and Steven George formed Ministry in 1981 as a funk-tinged synth duo, scoring a couple minor dance hits before inking a deal with Arista Records.

Despite a pedigree that included a stint in the hard-edged alt-rockers Special Affect (a band that also included future My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult founder Groovy Mann), Jourgenson’s vision on With Sympathy was single-mindedly aimed at the charts.


(Ministry circa 1983: Al Jourgenson, left, and Steven George)

How else does one explain such tracks as “Work For Love” and “What He Say?” — the latter a laughably kitschy blend of synth-pop and, uh, world music…I think.

The album actually gets off to a promising start, with pulsating hard-synth rockers “Effigy (I’m Not An)” and “Revenge” setting the scene for what I had initially hoped was a synth record with some backbone to it. While those two tracks were a perfect combination of Jourgenson’s brash persona and knack for creating aggressive synth grooves, each song thereafter seems created for the sole purpose of prostrating himself before the synth-pop crowd.

No wonder Jourgenson has spent the better part of three decades trying to live this one down, putting on one helluva “tough-guy” act in the process.

Granted, the bad taste this album’s failure left in Jourgenson’s mouth would lead him to adopt quite the devil-may-care attitude, taking his music underground. The resulting album, Twitch, was both groundbreaking and unrelenting in its singular vision and remains one of the most influential industrial rock recordings of all time…for what that’s worth.