As far as synth-pop records go, Ministry’s debut major label effort, With Sympathy, has always been one of my favorites.
I remember buying the album sight-unseen in 1983, having read only the briefest of blurbs about the band in Trouser Press magazine. I was immediately drawn in by Alain Jourgenson’s edgy vocals and the band’s use of synths in a more aggressive manner than most synth bands of the time (Ultravox, for example). Songs like “Effigy (I’m Not)” and “Revenge” were augmented by hard-driving drum patterns and urgent vocal hooks.
“I Wanted To Tell Her” continued the angsty desperation and I was rubbing my hands in hot anticipation of telling my friends about the cool new band I had discovered.
From that point on, though, things went hideously wrong. A little fluff-pop ditty called “Work For Love” came limping out of the speakers and I had to do a double-take to make sure my little brother hadn’t replaced my Ministry record with the latest Culture Club single.
Even more embarrassing than that particular track was the head-scratcher “What He Say?” (my thoughts exactly), which is easily one of the more cringe-worthy songs of the 80’s (and, doggone it for being such a well-kept secret – UNTIL NOW!).
The rest of the album is, for the most part, unremarkable. It is also now out-of-print.
Jourgenson, of course, went on to completely disown this record and, in the span of two years, underwent one of the more extreme artistic transformations ever. In 1985, he released the landmark album, Twitch, on Sire Records. While far from a chart success, that album was the template for the entire industrial dance music movement that spawned such notable acts as Skinny Puppy and Nine Inch Nails.
I remember being so floored by the harshness of Twitch that I actually checked to make sure my stereo wasn’t malfunctioning. In hindsight, “Just Like You” and “All Day (Remix)” were, at their core, fairly accessible dance-pop tunes except for the fact that Jourgenson was coaxing the most abrasive sounds from his synthesizers. On other tracks, such as “My Possession” and “Over The Shoulder“, Jourgenson and producer, Adrian Sherwood laid the groundwork for dub, house and drum ‘n’ bass. Synth lines attacked from all sides, the drum machines were brutal and unrelenting, and Jourgenson’s vocals weren’t so much sung as chanted with great ferocity. “Crash & Burn” and the title cut sounded like a German tank factory crashing in on itself.
Upon first listen to the record in its entirety, I hated it.
It was different. It was unconventional. It was inventive and it challenged all of my perceptions of pop music.
But, strangely enough, I kept listening and, to this day, Twitch stands as one of my favorite records ever.