Sunday, September 18, 2011

Album Review: Ministry - "Twitch" (1986)


Only three years have passed since the release of With Sympathy, but much has changed within the Ministry camp. Tracks from the album become minor hits; Ministry leaves Arista after getting some ridiculous creative suggestions, signs back with original label Wax Trax, and begins releasing standalone singles of a more dark and heavy nature than the first LP. It is during this process that Al Jourgensen finds himself nearly bandless, as the whole With Sympathy-era lineup, including Ministry co-founder Stephen George, are unable to tolerate him anymore and walk out on him (something Jourgensen will not be unfamiliar with as his career continues), aside from wife and keyboardist/backing vocalist Patty Jourgensen. Also, around the time of With Sympathy coming out, Al starts a side project on Wax Trax called Revolting Cocks, which has a more harsh industrial sound than Ministry. For the next few singles, Ministry operates as Al and Patty (mostly Al) until getting a record deal with Sire and getting started on what is basically an Al-solo-with-guests album, Twitch.

Twitch feels like a natural progression from With Sympathy and the earlier Wax Trax singles, having lots of the harsher and darker elements of Revolting Cocks' music with the groove and melody of Ministry; indeed, Twitch sounds essentially like a cross between Ministry's With Sympathy LP and the Revolting Cocks' debut, Big Sexy Land. Produced by Adrian Sherwood and featuring guest appearances by ex-members Patty Jourgensen, Stephen George, and Brad Hallen, renowned producer Keith LeBlanc, and Revolting Cocks member Luc Van Acker.

The album has a lush sound, dated though it may be, that bounces back and forth between industrial madness and pop sensibility; Jourgensen alternatively makes peace with the final vestiges of his new-romantic croon on some tracks and finds the beginnings of his better-known mechanical growl on others. The reason I love this album so much is that, for an industrial album, it's not at all scared to flirt with pop music. This turns a lot of people off the album, particularly people from the Psalm 69 bandwagon, but fuck 'em. The combination of banging-on-trash-can metallic percussion and cyberpunk synths with almost disco-esque grooves and satisfying melodies makes for a great listening experience. It's kind of like Pretty Hate Machine minus guitars (and in fact this album would be a big influence on the sound of that record).

This album, musically and lyrically, essentially strikes a balance between light and dark. The lyrics are a lot more bitter than on the previous album, and there's an overall angry tone even on the more pop-sounding tracks. Jourgensen's leftist politics first come into play on this record in songs such as "Just Like You" and "Over the Shoulder" but it's still vague and well-written enough that it's not nearly as irritating as later political stuff like the Bush Trilogy (and I say this as someone of the left-leaning persuasion). Many tracks on the album recall the greatness of Wax Trax with an aggressive, noisy, gothy dance tone. The highlights of the album for me are "The Angel" with its slow, sinister intensity and the harsh, climactic medley of "Where You At Now?/Crash and Burn/Twitch" which features Luc Van Acker of the Revolting Cocks on vocals and goes in an almost rave direction - electronica you can mosh to. It also hints at the direction the band would take on its next album, The Land of Rape and Honey.

It's too bad this album doesn't get much attention anymore. At the time, "Over the Shoulder" was a hit and the album proved fairly influential in the industrial scene, but it's been overshadowed by the later, metal-oriented material by the band. Still, give this a listen. It's great.

Rating: 5/5