Ryan Alexander Diduck
, March 29th, 2012 10:57
Candid admission: I was a full-tilt goth kid. And as such, Ministry occupied a good chunk of my teenage listening years. Come to think of it, one of my favourite memories of the 1990s was witnessing my friend’s then-two-year-old son dressed in plaid shirt and ripped jeans, moshing to 'Jesus Built My Hotrod' on the living room hook rug. Growing up in a relatively conservative and isolated city, there was something so tantalizingly transgressive about their industro-metal hybrid aesthetic, and forthright interventions into taboo topics like politics, religion, sex and drugs. Sadly, I grew up, moving through more mature phases in life and more diverse sonic territories. But it seems that Ministry haven’t moved much at all, and may indeed have slipped backward in nearly every possible way.
Admittedly, I’ve only kept one eye half open for Ministry-related news since the late 90s, and most of my CDs from that era went missing at assorted debauched parties or got scratched beyond playability on the floor of someone’s car. But a few days ago, I got nostalgic for a bit of heaviosity and googled some of their bygone classics to get just one fix, as it were. I was surprised to find not only that they’d been more or less steadily releasing records throughout the past decade, but also that a new one was imminent. Fantastic, I thought. Another great big hit of acid waiting to be taken. Hell, they even had a Facebook page, with several making-of-the-album webisodes to watch, which I did. And that’s when it started getting all sorts of ugly.
Time hasn’t been kind to Al Jourgensen. According to Rolling Stone, he began vomiting blood during their 2008 tour, and had to hang up his shit-kickers for a bit, during which time he recorded an album with his country project Buck Satan. But apparently, the Occupy movement of 2011 compelled Jourgensen to put the band back together to make Relapse. Curious, I visited their website, where the first single, '99 Percenters', automatically began streaming. I wish it hadn’t. It was terrible. Just dreadful. Appallingly unpleasant. 100% shite. It made me want to get rich and vote Republican, just to distance myself from the sentiment. There really aren’t words, at least not in English, to adequately describe how awkward it was sitting in front of my laptop just then, feeling the most contemptible second-hand embarrassment for an artist who I once held in fairly high regard.
I needed to confirm that this wasn’t a figment of my imagination, so I went to YouTube to find the promo. And again, wished I hadn’t. It was even more terrible, more dreadful, more appallingly unpleasant, more profoundly maladroit. As one commentator put it: “Makes me cringe just to gaze upon this video.” Never one to pass judgment too soon, I thought maybe it was a minor misguided hiccup in possibly an otherwise decent release. It wasn’t. The album’s opener, Ghouldiggers', (be careful, or you guys will be sentenced to the punitentiary) is everything that’s abhorrent about stereotypical rock stars’ bloated egos and shamelessly over-the-top antics. It sounds something like Charlie Sheen’s kissing cousin trashing a 1980s hotel room in anecdotal song form. Jourgensen drawls aimlessly on about the host of industry-related vultures ostensibly suckling his teat, a move that inspires zero sympathy when taken in contrast to that 99% train wreck. I skipped ahead, listened, shuddered, and skipped ahead again. Rather than waste words, I’ll just say that the remainder of the record is painted in various shades of worse.
Let’s be frank: the Occupy movement doesn’t need Al Jourgensen’s support, and the New World Order has been old news for a long, long time. If a loosely knit group of informed and intelligent social activists wants a leader (which they don't), Slavoj Žižek – or Naomi Klein – would be an infinitely wiser representative than an ageing, grumpy, tantrum throwing, football hooligan chanting cock rocker who seemingly just learned the numeral system. Not to mention, he’s probably closer in prosperity to the top 1%, unless he really did smoke/drink/shoot/snort away everything in the coffers. To be fair, I appreciate that Mr. Jourgensen is pissed off at the bankers and politicians, but something tells me he doesn’t quite understand the intricacies of the current global socio-economic situation. It may take a big man to want to get pepper-sprayed in the face, but it takes a smart man to know why.
I suppose if you’re 15, and your parents have recently delivered the ghastly “If you leave the house looking like that, don’t bother coming back!” routine, Jourgensen’s shenanigans may hold a hint of resonance. But in that case, might I suggest looking into Ministry’s back catalogue for better riffs and bigger anthems. As a political statement, Relapse comes off as unfocused at best, opportunist at worst. And if it’s a protest song you’re after, what’s wrong with 'Stigmata', or better yet, The Exploited or a good old Crass record? Ministry may have once occupied my youthful ears, but Relapse now occupies my trash bin. This new material represents not only their most heinous effort to date; it might in fact be among the most appalling things to ever exist, empirically speaking. There’s a way to suck seed, and a way to suck eggs, and here, sadly, Ministry sucks it all.