Fear Uncle Al
Nothing invigorates, exasperates, annoys, and just plain pisses off Al Jourgensen more than having a Bush beating around the White House. The Ministry leader seems to do his best work when the Republicans are in charge—and by work we’re talking making music that scares furry animals and small children… and some adults, too. Pure paralysis by fear.
Jourgensen’s career has seen its share of ups and downs. When he first started Ministry it was more of a techno-dance vibe (remember Twitch?), but somehow Jourgensen found his deep dark soul wanting to escape. So, keeping the killer beats, the music became angrier, inspiring an underground genre called “industrial” to raise its head upward. Jourgensen, with collaborator Paul Barker, released three straight Ministry albums that were heavy, moshable, and yet had the beats and tape loops of techno. From The Land of Rape and Honey to The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and climaxing with the brilliant Psalm 69 (The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs), Ministry was a band not to be fucked with. Psalm 69 was recorded at the height of George W. Bush’s father’s presidential run, and the bile that came out of the speakers was on target and on fire—witness “N.W.O.” as a prime example, and still one of Ministry’s best tracks ever.
Now that Dubya sits upon the throne, Jourgensen has become more pissed, more animated, and just plain uglier towards the Republican machine. After some albums that weren’t up to snuff (Filth Pig, Dark Side of the Spoon, and Animositisomina) and cleaning up a nasty heroin habit, Jourgensen came back with a vengeance last year with the W.-bashing Houses of the Molé, where every song (except “No W”) started with the letter W. Molé signaled a return to form for Ministry—a musical and lyrical focus that hit its intended target. Ministry’s newest release, Rio Grande Blood, follows the exact same line as its predecessor, except there’s less cleverness and more bile, if that’s possible.
There are still industrial pieces to Blood, but there seems to be more thrash thrown into the mix, courtesy of guitars by Jourgensen, Mike Scaccia, and newest member Tommy Victor (of Prong). The solid, anchoring rhythm section features Raven (of Killing Joke) on bass and Mark Baker on drums. There are more chances for a head banger to snap his or her neck than usual here, but that’s not a bad thing. There’s more of an organic feel to this album—it sounds like everyone just went into the studio and let ‘er rip. Of course, Jourgensen hasn’t lost his penchant for splicing bits and pieces of Bush’s speeches to make it sound like self-flagellation and liberally throwing them into the mix.
Jello Biafra guests on probably the best song here, “Ass Clown”. After a carnival-barker style spoken word intro by Biafra about the circus that is Washington, Jourgensen comes in screaming, “I want to go to the circus / The circus of power / The circus they call Washington / A circle of dishonor!’’ The main guitar lines are Slayer-like in speed and intensity, yet catchy enough to stick to your brain while you loosen your neck head banging. Arguably, this album has more thrash elements than industrial, but the two meld together nicely. The title song has snippets of Bush’s own words twisted around (and in one case, syllables mixed to make him sound like he’s saying “I’m an asshole!”). First single “Lieslieslies”, about the 9/11 tragedy, has a Metallica heaviness, while guest Sgt. Major gives “Gangreen” a sideways salute to the Marine mentality.
“The Great Satan” is a different mix than the one previewed on Ministry’s previous album, Rantology—there’s less keyboard action on the newer version. “Palestina” is a balls-out rocker, but the song that takes the biggest detour is the proper finale, “Khyber Pass”. There’s major Middle Eastern influence going on as guest vocalist Liz Constantine provides a nice counterpoint to the harshness of Jourgensen’s ranting about Osama Bin Laden.
What makes this album stand out is that there’s nothing subliminal about Uncle Al. While recent efforts about the war from Bruce Springsteen (subtly calling for freedom by using Pete Seeger’s words) and Neil Young (no hidden agenda there, either) have their moments, Springsteen prefers subtlety, while Young uses a 100-person chorus to soften the blow a tad. There’s nothing soft in Rio Grande Blood, a title taken from ZZ Top’s Rio Grande Mud, with Top guitarist Billy Gibbons’s blessing. Jourgensen has the courage of his convictions to throw his opinions out there; those looking for sugar-coating or hidden meanings need not apply.
Funny. Remember when Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks made that comment about being embarrassed to be from the same state as the president, and all the grief she and her band got for it? Seems like the lady was ahead of her time and now Jourgensen and Ministry are echoing those comments at a volume of a thousand (on a scale of 1 to 10) at a time when it’s fashionably cool to knock the government. Along with Houses of the Molé, Ministry has made its best 1-2 punch since the Bush Sr. administration. Rio Grande Blood is not for the timid, nor for those whose politics still hold Dubya in high regard. But its anger is a cathartic release for everyone else.