Ministry could be numbered among the pioneers of industrial guitar rock. Ministry came about in the early eighties, and has screamed and power-riffed their way into the hearts of guitar industrial fans ever since. They’re part of the canon, now. Depending on your perspective, they could be held accountable for spawning Reznor, Manson, and their ilk.
Whether or not they’re worthy of tribute seems to be a moot point, as Invisible has graced us with not one, but two albums of Ministry tribute material. Tribute albums invaded the gothic/industrial genre a few years back when a certain label started releasing “A Gothic Tribute to [fill in the blank].” Everything from Pink Floyd to Bauhaus to Madonna. Now, tribute albums have the potential to introduce a whole new audience to a genre that has only in the past few years gotten any mainstream attention. Hordes of unwitting fans of [fill in the blank] will see a tribute to their favorite artist, and maybe purchase said album. Perhaps hordes is an exaggeration, but you get the idea. So not only do you rope in the fans of the genre, but the album has a chance of attracting others. Great idea, in principle. And god knows, everyone loves cover songs.
But let us take a look from the other side. Hypothetically, you’re a band. In a relatively minimized genre. Where people wear lots of black. Record label gives you a ring, wants you to cover a [fill in the blank] song for this tribute album. On one end is the “sound as much like [fill in the blank] as possible” and on the other is “do your own interpretation of the song and risk sounding nothing at all like [fill in the blank]”.
These two Ministry tributes represent those two extremes, in a general sense. The first, Wish You Were Queer, represents the former: a lot of bands trying to sound a lot like Ministry. In my opinion, while they may do a good job, it makes the entire album sound essentially the same. There are some notable exceptions, namely Meg Lee Chin’s (formerly of Pigface) cover of “Scarecrow,” which features her distinctive vocals and a considerable change to the musical speed and style. As it’s the first song on the album, I had a lot of hope for the rest of the disc. Most of the tracks were pretty much the noises/guitars/beats and barely comprehensible vocals that those who like Ministry will likely enjoy. Here’s version of Ministry’s cover of “Lay Lady Lay” was another point of refreshment, as the female vocals, sampled acoustic guitar, and danceable beat actually came together surprisingly well. One does wonder what would distinguish this track from Here’s cover of Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay”, however. On the note of dance tracks, Julian Beeston’s cover of “Angel” (Shining mix) is pretty decent, if repetitive. Death Ride 69’s cover of “Burning Inside” was about the only other track on this disc I enjoyed. Wish You Were Queer lacks an essential diversity, and overall, is a fairly poor effort.
As if by way of apology, Invisible has offered up a second volume of Ministry tributes, Another Prick in the Wall. For those of you who hated the first one, and are now groaning, have patience. This album boasts a much more diverse artist list, at the very least. Additionally, it seems to represent the a lot more of the other extreme: the bands are giving their personal twists on the music of Ministry. It kicks off with a surprisingly good effort from the Electric Hellfire Club with a version of “Land of Rape and Honey” that makes me want to march around the room. The Shining follows closely with a jumbled, but simultaneously amusing and powerful version of “Jesus Built My Hot Rod.” Meg Lee Chin appears again, with some lovely samples and those interesting vocals, covering “Just One Fix.” Resident Phase Shifter gets funky, yet industrial, while covering “Thieves”. Industrial funk. What’s up with that? The Aliens skirt the same line. Unsettling trend…
Attrition’s presence on this album was a pleasant surprise. I’ve encountered this band on a large number of compilations, and have yet to be disappointed. Their version of “The Cannibal Song” is no exception. I could go on, and on. Even those tracks that would have fit seamlessly on the previous album (not a good thing, kiddies), by En Esch, or Terminal 46, are given a life of their own by contrast to the uniqueness of the other tracks. To me, Another Prick in the Wall is what a tribute is all about. Diversity. We’ve heard Ministry. If you want to hear Ministry, go buy a Ministry album. Or pick up Wish You Were Queer. If you want to hear some up and coming industrial acts doing some seriously creative (and just plain good) interpretations of a genre war-horse, Another Prick in the Wall is what you’re looking for.