It's been 20 years now since Al Jourgensen first introduced "Every Day is Halloween", his anthem of "snakes and lizards and other things that go bump in the night", to the world, simultaneously penning an ode to a Pagan holiday and the new wave lesser-brained sequel to Zappa's "Hungry Freaks, Daddy". In the time since then, Ministry has morphed from goth-tinged synthpop to industrial-flavored heavy metal to sludge to thrash-influenced post-punk. As some fans celebrate the constant evolution and others mourn the devolution, it becomes obvious that, even as most recent album Houses of the Molé gets billed as platinum-selling classic Psalm 69's thrashier older brother, nobody can accuse frontman/head-honcho Jourgensen of sitting on his hands for any length of time. When a man's got so many genres and styles under his belt, how can you blame him for wanting to capitalize on the sudden revitalization of '80s culture and new wave, when he's got some old-school synth jams that have just been waiting for a proper re-release? You can't! Thus, Early Trax has been unleashed upon the world.
Early Trax serves two purposes as part of the Ministry canon: One, it's a remastered re-release of the recently out-of-print Twelve Inch Singles disc, this time omitting 1981's "Cold Life" from the track list (and, in turn, drawing pretty much no criticism). Two, it's a peek into some twenty-year-old vaults, as listeners are given the chance to hear tracks that were written so long ago but, for whatever reason, were never released to the public. Given that Twelve Inch Singles hasn't exactly had a lot of time to become a rare, highly-coveted release, it's obvious that the prime selling point of Early Trax is the presence of those unreleased nuggets of synth-laden goodness.
Unfortunately, to get to said nuggets, we have to wade through a solid 51 minutes of three songs. 51! Good Lord!
Indeed, where Early Trax fails most is in the arrangement of the track list. Whoever put it together did a good thing in leading off with the big hit single, as "Every Day is Halloween" gets things off to a rousing start -- it's a great, great song, perhaps dated but still, somehow, not as stale as it could be. This despite what is probably the worst record-scratching breakdown I've ever heard. After this is where things go downhill, as the track list pairs each individual single with that single's remixes. We get 17 minutes of "Every Day is Halloween", 12 minutes of the almost-as-good "All Day", and a whopping 22 minutes of the annoying, repetitive animal-rights anthem "Nature of Love". By the time the final remix of "Nature of Love" comes around (the never-before-released-on-CD "Nature of Outtakes"), it's hard not to be so burned out on the song as to quit listening entirely. The repetitive, Psycho-esque violin motif is so headache-inducing and played out at this point, that any reminder of it is bound to drive the average listener into rage-induced fits, destroying the album and/or the CD player in the process.
This would, of course, be a shame, as some of the unreleased stuff is certainly worth hearing.
"He's Angry" and "Move", both from 1984, are the best of the lot, industrial body-movers à la early Front 242 with big beats and lots of bassy synths. Ignore the lyrics ("He's angry, out of his head / Stop this music before we're all dead") and you're golden. It's in these tracks that we hear the precursors to the pounding beats and squelches of later Ministry tracks like "Abortive" and "The Land of Rape and Honey", even more so than in the transitional Twitch album. Two versions of "I'm Falling", an old vinyl B-side, and a spy-movie ditty called "Overkill", all from 1981, round out the set. They're essential if you ever wanted to hear what Al Jourgensen would sound like doing sub-Depeche Mode synth-goth. He even sports a fake British accent for full comedic effect. Hearing him go from this to the more aggressive style of 1984, it only makes sense that he'd end up with metal guitars and screeching vocals by the time 1987 came around.
If you dare call yourself a Ministry fan, do yourself a favor and pick up Early Trax, if only for this brief lesson in evolution. As essential as it is for the devoted fan, however, it is unfortunate that a little more care didn't go into the organization of the album. The frontloading of the early singles with their corresponding remixes is just brutally repetitive, and detracts from the album as a whole; the track order of Twelve Inch Singles just made so much more sense, shuffling all of the remixes to the latter half of the disc. As it is, Early Trax simply becomes the latest example of a great idea botched in execution.