Ever since Ministry started in 1981 with an EP of pure techno music (Cold Life), there has always been an edge to de-facto leader of all things Ministry, Al Jourgensen. The techno side of him gave him one strong CD (1986’s Twitch), but after that, Uncle Al had a hankering for the dark side of music. He kept the techno aspect of dancing capabilities, but he was the face of the new “industrial revolution”. This movement grew over the course of time to such huge proportions that it spawned such success stories as Skinny Puppy and Nine Inch Nails.
Jourgensen’s career had spawned a trio of masterpieces early on: The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and his still-pinnacle album, Psalm 69 (The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs). Beats you could dance — or mosh to — were combined with nasty, heavy guitars, samples and keyboards, more loops than a box of Cheerios, and Uncle Al’s sandpaper-meets-volcanic eruption vocals. But a burgeoning heroin habit produced two albums that crashed as badly as he did. (Filth Pig and The Dark Side of the Spoon). In 2003, Jourgensen took a baby step back to the sound that his fans craved with Animositisomina.
One of Ministry’s most successful songs in their canon was “N.W.O.” (New World Order), where Uncle Al took on George Bush, the senior version. Its anger in both music and lyrics, combined with Bush snippets in loop form, struck a chord with fans, both politically and musically. Jourgensen, whose anger towards Republicans is no state secret, decided that he would concoct a trilogy of albums where the main focus was our current leader. It started with 2004’s Houses of the Molé, a full return to the form that made the first trilogy of masterpieces so popular. And except for the opening track, “No W”, every song title purposely started with “W”, a reminder of who the intended target was. Two years later, more Bush nastiness ensued with Rio Grande Blood. And now, the final part of the Bush trilogy, and the last, (as Jourgensen keeps insisting), official Ministry studio release, The Last Sucker, is unleashed on the masses.
Jourgensen set out to make this album somewhat ,(ahem), organic, at least as far as guitars go. He enlisted his two guitarists from his last touring band, Tommy Victor and Sin, as well as Paul Raven from Killing Joke on bass. All the percussion work was programmed by Uncle Al, and John Bechdel added keyboards. The boys held nothing back, and the result is 11 tracks (including one cover) of unadulterated nastiness.
There are some differences on this album than the past two anti-Bush bombs. One song’s riff (“The Dick Song”, about Mr. Cheney) sounds like the intro to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. The title cut’s sound is like a third cousin, twice removed of Deep Purple’s “Woman From Tokyo”. Another song, “Die in a Crash”, is probably the most straightforward Ministry song you’ll ever hear, a rocker with few tricks and an anthemic chorus: “I can feel it/I can feel the pressures of this life!” The cover song, an industrial blast of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”, is startling, yet strangely satisfying, (including a harp in the mix). It’s certainly better than Ministry’s last attempt, a dishevelled try at “Lay Lady Lay” (on Filth Pig).
But if it’s the “old-style” Ministry you crave, there’s no shortage of it on The Last Sucker. The opener, “Let’s Go”, is as frantic as any Ministry output, fully packed with as much punch as a bomb. “Watch Yourself” is loaded with musical twists and turns, with its not-so-far-fetched Orwellian theme. “Life is Good” focuses on the soldiers overseas and what they can look forward to when they return, and is also fairly straight-ahead. “No Glory” has a chorus of “Greed. Power. Corruption.” You get the drift.
Jourgensen listened to a ton of George W. speeches/press conferences, and snippets of words are sprinkled throughout. “Death and Destruction” is a prime example of a presidential skewering. And last, but not least, Ministry closes the album and its career with a two-part groove-fueled despair called “End of Days”. The first part opens with: “Judgment day’s upon us and I see no one cares/Lies for death in pools of blood and I’m stoned with fear/A trigger happy finger solves a problem not a prayer/I see this world falling apart and I fucking swear/It’s the end of days/We’ve clearly lost our way.”
Part two has this guitar groove that seeps into your head and stays there for nearly all of its 10:25 length. In a masterfully ironic touch halfway through the song, a speech by REPUBLICAN Dwight D. Eisenhower is heard over the groove. It was the final speech of his presidency, and what was said back then rings true today. Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell adds vocals to the first two verses of the second part, and according to Jourgensen, this is the only Ministry song (both parts) where the guitar tracks were laid down in one long take, with no overdubs.
Is The Last Sucker Ministry’s masterpiece closer to its career? Not totally, but it’s a powerful album that leaves you wanting more. Jourgensen’s legacy will include bringing an angry, danceable musical genre to the forefront of public consciousness. Even his missteps have a good song or two (“Rewind” from Filth Pig, “Bad Blood” from The Dark Side of the Spoon), but for the most part, Uncle Al’s musical footprint was heavy, angry and vital. If The Last Sucker is Ministry’s last effort, it’s safe to say Jourgensen went out at the top of his game. Now he and George W. can go off into the sunset together. Ironic that they both live in the same state, no?