Every Ministry fan knows Al(ain) Jourgensen has had a tumultuous relationship with his first LP, With Sympathy. Since its release, Jourgensen has been combating the very existence of the record while citing the major label, Arista, for why the album was so poppy and downright loveable.
I, however, find the album an essential 1980s dark synthpop record—an album stacked with tracks worthy of both new wave and goth dance floors. With Sympathy’s album cover is iconic (and my favorite of all time), with a black-clawed hand, roses and a marble background, only reinstating the brilliance inside of the LP. With the alarming synth bells of “Revenge” to the melancholic and seductive cries of the saxophone in “Say You’re Sorry”, I honestly couldn’t imagine a more perfect dark dance album. Sure, it’s an album brimming in nostalgia with the essence of UK synthpop bands infused with disco-funk bass lines, but it actually portrays the very ghost of a sketch towards what Al was to embark on throughout the rest of the 1980s.
In 1983, Rolling Stone gave With Sympathy a three out of five stars, while I believe most fans would give it a higher rating nowadays, based on the nostalgic pop structures that are easy to ingest. RS wrote:
“Like so many synthesizer-based dance bands, Ministry doesn’t do anything you haven’t heard before. The rhythm tracks, sprinkled with Latin effects à la Thompson Twins, are built around the same synthesized bass lines that have been filling dance floors since the disco era… But this lack of originality is hardly worth complaining about, because Ministry manages to do something many far more innovative bands neglect: they write catchy dance songs… In all, With Sympathy provides the valuable service of demonstrating how well synth pop’s mannerisms worked before they solidified into cliché.”
This “lack of originality” during his time at Arista while recording With Sympathy actually fueled Jourgensen to “go underground”—as he claimed he would in a 1983 interview with Richard Skinner—as a result of the American labels desiring a more diluted and palatable pop sound. It’s clear his time with Arista was the catalyst for Jourgensen to forge the industrial version of Ministry.
Recently in an interview with the Quietus, Jourgensen did a roundup of his top 10 Ministry records, where he even commented about With Sympathy:
“I won’t even say the title,” he says. “Because I did not write that fucking record. I had nothing to do with that record except my face is on it and my voice is on it. They wrote the lyrics, made me cut my fucking hair, bought me a wardrobe, assigned me management. I was literally a product of the old-school star-making machine.”
However, I don’t exactly believe this is true. The I’m Falling/Cold Life 12” release on Wax Trax! from 1981 proves that Jourgensen was making this sort of British-inspired synth music well before he signed on to Arista for With Sympathy. Assuming that Wax Trax! allowed him to write and record what he pleased, then the major label didn’t have as much influence as Jourgensen claims. The 1985 re-release of Cold Life even more so proves this theory with the track “Primental” which is the instrumental version of “I Wanted to Tell Her” (with evidence of it being recorded a year before With Sympathy was released).
In the Quietus article, Jourgensen continues:
”It was revolting, disgusting and it traumatised me for years. Actually I think without that record I wouldn’t be as much of a fucking maniac douchebag as I am today. I completely rebelled against it. I was sick to my stomach on a daily basis. I threw up more on that record – times ten – than any other. It was absolutely an abortion period of my life. I fucking hated myself, the world, and everything around me because of that record.”
However, on reflection Jourgensen says it may not be totally without merit.
“In retrospect, because of that record I wouldn’t be who I am today. So I’m thankful for it now. I’ve finally come full circle. It still doesn’t mean I’m going to listen to that fucking drivel, but I am going to appreciate the overview, of what it’s done for me as a person in my career. I didn’t put it on this list, but I will give it an honourable ‘fuck you’.”
In an early-90s interview, he says the same:
So perhaps Jourgensen hasn’t come all the way around to admitting this record is a synthpop gem—despite the fact he posted a previously unreleased track from 1983 “Anything For You” as a free download last year. I guess an “honorable ‘fuck you’” will have to suffice for now. Oh, and lest we forget the t-shirt he donned at the Lethal Amounts art show and signing from 2015…
But for those of us with more positive feelings on the early era Ministry catalogue, it’s a blessing that Cleopatra Records has given us last year’s Record Store Day Trax! Box set and the new Trax! Rarities limited edition clear 2 LP that includes rare tracks, demos and live versions of songs from Ministry and his other projects such as Revolting Cocks and PTP. If anything, the Trax! Rarities release is worth it for the “Same Old Madness” demo that includes an additional guitar part that is not included in the single version of the song. Other favorites is the Ministry track “I See Red” and the Revolting Cocks’ “Let’s Get Physical (Banned Version)”.
1. Ministry – Never Asked For Nothing (Detroit 7.10.82)
2. Ministry – Love Change (Detroit 7.10.82)
3. Ministry – What Is The Reason (Detroit 7.10.82)
4. Ministry – America (Detroit 7.10.82)
1. Ministry – Same Old Madness (1982 Demo)
2. Ministry – Game Is Over (1983 Demo)
3. Ministry – Let’s Be Happy (1983 Demo)
4. Ministry – Same Old Scene (1983 Demo)
5. Ministry – Wait (1983 Demo)
1. Ministry – I See Red
2. Ministry – Self Annoyed
3. Revolting Cocks – Fish In Cold Water
4. Revolting Cocks – (Let’s Get) Physical (Banned Version)
1. PTP – Show Me Your Spine
2. Pailhead – Don’t Stand In Line (Dub Mix)
3. Revolting Cocks – Drums Along The Carbide
4. 1000 Homo DJs – Supernaut (Dub Remix)