Friday, May 10, 2013

Ministry - With Sympathy

Before they went down the route of industrial metal music, the American band Ministry released With Sympathy, a synth-pop dance album. This 1983 debut peaked at number 96 on the US Billboard Hot 200. In Europe, the album was re-titled Work for Love with the order of the tracks completely shuffled around. Today (May 10th) marks the thirtieth anniversary of that record’s release.

At the core for this album were Alain Jourgensen (vocals, guitar, keyboards and drums) and Stephen George (drums and percussion). They also got additional assists from John Davis (keyboards), Vince Ely (percussion and keyboards), Brad Hallen (bass), Robert Roberts (keyboards and bass), Martin Sorenson (bass), and Bob Suber (saxophone). Additional vocalists included Doreen Chanter, Shay Jones and Marybeth O’Hara.

Side one opens with “Effigy (I’m Not An)” which features steady drums, sullen synths and plenty of angst-filled attitude.

“Revenge”, the third single, also had a music video that was featured a good bit on the early days of MTV. What I always liked about this one was how it set a dramatic mood to it both musically and lyrically; listening to it was like being in the theatre watching an intense movie.

“I Wanted to Tell Her”, the first single, went to number 35 in New Zealand and number 13 on the US Billboard Dance charts. This one has an extremely funky bass riff at its foundation, and Jones’ vocals give it a strong R&B vibe too.

The second single “Work for Love” went to number 20 on the US Billboard Dance charts. One of the cool touches is the use of the dramatic pauses on the chorus; it made for great stop-go moments on the dance floor.

Side two begins with “Here We Go”, an up-beat party track with heavy percussion and synthesized horns.

“What He Say”, renamed as “Do the Etawa” on the European release, features an exotic kind of rhythm and blaring horns. Ziv Gidron provides the foreign chanting that is part of the chorus.

The album‘s sole ballad comes from “Say You’re Sorry”. My favorite part of this mid-tempo number is the soul-bearing saxophone.

“Should Have Known Better” strips things down to just keyboards, drums and vocals by Jourgensen and George. The lyrics tell of a guy who has to come to terms that his former girlfriend has a better life now without him.

“She’s Got a Cause” closes things off a bit more up-tempo. I like how the rhythm is a bit irregular; it makes the song more interesting to listen to. There are also a lot of musical layers applied here that further develop the composition.

I bought a copy of With Sympathy on vinyl during my freshman year of college in 1983. I had heard a number of the songs on local college radio and became an instant fan. The synth-pop dance rhythms were right in line with bands like A Flock of Seagulls, Soft Cell, and Yaz who I was also into at the time. This was one of my go-to records when I was getting ready to go out to a party or a club for dancing; it put me in a great mood for an evening of fun.

I still very much enjoy this record today, even three decades later. Just listening to it while typing this review I am bopping in my desk chair while my feet are tapping to the beats.


HERC said...

This is a really good album. Even four decades later, like you said. But like you alluded to, the band took a hard right stylistically shortly thereafter and lost this guy as a continuing fan. But they can never take With Sympathy back.

(For those without a copy but wishing to hear it, it's on Spotify.)

You didn't mention it but did you stay with Ministry after they so drastically changed their sound?

I had one of those High Fidelity moments at work a few (20?) years back when I put their song "Work For Love" on and maybe half a dozen people came up and asked me what song it was and who was performing. I remember a couple of people guessing Depeche Mode. Nowadays, people would just SoundHound or Shazam it.

[Shhhh. Don't tell anyone but that's how I pass time when I'm shopping with my wife and not otherwise actively engaged.]

Martin Maenza said...

I have only gotten the one album from the band. Thanks for asking and, as always, sharing your own stories about it.