With Sympathy


Arista, 1983


REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


I did a double take when I saw what label initially signed the industrial act, Ministry: Clive Davis’ Arista Records. Really??? Of course, their debut album is tame compared to what would come later (like the flawless 1989 Sire release, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste). No, in 1983, it was all about melodic synth pop with an alternative edge for Al Jourgenson & company. After all, they couldn’t show what they were REALLY made of until they landed that all-important record deal.

This first album, With Sympathy, starts off with “Effigy (I’m Not An)” and the more familiar trio of singles “Revenge,” “I Wanted To Tell Her,” and “Work For Love.” For his part, Jourgenson knows how to turn on the British inflections in his vocals when he needs to. This is despite the fact that he’s actually from Chicago. You can hardly blame him. Ministry had to compete with all the bands that were all the rage as part of the second British invasion after all, especially Eurythmics, the duo Clive would eventually snag for Arista six years later.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Shay Jones’ guest vocal on “I Wanted To Tell Her” proves something of a distraction and it doesn’t help that the song sounds severely dated now. Something tells me Jourgenson cringes when he hears this one, as it does tend to go on far too long. At least those other two singles make up for it. The “WHAT” chant hook in “Work For Love” helps it to be a clear and memorable standout.

As for the remainder of this album, it’s largely hit and miss. The lyrical phrasing on “Here We Go” is something of an embarrassment (“You’ve made my life such a mess”) and it’s far too manic to save it from being anything more than an utter train wreck. As for “What He Say,” the unintelligible additional vocals – Swahili maybe? – make it something of a curiosity, but will still have you laughing your ass off. What were they thinking?!? File this section under the heading: from bad to worse.

The end of With Sympathy is somewhat better news. The sax solo on “Say You’re Sorry” is a welcome reprieve and the band shows what they can do with a ballad, of all things. They stay in the down tempo for the mediocre “Should Have Known Better,” before unleashing the brilliant closer “She’s Got A Cause,” onto the unsuspecting listener. It’s the best track on the album by a mile and should have been a single. Record companies’ decisions when it came to releasing singles always left me scratching my head in frustration, even in the glorious 1980s. This is also one song that’s screaming out for an extended version.

The glaring missteps on this record prevent it from being just an average debut. It’s got some fine moments, but a few positives just doesn’t cut it. Only someone like Madonna will appreciate the faux British accents, but even she will say the lyrical content leaves a lot to be desired. I’m a big fan of synth pop, but this is supposed to be Ministry of the Nine Inch Nails variety we have all come to know and love. The closest comparison I can draw from here is Men Without Hats.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2014 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arista, and is used for informational purposes only.