9/19/2007

Wednesday Windup

MINISTRY The Last Sucker (Megaforce-2007)
THURSTON MOORE Trees Outside The Academy (Ecstatic Peace-2007)


Regardless of how innovative they may have been or even attempt to be late in their careers, veteran artists generally become quite comfortable with a particular formula. It may not be a mainstream, chart-topping path but it’s tried and true, and one that is welcomed by their loyal followers. And since at this stage in their careers these fans might be the only ones that have stuck around through thick and thin, they are therefore the only ones that really matter to the artist.

Ministry have never been prone to messing much with their master plan. Aside from their now-forgotten beginnings as a synth pop band in the early ‘80s, Alain Jourgensen’s loud, bone-crunching assault machine gave birth to industrial hard rock in the late ‘80s and has pretty much stayed the course through creative peaks and valleys. One recent thematic constant is Jourgensen’s avowed hatred of US president George W. Bush, to the point of inspiring an anti-Bush trilogy of albums—House of the MolĂ© (2004) and Rio Grande Blood (2006) were the first two—culminating with The Last Sucker, rumored to be the band’s final recording.

If this is Ministry’s farewell they couldn’t have chosen a better final statement, for this is Jourgensen excelling at what he does best. Kicking it off with “Let’s Go,” an in-your-face update of “Jesus Built My Hotrod”, and traversing through monster riffs; pounding, unrelenting rhythms; and eerie, well-placed samples throughout, the album is classic Ministry and as such, refuses to let up for a little more than the first half. Unfortunately, The Last Sucker loses a bit of steam with a cover of The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” and the tracks that immediately follow, but the closing epic “End of Days”—featuring Fear Factory vocalist Burton C. Bell and a sample of US president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s noted “military-industrial complex” farewell speech—avoids a bummer ending to what is a damn fine way to go out.

The last time Thurston Moore went into—for him, anyway—singer/songwriter mode was 12 years ago on his album Psychic Hearts (DGC), an enjoyable Sonic Youth-lite recording that garnered some praise but was quickly forgotten for the most part. Trees Outside The Academy, is musically similar albeit with a slightly different instrumentation: there is an abundance of acoustic guitars, and while Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley is back on board, guitarist Tim Foljahn, who’d been Moore’s foil on Psychic Hearts, has been replaced by violinist Samara Lubelski. The absence of a bass guitar throughout is a bit off-putting but a decade of The White Stripes has probably accustomed listeners to a lack of traditional low-end at this point. As for the songs themselves, Moore does not disappoint but doesn’t surprise, either. And considering who this record’s target audience is, that’s not much of a problem anyway.

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