The Last Sucker
inistry's career, spanning 25 years and 12 studio albums, can be divided into four periods—early synth pop (With Sympathy, 12" Singles, Twitch), industrial (The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, Psalm 69), grungy metal (Filth Pig, Dark Side of the Spoon, Animositisomina), and an anti-Bush trilogy (Houses of the Molé, Rio Grande Blood, The Last Sucker). The industrial period cemented Ministry's reputation, yielded their only platinum album (Psalm 69), and is by far their most lauded; the collective memory of Ministry generally stops after Psalm 69. However, hindsight will prove each succeeding release creative and vital. The Last Sucker is Ministry's final album, and best since Psalm 69.
Frontman Al Jourgensen is Ministry's only constant, as the band's attack has radically changed over time. At first, you danced to it. Then, you stomped, headbanged, smoked out, and rocked out to it. 1996's Filth Pig was Ministry's big curveball, as the band dropped its electronics-laden industrial signature for fuzzed-out guitars. Their industrial period sounded bombed-out; with Filth Pig, their mode switched to doing the bombing, operating in present tense. Soundscapes became songs, and when longtime collaborator and programming expert Paul Barker left after Animositisomina, Ministry became more man than machine.
As a result, Ministry's mystique has dimmed. Whereas early classics were as dense and sprawling as Bomb Squad-era Public Enemy, the band now plays meat-and-potatoes metal. The lyrics shifted from vague paranoia and psychological states to transparent political diatribes. After Jourgensen kicked a 20-year heroin habit, his productivity jumped, resulting in three similar-sounding albums in three years.
But Ministry's contraction in scope has created greater focus, and thus greater force. Their classic albums all had filler, but The Last Sucker has none. Each song is instantly identifiable. Riffs are huge, driving, and upfront. Songs maneuver crisply through choruses and bridges, avoiding the meandering that plagued previous efforts. Ministry don't hit the endless, eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head horizons of "Scare Crow" or "So What"—but that's not their goal now. The message is a boot to Dubya's face, and the sound follows suit.
The Last Sucker features substantially the same band lineup as Rio Grande Blood, and its release a scant year afterwards suggests assembly-line construction. But while the ingredients are unchanged (beefy guitars, a metallic-sounding drum machine, edited soundbites of Bush and co.), they're sharper and stronger than ever. Samples almost overran Rio Grande Blood, like compression of thousands of newscasts into an album. Jourgensen chooses them more judiciously here; "The Dick Song" deliciously sends up Dick Cheney as the "Son of Satan," with gloriously over-the-top televangelist soundbites.
Bludgeoning riffs are plentiful, but they yield to yawning pits of melody. "Watch Yourself" barbs its machine-gun riff with techno-esque industrial noises, letting molten chords glow on its chorus. "Die in a Crash" runs Ramones-esque punk through filthy bass and gleefully tinny beats. A ripping cover of "Roadhouse Blues" recasts the Doors' chestnut via the neck-snapping thrash of "Jesus Built My Hotrod." "The Last Sucker" somehow transitions from simplistic head-butting to a bridge so melodic, it would be perky if not for Jourgensen's caustic howl calling out W: "Last sucker / Sorry fucker / Bye bye."
That his fellow Texan has become Jourgensen's muse could be seen as a failure of sorts. Lyrics like "I got twins and a Stepford wife / I never had to work a day in my life / I never studied but got my degree / I never had to with my family tree" are hardly awe-inspiring. But he's only continuing a line of anti-Republican, anti-corporate commentary from songs like "Thieves" and "N.W.O.", and the artwork of Filth Pig; his evils just never had a consistent face until Dubya. I once faulted Jourgensen for preaching to the converted, when I should have credited him for doing so. Jourgensen's job isn't to change minds; it's simply to speak his. He may be riding off into the sunset alongside his nemesis, but he's come up with more weapons of mass destruction.