Album(s): Lionel Richie, "Tuskegee" (Universal Music Nashville) vs. Ministry, "Relapse" (13th Planet)
Returning from years and years away, locked inside his own personal fortress of solitude, Lionel Richie emerges with ... a country album. It contains Pop Hits sung by Country Artists.
On the other side of the rope, Al Jourgensen's Ministry returns after a short vacation with, well, a Ministry album, one Jourgensen calls "anti-therapy against the country music." It's loud and fragrant, like all Ministry albums.
Obviously the only thing sensible to do is compare them as if they were sister projects, joined at the hip by an invisible musical cord. The highlights:
Look at Lionel Richie, sitting on a porch. It's very pastoral. He's leaning back in a chair slightly, supported by a white-washed wall; part of his right foot is obscured. It feels like the viewer is coming around to say howdy to Lionel Richie, walking up onto his porch, taking in the fact that he has not aged since 1983. It's vaguely unsettling how much he has not aged. There's something about the look on Lionel Richie's face that seems vaguely distrustful: perhaps it's the fact that he's a black man working with a barn full of crackers on a country album?
Ministry's album, on the other hand, shows a fat man sprawled on the ground, his face covered in vomit and various drug paraphernalia, pill bottles and the like, scattered around the scene. His eyes are rolled back up in his head. You know exactly what you're going to get when you look at this cover. Al Jourgensen is in a really good mood.
Lionel gets marked down slightly for using the same old song titles he's been using forever. You kind of like to think that he would have a little fun with the idea of making a country album, maybe throw out a "Say You, Say Me Y'all" or an "All Night Long (We Gonna Ride Them Ponies)" or just, you know, get into the mood. But no. Remember the cover? He's eyeing you warily, cowboy.
Ministry: "Ghouldiggers," "Double Tap," "Kleptocracy." He's not interested in your nuance. He's Al Fucking Jourgensen. Dancing on the ceiling? Al Jourgensen remembers the time he tried that and the cops showed up. Then he ran from the cops and stole an ice cream truck and then he drove that truck into a culvert and it went sideways and all the ice cream fell out and he broke his leg and, chased by the cops, he crawled into a nearby drainpipe, where he was found by a friendly tribe of underground mutants, who nursed him back to health and taught him a brand new guitar chord that only underground mutants can hear. Then he made a new Ministry album with it.
Lionel Richie had a dream. It was an awesome dream. The time had come to raise the roof and have some fun. We're gonna party. Karamu! Fiesta! Forever. But he's been alone with you, inside his mind, which is not nearly as creepy as it sounds like, and in his dreams he's kissed your lips, like a thousand times or something. And also he steals various clothing items out of your hamper when he thinks you're not looking. Hello! Is it Lionel Richie you're looking for?
Al with the creaky, cranky old-man voice: "I'm not dead yet! I'm not dead yet! I'm not dead yet! I'm not dead yet" Everything else is a mish-mash of blood, sex and anarchy, sometimes within the same sentence. Al Jourgensen does not rebel against the world: the world drives around the Al Jourgensen in the middle of its road.
Basically "Tuskegee" is Lionel Richie's Greatest Hits, fluffed slightly up with "country" flourishes and the introduction of Nashville talent -- Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw all make appearances, but none of them make much of an impact, because they're not really asked to do a lot. It's a bit like that Sinatra duets album where famous people all over the world walked into studios to sing with the Chairman of the Board and discovered that he had literally phoned it in, but they were contractually obligated to record their parts anyway. Maybe not quite that poor: Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles totally owns "Hello," which turns into a completely new song here. It's as stark and brilliant a "country" reinvention of a pop song as there's been since Garth Brooks and KISS turned "Hard Luck Woman" into a honky tonk scorcher. But elsewhere the lack of effort approaches "Elvis Having Fun on Stage" proportions: "All Night Long" with Jimmy Buffett is a joke that writes itself; it also sounds exactly like "All Night Long" without Jimmy Buffett. And since when have steel drums and Hawaiian shirts been a cowboy thing, anyway?
Ministry: "Relapse" is loud, it's fast, it's smelly. It has more guitar than the last Revolting Cocks album and more speed metal drums than most of the stuff Al has been putting out for the last decade. It's not as angry as the anti-Bush screeds he issued in the middle of the last decade, but the raw emotion and crashing thudpolitik of Jourgensen's "Last Supper" tableau has been replaced by an almost heartwarming reliance on craft.
Basically Lionel Richie should make Lionel Richie albums, and Al Jourgensen should make Ministry albums. It's just what they do, not to say that artists shouldn't experiment with their successful formula: but for every "Graceland" there's a New Coke waiting in the wings of failure, so tread carefully when you're stomping around your own signature brands, folks.
What Lionel Richie really needs to do is get together with Al Jourgensen. Maybe it's Al walking up to that porch, and maybe that's why Lionel looks a bit worried. But it's Al. He just looks weird. OK, he's bleeding, he is weird. And he's carrying some kind of animal ... with big claws and giant teeth. Lionel tries to back a bit further away, but the wall is implacable, unyielding. There's no escape from Al Jourgensen. Only one thing left to do: duet on "Brick House," please.