Raised on William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick, and inhabiting a science-fiction-now world of industrial depression, Britain’s prolific Throbbing Gristle produced some of the most confrontational and unpleasantly fascinating music of recent years, ostensibly as a means to radicalize the listener into abandoning bourgeois romanticism for a realistic view of life.
Second Annual Report (the quartet’s first release) uses mournful synthesizer drones to paint a grimly powerful vision of post-industrial, mid-depression England.
D.o.A. is brighter in tone and more polished in technique. Less cohesive than the previous album, D.o.A. places greater emphasis on live material, found tapes and individual productions by separate members of the band. The music is aggressively anti-melodic, but the spirit is powerful and the surprises plentiful. Recommended for the strong.
Twenty Jazz Funk Greats breaks away from D.o.A.‘s stark bleakness in an attempted truce between the group’s radical attitudes and pop music, removing the cutting edge from their calculated chaos but offering more accessibility.
Recorded live, with a small audience, in the studio, Heathen Earth is a return to form, adding savagery to the mix, expanding TG leader Genesis P-Orridge’s obsession with the profane juxtaposition of everyday symbols and motifs. The music is clean, vicious, sharp and occasionally displays the band’s transition to energetic, if still outré, rock.
Greatest Hits, subtitled “Entertainment Through Pain” (an apt description of the band’s approach), collects material from the first four albums. Recommended for a solid overview.
Funeral in Berlin and Mission of Dead Souls are live albums. The first features all previously unreleased material; the latter is a recording of the band’s final show in San Francisco. Those who desire a lot more Throbbing Gristle live should check out 24 Hours, a collection of two dozen C-60 cassettes packed in a suitcase and containing most of the group’s live shows. (Rough Trade reportedly also offered a suitcase set of 33 tapes around the same time. Did anyone actually buy one of these?) In 1983, however, Rough Trade bowed to public pressure and made those 33 cassettes available individually. Five Albums is more reasonably sized, a boxed set reissuing all the albums that had previously been on Fetish.
Although the group has been defunct now for years and its members (P-Orridge, Chris Carter, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter Christopherson) scattered into the similarly uncommon Chris and Cosey, Psychic TV and Coil, new TG records — most of them live (how can there be anything left?) — are still being released, many only on cassette. TG CD1, however, contains 42 minutes of previously unissued instrumental studio dribblings from early ’79, with reflective ’86 liner commentary by the participants.