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Music Review: Throbbing Gristle – The Second Annual Report Of Throbbing Gristle

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“Industrial music for industrial people” went the slogan. In 1977, everybody had a slogan. “No future” was a good one; in fact, it was a great one. “Music From The Death Factory,” accompanied by a picture of what looked to be an Auschwitz chimney, was not such a good one. “God Save the Queen,” an anti-royals hit single during the Silver Jubilee, was a hilarious stroke of marketing genius. Releasing a single that same year about the Zyklon B gas used to fuel the Nazi gas chambers—“Zyklon B Zombie”—was not, shall we say, hip, savvy marketing. And the music itself was no prettier.

Throbbing Gristle was the band, and their debut album The Second Annual Report came out on their own Industrial Records in 1977. TG were never remotely “punk” or even what came to later be defined as “industrial,” but they were one of the most important groups to come out of that whole time period. TG really were Artists with a capital “A,” and their vision was unrelentingly dark.

Thirty-four years later, Second Annual Report seems to have seeped out from Eddie Hazel’s guitar strings, and the incantation of George Clinton is evoked in the opening of “Maggot Brain”: “Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, for you all have knocked her up. I have tasted the maggots of the earth, and was not offended.”

Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter, and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson found each other in the more extreme strands of the “legitimate” art world. A 1976 show they mounted, titled Prostitution and performed under the rubric of Coum Transmissions, completely scandalized the nation, and led to them being labeled by one paper as “Wreckers Of Civilization.” Check Simon Ford’s book Wreckers Of Civilization for an in-depth study of this event.

It was out of all this that TG was born.

So with all of these bona-fides in place, what exactly were the 785 original purchasers of Second Annual Report in for? Side one of the album opens with “Industrial Introduction,“ a 1:02 aural-oscilloscope which leads into three live versions of “Slug Bait.” Through the magic of editing, the takes from the I.C.A. London, Southampton, and Brighton all blend together as one piece. The four parts of “Maggot Death” begin with a studio version. We continue on with live recordings from the Rat Club in London, Southampton, and Brighton. Side two was the 20-minute soundtrack of the Coum Transmissions film After Cease To Exist. Think of some of the stranger post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd moments from albums such as Ummagumma or Atom Heart Mother, and you have a starting point for this unexpectedly ambient excursion.

For many years, Mute Records had licensed the TG Industrial Records catalog for release, but that agreement came to an end last year. In honor of the late Christoferson, the surviving members of the band have remastered and reissued the original albums in deluxe packages. These include booklets featuring ephemera from the time period and full liner notes.

Each release also includes a second CD with live material and any singles from the era. In the case of Second Annual Report, there are seven live tracks, recorded between 1976-77, as well as both sides of their 1977 single.

“No Two Ways” was recorded live at the Hat Fair, Winchester in 1976. It is a raw, driving lo-fi journey into noise, and is representative of what these sound-terrorists excelled at. The remaining six live cuts were all recorded in 1977, at various locations. “Tesco Disco,” and “Urge To Kill” are particularly noteworthy.

The non-LP single released at the tail end of the year, “United” b/w “Zyklon B Zombie,” is another example of TG’s penchant for the unexpected. “United” is a surprisingly radio-friendly bit of early synth-pop. It would have been a beautiful thing if the football team of Genesis’ hometown (Manchester United) had adopted it as their theme song. “Zyklon B Zombie” is as ugly as its subject matter.

TG’s example and influence have been enormous over the years. They were prime movers in what RE/Search Publications called Industrial Culture, which includes SPK, Monte Cazazza, and Survival Research Laboratories, among others. These uncompromising artists may not have originated confrontation as a method of expression, but they carried on the tradition in a remarkably effective way.

Second Annual Report is where it all began.

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