How far can one stretch the concept of avant-garde before it snaps? When it comes to art, specifically music, what is the final breaking point of “extreme?” Of course the answer is highly subjective, possibly philosophical, and most definitely pointless. And yet…
Those are the types of thoughts I have when listening to Throbbing Gristle’s second album, D.O.A.: The Third And Final Report Of Throbbing Gristle. Nobody who enjoys such “nails-on-chalkboard” fare as Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music or John Coltrane’s Ascension ever admits it, but I will: Part of the fun of listening to this type of music is the sheer macho madness of it all. How much can you take is definitely a part of it. Another is the hilarious over-reactions it inspires in others. The fact that the perpetrators are likely laughing their asses off, as well (while maintaining the straightest of faces), only adds to the overall amusement factor.
All of this is to say that of the three TG studio albums proper, D.O.A. is the most…well, the most. It is not music as noise for the sake of noise, however. There is a method to the madness, and as a musical entity the band show definite growth from their previous Second Annual Report.
Artists to the core, there is a definite symmetry to D.O.A. Lucky 13 is the number of tracks, of which four are solo efforts. I am reminded of Ummagumma by Pink Floyd, which was broken up in a similar fashion. Although there is nothing quite as brilliant as “Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together And Grooving With A Pict,” the attempts are still admirable.
Let us begin with the late Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson’s “Valley Of The Shadow Of Death.” It is to the memory of “Sleazy” that the deluxe, two-disc reissues of all five of TG’s original Industrial Records’ releases are dedicated after all. “Valley” is a brutal, spoken-word, tape manipulated piece, which more than lives up to its title.
“Weeping” is Genesis P-Orridge’s starkly terrifying contribution, one which I would advise even the vaguely depressed to avoid for the sake of their own sanity. The subject matter is reportedly his breakup with fellow TG member Cosey Fanni Tutti, and it is a harrowing account. Cosey herself delivers “Hometime,” possibly the most disturbing track on the record. Finally we come to Chris Carter (who Cosey left Genesis for), and his “AB/7A.” The tune reflects his love for both Kraftwerk and ABBA, the latter of which (in their own way) may be the most “extreme” band ever.
The remaining nine tracks are group efforts, recorded at various locations. “Death Threats” is a bit of frivolity from a deranged female “fan,” who seems quite convinced that the British Empire would be best served by the collective murder of TG. The band’s sense of humor remains intact on “United.” This was the single released between the first and second albums. Usually in a case like this, a group would include the single on their next record. TG bowed to convention by putting “United” on D.O.A., albeit in a speeded-up, 16-second version.
“Hamburger Lady” was inspired by a letter describing a burn victim (absolutely gruesome both musically and lyrically). The title track, “Walls Of Sound,” and “Blood On The Floor” stretch the boundaries of what is or is not “pop” music more than anything the band recorded before or since.
The second CD in this special reissue package contains live material recorded in 1978, the year D.O.A. was originally released. Two live versions of album tracks are included, “Hamburger Lady” and “I.B.M.” There is also a treatment of Second Annual Report’s “After Cease To Exist,” titled “New After Cease To Exist Soundtrack.” Other onstage highlights include the powerful tracks “Industrial Muzak” and “Cabaret Voltaire.” The 11-cut second CD closes with their non-LP single of 1978 “We Hate You (Little Girls)” b/w “Five Knuckle Shuffle.”
The five Industrial Records albums that have been reissued as special double-CD editions are The Second Annual Report (1977), D.O.A. (1978), 20 Jazz Funk Greats (1979), Heathen Earth Live (1980), and Greatest Hits (1981). Of these, their second (perversely subtitled Third And Final Report) is the most harrowing and powerful (not to mention disturbing) of the bunch. Although at the time, TG were mistakenly lumped in with the punk movement, they never had anything in common with the safety-pin set.
Their agenda was simultaneously more serious, and more amusing than anything their so-called peers issued that year. D.O.A. has also proven to have a lasting impact, and is a crucial chapter in the development of one of the most influential and important acts of the latter part of the 20th century.