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Consider that First Annual Report begins with the 18-minute "Very Friendly," a sustained blast of pulsing static and grating noise that seems designed to flatten your eardrums. As if this sonic caning weren't enough, vocalist Genesis P-Orridge rambles for the first 14 or so minutes about a would-be sexual encounter that degenerates into a brutal axe murder. P-Orridge's intonation of, "Ian Brady, very friendly," is creepy as all hell, especially when tape manipulator Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson loops it for three minutes at the end, alternating it with P-Orridge's demented cry: "there's been a murder."
Now consider that First Annual Report was recorded in 1975, with little precedent for this kind of recording. The Velvet Underground had toyed with twisted narratives on "The Gift," but they'd never taken their music this far outside the pop realm. The other great noise opus of 1975, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, though more abstract, never went so far as Throbbing Gristle did toward open confrontation with the listener.
And yet, the band, known for being highly confrontational, held back the release of this album until now, opting instead to release Second Annual Report as their debut full-length in 1977. This record is essentially the birth of industrial music, packed with samples, abrasive, irregular beats, manipulated loops, and Cosey Fanni Tutti's often unrecognizable guitar. Nurse with Wound, Cabaret Voltaire, Einst�rzende Neubauten, Skinny Puppy, Controlled Bleeding, and Acid Bath are just a few of the outfits that owe a huge debt to Throbbing Gristle's unrelenting assault.
First Annual Report sonically chronicles the decay of Industrial Revolution Britain. Chris Carter's programmed beats are the rhythms of broken machinery-- glitch before it was cool. The music is gray and sooty, and revels in crime and horrifying imagery. So "Final Muzak" is hardly the kind of thing you'd want playing in elevators or fine eating establishments. You'd be hard pressed even to call it a song-- or anything else here, for that matter-- as it has no form, melody or even a discernable rhythm.
So what of this rating at the top, then? Well, I feel it's best explained as an average of several considered factors. As far as originality and innovation go, this one's hard to beat. Basically nothing else had ever sounded quite like this. So, a 10 for originality. The band also garner a 10 for following through with their mission, which was to create a pulsing ball of confrontational noise as a companion to their over-the-top live shows, which featured self-mutilation and grotesque performance art.
Those two 10s, however are balanced out by the listener in me, who, having subjected himself to this album many times, simply can't see myself wanting to subject myself to it again after I finish writing this review. I'm sure I'll pull it out in a few months to see what I think about it then, but it's honestly got very little to draw me back to it-- you pretty much catch everything the first time. So I'm giving it a 2.5 for listenability.
Throbbing Gristle's later albums are definitely better places to start if you want to get to the roots of industrial music (20 Jazz Funk Greats is a personal favorite), featuring more variety, and a more penetrable sound, but their first effort is nearly unparalleled in terms of shear visceral content. If pummeling noise for its own sake and direct confrontation between band and listener is your bag, then the gristle throbs for thee. But if you're anyone else, you're quite likely to despise this, and it's debatable whether or not you'll be able to sit through the whole thing even once.
All four members of Throbbing Gristle continued to record after the band's breakup in 1980-- P-Orridge in Psychic TV, Christopherson in the groundbreaking Coil, and Carter and Tutti as Chris and Cosey-- and the band's influence has only grown over the years. It's nice that the good, sick folks at Thirsty Ear have finally given us a good look at their formative years by issuing this, but proceed with caution and know that you're entering a twisted world where pop sense doesn't exist and accessibility dies a lonely death.
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Measured over the past 3 months (Last update: 11/27/2007)