Review Summary: Ian Brady. Myra Hindley. Very friendly.
"These people are the wreckers of civilisation" - Nicholas Fairbairn
Music that exists with no other intention than to deliberately shock and offend the listener has undoubtedly been around long before the technology to record it has. The Devil's interval is a good example of this, a rise from one note to another that sounds evil, it was as such banned from being used in compositions for hundreds of years, even today it still doesn't find it's way into many compositions, just because it sounds...Foreboding.
If in that case an interval can be evil, what else can be evil, that's not strictly to do with music? Well, how about child murders, death in general, abortion and castration? These are all pretty nasty, and yet on the First Annual Report, Throbbing Gristle genuinely seem to have scoured their imagination for years to compile a list of 'most offensive things you can't ever say to anyone without being shunned socially', and then added music to it.
In 1968, the most radical thing around was the Velvet Underground's genre bending freakout, Sister Ray. As far as experimental tracks go these days, it's been tamed somewhat by artists like Merzbow creating noise collages based on absolutely nothing at all, basically taking the idea to the logical extreme of it being JUST noise. In 1975 though, Throbbing Gristle upped the ante set by the Velvet Underground on the First Annual Report, and in particular, the first track, the eighteen minute Very Friendly.
Very Friendly is essentially a track that features lead vocalist Genesis P-Orridge recalling the grim and absolutely grizzly tale of Edward Evans at the hands of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. As if these two names were not offensive enough, the singer proclaims them to be 'Very Friendly', the songs protagonist seems to float above them constantly, disembodied and constantly narrating their actions, however boring and uninteresting. The 'action' hots up somewhat as the actual murder takes place, with absolutely no expense spared, gory details about the victims futile fight for life, gurgled cries amongst his bloodied head, and bits of brain spraying over the room. Genesis sounds relaxed, even bored throughout the track, documenting a comprehensive list of details of injuries sustained, and where on the body, opening the album with the bizarre and seemingly irrelevant claim that 'It was just another ordinary day in Manchester. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley drinking German wine'. Throughout the track the music bubbles up and threatens to rise in intensity before dying down and allowing Gen his say, until the spine tingling moment twelve minutes in when a character reports the murder. The music subsides into a shimmering and ambient dreamlike drone, with Genesis repeating 'there's been a m-m-murdah' for over five minutes. What a way to open an album, no wonder Throbbing Gristle were proclaimed as wreckers of civilisation.
Thankfully the next track, Dead Bait treats us to a more subtle and less plainly offensive number, a glitchy machine beeps it's abnormal feedback while a thousand flies seem to swarm around it in the background, with random puttering interjections from some unknown hand, which soon become the unseen rhythm, the track builds a momentum to such a level that never actually gets delivered, which makes it considerably more thrilling than if something drastic and deliberately shocking had happened. At this point it is still a natural reaction to be reeling over Very Friendly, the track which looms over this album like a disgusting and offensive phantom.
On 10 Pence, Throbbing Gristle actually submit to the hilarious Devil's interval, with a literally throbbing bass that cuts through the speakers, weaving it's way around Gen's lyrics that seem to be about his anger for having to pay ten pence for something. While it may not say as much as the first track does, it's integration of the interval is vital to this song's mood being one of morbid fascination with bizarre lyrics. Whorle of Sound is another track that is extremely bass heavy, continuing the mood set by the previous track, it unfortunately features no lyrics from Gen, but television samples, which could easily be relevant or completely irrelevant. It becomes at this point quite clear that without enigmatically disgusting lead singer, Throbbing Gristle are no more than a noise band, with him they take on a human persona, and a persona that absolutely everyone in 1975 hated.
Final Muzak and Scars of E, the two final tracks on the album, finish it in an odd way. They are more psychedelic than the harsh and unforgiving white noise experiments heard earlier, and instead they take their cues from the German motorik music of the time, with rhythmic elements leading the former, and Gen's car crash voice demanding your attention on the latter. The album seems to end on a note that the man himself would take up with his later band, Psychic TV.
So what of the First Annual Report? Is it just noise for noise sake? Or is it in fact a brilliantly deliberate ploy to subvert the music scene of 1975? In many ways it's a lot of both, Throbbing Gristle were an extremely deliberate band, with no real tact involved in any of their recordings, as best exemplified on lyrics like 'and there was blood spurting over the Church Of England prayerbook'. But that is the beauty of the band, to see musicians so blase about being hated, derided, and ignored, it offers up a real freedom of sound, that at times sounds like kids making music, but singing about some of the most horrendous topics ever dared to be spoken on record.