Some people say that The Beatles or Led Zeppelin or Elvis invented rock'n'roll. But to say such a thing for a genre as diverse as rock'n'roll would be foolish. However, when it comes to the origins of the british noise/art movement known as Industrial, there can be no mistake that Throbbing Gristle were the first: they made the sound, they formed the label, hell they even came up with the word.
The Second Annual Report of Throbbing Gristle is neither an annual report nor a second one. The "formal report" approach to the album is a satire on the "industrial" world of 70s london in which the band formed.
That said, on SAR, the band (transvestite Genesis P-orridge, technology freak Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, and "junkie hangers on" Cosey Fanni-Tutti and Chris Carter) take their lack of musical knowledge and turn it on the listener from the first listen.
On "Slug Bait" (the first one), a slowly pulsing drone is matched by waning sirens as a decidedly creepy Genesis P-orridge describes a home invasion to the pregnant woman whos husband he is mutilating, in his gentle but indifferent monotone that makes such later TG tracks such as "Hamburger Lady" so eerie. Its time to check your cd liner notes. Yes, this album did come out just 12 months after the skyrocket success of punk in london. When "god save the queen" was the most offensive thing on earth, Genesis and co. were 'singing' of eating babies.
The following 2 tracks are live tracks of "Slug Bait", neither of which greatly resemble the first track at all. All distorted car sounds and radio samples, the two tracks are more experiments in aleatoric instrumentation than alternate takes on a TG classic.
The same technique is used for Maggot Death, with the first version being the 'definer' track, comprised of reverb-laden knob-turning and gasping, howling vocal tyrades, climaxing in a sea of white noise. The next three versions of Maggot Death are just experiments under the same name, with Maggot Death (2) and (3) each under the 1:40 mark. As a matter of technicality, (3) is just Chris Carter swearing at the crowd at the Rat Club, calling them "ignorant ***heads" before a brief punk-break (clearly provided by another band) ends the track.
After Cease To Exist is the soundtrack to a short film compiled by the band under the title Coum Productions. Taking a lead from cocaine-era Brian Eno, the song takes uneasy bass tones and overlays them with shimmering and beautiful synth twitters, which are soon lost to grinding distortion spikes, as the song bends itself and the listener all the way past 20 minutes in length, turning in every direction possible short of an accessible one.
Zyclon B Zombie pounds uneasily on your ears for a few minutes, nothing more than a clattering tempo of untuned guitar strum and tape loops, recorded on a walkman at the back of a club.
United closes the album on a bizzarely clean note, with audible melodies from both the synthesisers and Genesis' vocals, and even a solid BPM throughout the whole song, sounding like the Clash cut up with ketamine and heroin.
Second Annual Report is a brash, fearsome and chilling collection of songs from a groundbreaking band. To some it will be nothing more than an unaccesible experiment. To other (and mainly fans of the genre) it will be a masterful demonstration of minimalism and animalism designed to rethink the bonudaries of popular music
4 and a half stars.