Review Summary: Unrelenting and just as cutting-edge 40 years on.
When it comes to listening to music, very few things disturb me or give me the shivers where it feels like someone has stepped on my grave. Sure, I listen to hundreds of bands that go out of their way to talk about taboo subjects, or have an aesthetic or appearance that tries to make you feel disgusted, but in my opinion, it’s all theatrics. Indeed, I’ve very rarely felt true terror being poured into my eardrums -- bar a very exclusive few artists that have managed to break this wall, and I can safely say Throbbing Gristle are at the top of the pile.
The era of which Throbbing Gristle’s debut LP dropped was at a perfect time where freedom of speech and rebellion were taking hold in England; at a time where punk rock was exploding, and all sights were on one seminal band: Sex Pistols. The thing that I’ve always found staggering was in 1977, when all eyes were on Sex Pistols for their dirty image and controversial album, Never Mind the Bollocks
, just how the hell did this album fall so low under the radar" It’s clear that both Government and critic were lured into the media sideshow of the scene than what the band were actually singing about. Because had censorship and the protection of inappropriate content reaching minors been the real issue, then during that same year The Second Annual Report
should have been hung, drawn and quartered for what it was offering. Yes, when comparing the two releases for its subject matter, it would equate to having your 4-year-old child watching Sesame Street, followed by a hefty viewing of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Where Never Mind the Bollocks
seems extremely tame in comparison today, The Second Annual Report
still has a relenting hold on its listener; and had the media circus actually cottoned on to this album at the time, I suspect things might have been a little different.
The proper opening track, “Slug Bait”, welcomes its listeners to a saturated sound palette of dreary, bleak and depressive electronic ambient samples and synth textures, to which an unhinged and spastic-like voice tells the tale of an intruder breaking into the home of a couple where he brutally attacks them: cutting the testacies off of the husband, before moving on to the pregnant wife where he performs an “operation” with his knife, ripping the 7-month old baby out from her womb, before killing it. This is just one of the cheery topics pertained here, with other subjects ranging from other nutcases (or the same person depending on how you look into it) who go out committing heinous crimes; such as setting off to rape someone but then having an overwhelming urge to kill them instead. The subject matter is not to be taken lightly, and the band’s stylistic choices of music making result in these tales becoming all the more graphic and vulgar.
Lyrical content is only the tip of the iceberg here though, as the album itself contains a monumental importance to industrial music in the future: largely considered to be one of the founders for the genre in question, The Second Annual Report
contains some truly awe-inspiring compositions; blending a new kind of style with their electronics, while utilizing the template from a movie score. This thing is best described as Blade Runner trapped in hell. The record itself is a rather weird concoction of tracks: containing a couple of studio recordings, but for the most part being dominated by live recordings from several different gigs and venues: “Slug Bait” is split into three tracks, focusing on the music and sounds in a much more dynamic and textured way than the latter half of the LP; while the three parts of “Maggot Death” explore a much more abrasive attack, with the last segment of the tale being one of the members abusing its audience for being idiots. This creates an extremely engaging blend to the album’s tone and flow, and is something that will have you gripping onto something while you muse over where it’ll go next. The final track is a very interesting 20-minute ambient piece which coincides with the 1978 film After Cease to Exist; this track fires out a range of emotions, from spacey synth and guitar work, to more primal industrial ambient sounds and samples. Overall, an excellent way of closing the album. The 2011 re-release for this record contains a brace of extra content and hears the band expanding further on what they originally built 34 years prior. One such highlight is “Last Exit-Brighton Poly”, which hears our singer discussing Prince Phillip fu**ing the Queen up the arse.
Few albums hold the brass bollocks this has. For its time, it was both lightyears ahead of the game, and a million times more savage and controversial than anything a punk band was singing about. As it stands today, it’s still extremely thought-provoking, disturbing and different to so much out there now. If you’re a fan of bleak ambient records, this is essential. If you’re a fan of industrial music, this should also bear your time. It won’t disappoint.
SPECIAL EDITION: The re-release contains 9 additional tracks for you to tuck into.