It was 1982 when Throbbing Gristle last released an album of new material. It is now 25 years after that. Of course these artists are going to sound a little different than they used to. Quite frankly, it’s a bit of a wonder that they’re all still alive and kicking. The members of Throbbing Gristle have developed and grown as people, not just as musical conduits over the last 20-odd years. They’ve seen worldwide wars, they’ve seen walls fall, they’ve seen trends pass, they’ve seen friends die. Twenty-five years can do a lot to a person, much less a group of four people.
Also, the itty bitty piece of the musical landscape that Throbbing Gristle inhabits has irrevocably changed in that time. The ideas that Throbbing Gristle introduced have been taken to logical conclusions: “power noise” is now its own genre, the idea of “industrial” music (a term all but coined by the record label, Industrial Records, put together by the voice of Throbbing Gristle, Genesis P-Orridge) that has been warped and twisted to the point of near-meaningless by metal bands with synthesizers, and you can hardly walk across the street without running into another European avant-garde band/collective with its own MySpace page. Whether they realize it or not, the majority of these bands owe a huge debt to Throbbing Gristle for directly or indirectly influencing the thrust of their musical exploits. While it may be that Throbbing Gristle owes a tremendous debt to the ideals of Metal Machine Music and the musique concrète movement, they fused these ideals with an often rhythmic, mystical sensibility that continues to resonate with those fixated on the anti.
As such, it should be enough to placate our hunger for Throbbing Gristle material that the band continues to exist; that they go beyond this existential acceptance and produce music worthy of their history and the legacy they spawned is another happy matter entirely.
Part 2: The Endless Not is the name of the album, and maybe it’s a midlife crisis of sorts, but it sounds like a core of musicians who have rediscovered whatever spark it was that led them to create the entity that they are now so often defined by. Genesis P-Orridge sounds remarkably similar to the way he did all those years ago, with the added traits of wisdom and the layers of pain that only a full life can bring appended to his largely impenetrable, reed-thin vocal style. Programmer Peter Christopherson takes some time out from his Thai life of leisure to put many of the lessons he learned in his 20-plus years with Coil to good use. Chris Carter has a lifetime of ambient, rhythmic soundscaping to bring to the newly-formed table, and Cosey Fanni Tutti offers her never-dormant flair for artistry and a bit of non-conventional instrumentation. Together again, they are different and yet the same, artists with now-diverse musical backgrounds creating musick for those willing to ignore the obvious and embrace the experimental.
Part 2 hits hardest when Throbbing Gristle acts as a band, a collective whose members are fully collaborating with each other. The opening pair of tracks are among the most incredible bits of experimental whatzit that have been foisted on a patient public in the last year or two; opener “Vow of Silence” takes the noise-centric side of Throbbing Gristle into the digital age with a glitch-heavy pastiche of splorchy beats and P-Orridge’s mangled screech, while the utterly fascinating, nine-minute “Rabbit Snare” combines creepy atmospherics with disembodied pianos and a resigned, fatigued P-Orridge adding his “simply insidious” (as he so often repeats in the song) voice. P-Orridge steals “Almost a Kiss”, a painful bit of drunken rumination that might have been written a few years ago by The Legendary Pink Dots, and the entire ensemble comes through with the most perfect collaboration on the entire album in the form of “Endless Not” a song that Coil might have written in the early ‘90s. The beats propel it forward, while the string hits lend it an air of drama that these four might not have had in them 25 years ago.
Given the success of the collaborative work, it’s almost disappointing that the members couldn’t have concentrated on that rather than the tangential solo work that takes up four of the ten tracks on the album. Carter and Tutti, in a result indicative of their close relationship even in the time since Throbbing Gristle last worked together, put together relatively short ambient works, decent enough for what they are, but somewhat out of place on this particular album. P-Orridge’s track, intriguingly titled “The Worm Takes its Turn”, is quite interesting in the multitude of ways it progresses in its short running time, though it sounds as though it would have benefited from the cohesion that collaboration brings. And finally, there is Christopherson’s beautiful closer “After the Fall”, quite pretty and delicate with some small piano touches, though it would have fit better on the next tribute to John Balance than it does on a Throbbing Gristle record with as much vitality as this one surprisingly wields.
That said, none of the solo work is bad, per se, nor is it even particularly self-indulgent; rather, it’s their mere placement next to the endlessly interesting work that Throbbing Gristle as a band has created in Part 2‘s other six tracks. For those looking for the old Throbbing Gristle, it’s in here, but not in the ways you might expect or even hope. This is a Throbbing Gristle that has expanded its aesthetic, one that finds just as much power in the atmosphere, in the stillness of a quiet night in the Amazon as it did in the center of the Sun. I haven’t until now been alive long enough to have experienced the wonder of a new Throbbing Gristle release; now that I have, I can only say that it was worth the wait.