Photo: Paul Heartfield / Courtesy of Mute Records

Throbbing Gristle Sounded Only Half Alive on ‘Part Two: The Endless Not’

The promised new album emerged in 2007 mashing together an EP's worth of new Throbbing Gristle, four outtakes from the band members' solo work, and two songs hanging around since their reformation in 2004.

Part Two: The Endless Not
Throbbing Gristle
December 2019

The blizzard of activity in 2004 — the TG+ box-set, the one disc introduction to the band’s music The Taste of TG, the TG Now EP, the Re-TG show and then the festival appearance and accompanying live record closing out the year — all seemed to herald a renewed hustle and bustle in the Throbbing Gristle camp. Instead, there was a single performance in mid-2005, then a two night stand in Berlin marking New Year’s Eve/Day, a 15-month hiatus before returning to a stage, and substantial delays before a promised album of new material finally appeared in April 2007. Unfortunately, the apparent lack of enthusiasm for the prolongation of Throbbing Gristle’s existence also mars that record — Part Two: The Endless Not.

For a start, despite only being ten songs long, the album is disrupted by the inclusion of one self-penned effort from each Throbbing Gristle member. The idea had worked on 1978’s D.O.A. because the band was the core entity through which everyone’s energies were channeled, and the results meshed with the overall vibe of the record. Here in the mid-2000s, Throbbing Gristle existed as a temporary realignment of four very different musical paths, so these solo works contribute to an air of incoherence. That’s not to say that the songs in question — “Separated”, “Above the Below”, “After the Fall”, or “The Worm Waits Its Turn” — are bad. They’re all exceedingly high class. The issue is that they all sound like castoffs from other projects and have nothing to do with how the music composed by the whole band sounds. There’s a feeling that everyone involved was trying to bulk up this release to album length to minimize the amount of time they needed to spend composing in one another’s company.

A further distraction, if one had caught TG Now or Live December 2004, was that there are two songs reprised from those releases and they’re wedged alongside one another like a hiatus in the middle of the record. To its credit, the ultimate iteration of “Almost a Kiss” feels fuller, less tentative, compared to the version on TG Now. A cleaner sounding take, the vocal effects have been pruned and the skittish undercurrents silenced in favor of a lush backdrop of swaying synthesized strings, woozy choral chanting and that xylophone rhythm, with P-Orridge’s voice pushed even more to the fore. The merits of the song more than justify its place. “Greasy Spoon”, by contrast, sounds inferior to the live rendition, plodding its way for close on ten minutes across a landscape of haphazardly scattered sonic adornments, with a core rhythm that never interacts with or acknowledges the presence of any other element.

Aside from the solo compositions and the reiterations, there are only four new Throbbing Gristle songs on the album. What’s frustrating is they all suggest precisely the glorious potential that the band hinted at in 2004. The album opener, “Vow of Silence”, tears from the speakers hacking P-Orridge’s voice up until it resembles the trill of a car alarm or a modem malfunction, then rams a chainsaw of guitar right through the instrumental. It’s the earache many had been hoping for from the moment Throbbing Gristle stepped back into the spotlight.

The industrial lounge ambiance of “Rabbit Snare” sees P-Orridge at h/er disquieting best, whispering stalker come-ons in a tone creepily devoid of conscience. Similarly, the musical mood manages to evoke something comfortable and safe, then sours it. The piano staggers a little too unpredictably; Tutti’s cornet playing strangles every incomplete phrase; a distant backdrop of soft howls and yells surges and retreats; a Hammond organ solo feels simultaneously out of place and so SO right. “Lyre Liar” is gloriously horrible with P-Orridge sounding like a person staked out in the desert, intoning a last hateful accusation from vocal cords turned to leather. “Endless Not” is a colder presence in which samples knife the air, machinery whirs into life, competing beats make war against one other destabilizing the whole structure.

The album cover features a shot of Mount Kailash, a place of multiple meanings depending on religious persuasion or worldly context, implying some attempt to frame the album perhaps as the simultaneous coexistence of fragmentation and unity. Ultimately though, the album really could do with a more substantial identity, something pulling it together and establishing its presence. Instead, it feels disjointed, like there’s nothing these people can say to each other, let alone say to us. It isn’t simply a bad album. The solo works are all effective but belong somewhere else, the band songs are all effective, but there are too few of them to carry an album-length experience. That’s what’s frustrating. There’s so much promise when the band has an idea — as on “Vow of Silence” — and put in the work to execute it succinctly. In the end, it does provide one answer to the question: why TG Now in the 21st century? Answer: why (Endless) Not? The joke is on anyone who expected an answer that wasn’t another question, or an unambiguous grand statement or conventional reformation. Throbbing Gristle were always a funny band. Ha. Ha. Ha.

RATING 6 / 10