Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Top 100 Albums of the 1970s - #91 - Throbbing Gristle - 20 Jazz Funk Great (1978)

One of the reasons I chose this Top 100 list from Pitchfork Magazine instead of, say, Rolling Stone, is that they’re not afraid to include groups like Throbbing Gristle, bands that everybody hates and no one listens to, but which were undeniably important in the development of modern music.

For the record, I don’t hate Throbbing Gristle. I think they’re awesome.

I've already reviewed this album once for this blog, but for the sake of continuity and a fresh pair of ears, I am happy to do so again. Throbbing Gristle emerged out of the English working class, where poverty, post-colonialism, and a declining influence in the world left many young people feeling alienated and disaffected. Throbbing Gristle channeled their misanthropy and hopelessness into making "industrial music for industrial people," melding post-punk and proto-electronica into something that was as bleak and cold as their teenage surroundings.

20 Jazz Funk Greats is the band's third official album, and sees them branching out from their noisy and distorted roots, crafting some pretty sophisticated and moody music. The album obviously owes a debt to early lounge music, as evidenced both by the title track and the similar "Exotica" which recalls some of the sounds popularized by Les Baxter and Martin Denny, albeit in a more perverse way. In contrast to the in your face aggression of the first two albums, this album is more like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet: sinister depravity lurking underneath a seemingly benign exterior.

For example, Beachy Head sounds like a lovely spot to go for a stroll until you realize that it’s a leading spot for suicide jumpers in Britain. Hot on the Heels of Love resembles a perfectly pleasant dance track, but the deadpan delivery of the group's chanteuse, Cosey Fanni Tutti, is almost pleading: “waiting for help from above”. The way the line is said makes it clear that the wished for help is not coming.

Elsewhere, frontman Genesis P-Orridge is in characteristically creepy form, as he sings about "Persuasion" and "Convincing People" to do things it's clear that they're going to regret very soon. In fact, this could be seen as a sort of theme for the record, as it lures you in with its slick and subdued beats only to yield much that is deeply disturbing. Rather than bombard listeners with feedback and growling, 20 Jazz Funk Greats persuades them, although they may not enjoy having themselves persuaded in the long run. 

I would be remiss not to talk about Throbbing Gristle's influence. In addition to basically inventing the industrial genre single-handedly, and spawning future acts like Coil, Psychic TV, and Chris & Cosey, the band's electronic experiments and penchant for minimalism and mind-altering substances went a long way towards inspiring trance music, not to mention their contributions to numerous experimental artists who have collaborated with the band members over the years. Throbbing Gristle took punk's anarchy and turned it up to eleven, not in volume, but in anti-establishment aesthetics, leading many of us to question our very notions of what constitutes music. For that alone, they deserve a place in history.

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