Listening to Throbbing Gristle (Northern British slang for a boner) sort of feels like listening to a band that’s making fun of music, and, by extension, making fun of you for being interested. On “Bloody Loser,” you can almost hear TG frontman Genesis P-Orridge growl mockingly as you slide this (unnecessary?) second “greatest hits” album into your CD player. True, The Taste of TG toes the line of surfeit. The Greatest Hits collection documented a lot of this material into a semi-listenable collection already, and can I just mention that the 24-hour-long 24 Hours of TG, which documents all (or at least very close to all) of TG’s live performances actually exists? That alone should obviate the joke factor of this whole project.
The impossibility and absurdity of choosing “greatest hits” for this band was built into their conception. Founded in 1975, Throbbing Gristle had more in common with the oft confusion-producing Western European visual-art culture of the ’70s than with their musical peers, although they occasionally ripped-off contemporaries and/or mocked them to great effect. Their project was to mimic the mechanization, brutality and banal vacancy of late-20th century life in a capitalist country, and the product became what we now call industrial music. The industrial message has since been mixed and mutated by a few generations of offspring, and what’s most obviously missing is Throbbing Gristle’s humor, which comes across both lyrically and musically in The Taste of TG. From the brutally gross lyrics describing the either badly burned or very fat (both, probably) woman in “Hamburger Lady” to the amazingly intolerable noodling of “Dead on Arrival,” this band’s hilarity seems to have slipped through the cracks in contemporary summations.
The band, which disbanded in 1981, is tough to love but easy to respect, and the glimmers of listenability (enjoyable, even!) on The Taste of TG are enough to make you smirk knowingly when P-Orridge screams violently over a hiss of noise for five minutes on the next track. The dance-pop moments (“Hot on the Heels of Love,” “United,” “Distant Dreams — Part Two,” “Something Came Over Me,” “Walkabout”) are great, and undoubted sarcasm on the part of authors notwithstanding, deserve to be considered synth-pop classics on par with early Human League, OMD, and Kraftwerk. Surely they could have attained notoriety (in the socially acceptable sort of way) had they kept banging them out, but the majority of TG’s “music” falls somewhere between boring noise manipulations and indiscernible conversations to psychotic yelling. By comparison, contemporary lightweight “art-crossover” bands like Fischerspooner and Chicks on Speed don’t hold a candle.
The Taste of TG addresses the “I wonder what the hell this band sounded like live” question (sloppy, effects-heavy, spacey, directionless) with three live songs, all previously released. Actually, there’s hardly any such thing as an unreleased Throbbing Gristle recording anymore, especially given the exhaustive a fully comprehensive collection of live material. Their Bob Pollard-like penchant for committing anything and everything to tape is a little annoying and a little narcissistic, but because it’s such a crucial element of their aural terrorism, a little charming too.