33 1/3 :: 20 Jazz Funk Greats, Drew Daniel [Continuum, 2008, $10.95]
Pop is, by its very nature, glossy and superficial, glancing off complexity and thorny ambivalences with blithe assurance.
With 20 Jazz Funk Greats, Throbbing Gristle attempt—in their own profoundly warped way— to make peace with pop music’s influence upon them; at the same time, the album plays out with such profound ambivalence —running hot and cold all at once, constantly vacillating between attraction and repulsion and back again— that its exploration of “pop” becomes heavily weighted —its like a mille-feuille of ironic distance. Upon its release in 1979, TG’s third full-length album was received with head-scratching condescension for the most part. Daniel’s artfully written little volume makes the case for this strange, unlikable album and its often unpalatable charms.
Alluring and repellent in equal measure, the group’s masterwork remains indelible for the ways in which it reworks the last vestiges of 60s optimism (as evinced in psychedelia and prog) with the darker, more ambivalent strains of punk and post-punk. In this way the band doesn’t simply straddle genres but whole philosophical, moral and sexual divides. This is what makes their music so enduringly strange and repugnant —yet fascinating.
I fell into this book like Alice down an unfathomably dark rabbit-hole. It reads like a riveting detective novel, so concisely has Daniel (AKA one half of Matmos) woven personal history (both TG’s and his own), (un)reliable narration (thanks to the members of TG themselves, contradictory bastards the lot of them), close dissection (a forensic/anatomic tack being particularly appropriate with TG) and overarching pop-cultural critique.
I haven’t read Steven Ford’s Wreckers of Civilisation, but this tiny volume on only one album in the massive TG oeuvre situates the group so powerfully in the appropriate historical, personal, and musical contexts that I never wanted the book to end. It’s a vivid, revealing, and very personal work that is beautifully written from start to finish, and my favorite of the 33 1/3s so far.
For a more in-depth discussion of the book, Brainwashed has a great interview with Drew about his just-published volume here.
FROM LEFT: GEN, CHRIS, COSEY, SLEAZY | INDUSTRIAL RECORDS PROMO CIRCA 1978