X-TG: Desertshore / The Final Report (Industrial)
Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni-Tutti, perhaps most prolific as Chris & Cosey or, more recently, Carter-Tutti, have certainly earned their spot in music history if only for their roles as one half of industrial pioneering act Throbbing Gristle. After Genesis P-Orridge abruptly left TG during the 2010 reunion, Peter Christopherson died, leaving a series of sessions the group was working on only partially complete. Carter and Tutti took it upon themselves to salvage the sessions, which included an ambitious take on Nico’s 1970 album Desertshore. Since Genesis left the group, they replaced his vocals with a series of guest vocalists instead, and they labeled the project X-TG, which somehow seems entirely appropriate. I’m curious to know whether the project would be better off or not with his vocals, but they made do with several guests to good effect. Cosey’s voice is the closest to Nico’s, so her tracks sound the most faithful of the bunch. Antony lends his quivering falsetto to “Janitor of Lunacy,” which is surprisingly effective to me given that I’m not a fan generally. But perhaps one of the more inspired casting calls went out to Blixa Bargeld from Einstürzende Neubauten, an act that has its own special place in the upper echelons of industrial music history. He contributes German vocals to “Abscheid” and “Mutterlein,” which seems so obvious and perfect that I can’t imagine it being any other way here. And Marc Almond truly nails it with his take on “The Falconer,” one of the most haunting track’s on Nico’s original that’s done beautiful justice here. My only gripe is the misguided choice of Sasha Grey for vocals on “Afraid.” Certainly one cannot fault Throbbing Gristle’s members for picking a porn star to perform vocals (Cosey herself had been involved in stripping and pornography in her younger days, and was far from a trainer singer). And there’s some beautiful irony in having her perform “Afraid,” the most stark and pretty piano ballad to be found on Desertshore’s original recording. However, I can’t help but think it’s a missed opportunity — Grey and X-TG’s take on it here is a plodding, tuneless dirge. Conceptually it’s clever, but it misses the mark in the execution for me… maybe I’m just too much of a loyalist to the original material.
The Final Report is a much more scathing slab of music, culled from Christopherson’s recordings of the trio (sans P-Orridge). Carter and Tutti have obviously labored these with love, and I’m curious to know how it would’ve sounded if GPO had stuck around to add to them. But that missing element lends a certain sparseness here, and Christopher’s unfortunate passing qualifies it with an added layer of gravity and moroseness. Add to it the contentious rift between the remaining three members and the bit of animosity that ensued, and there’s an unusual mix of emotional over or undertones to be found throughout the double-album. I read a review elsewhere that claimed that these records don’t sound like TG much at all, but then again TG rarely sounded like TG more than once. It’s what makes the TG members so interesting to follow over time, that they evolve and continually shift focus. I find the disembodied horn and atonal drones and textures of The Final Report to not be so far off from their more patient wandering heard on vintage releases like their score to Derek Jarman’s In The Shadow of the Sun, or the cacophony of the live Heathen Earth sessions, but obviously more refined and sophisticated if only by virtue of being decades later in the players’ lives. After Christopherson had decades of Coil material under his belt and Carter and Tutti had dozens of Chris & Cosey releases and other projects, it only makes sense that this sense of refinement would creep in here. Still, what it lacks in subversion it makes up for in interesting shapes and forms. “Un Dom Dom” is an unexpected melodic reprieve (complete with vocoder vocal) after the first block of more truly industrial soundscapes, while “Emerge to Space Jazz” shows off Cosey’s cornet amidst a sea of wandering, sparse sounds. Overall, one’s only reminded simultaneously how influential the members’ work has been, directly or indirectly, and how harder it is to surprise or subvert decades later. As a listener, I’m certainly comfortable enjoying the fruits of their labor without subjecting them to some culture shock litmus test. And on those merits alone, both of these albums, especially as two sides of a coin, are quite compelling listening.