BY STEVEN ROSEN
Desertshore/The Final Report had a troubled path to completion, but we can be glad its determined creators stayed with it.
X-TG is Throbbing Gristle – the 1970s-originated British avant-garde art-noise outfit that arguably has proved a more influential and long-lasting contribution to contemporary music than its British punk contemporaries – minus singer Genesis P-Orridge.
The group, which had reunited, had wanted to attempt a transformative interpretation of Nico’s 1970 Desertshore album, a tour-de-force of baroquely droning melancholy featuring her husky, longing, isolating voice playing off her harmonium and producer John Cale’s solemn arrangements. It had a sorrowful yet sacred quality that time has never diminished.
In 2007, Throbbing Gristle privately released a limited-edition multi-disc chronicle of its attempts to date, The Desertshore Installation. But P-Orridge subsequently quit, so the other members – Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti – decided to start over with guest vocalists. But then Christopherson died in his sleep in 2010, so the others had to finish a project that now was as much a tribute to him as Nico’s album. It has been released using a name that implies being the remains of Throbbing Gristle.
It’s a tastefully packaged two-CD set that looks like a breast-pocket version of the Beatles’ “White Album.” The second disc, The Final Report, is Carter and Tutti working with material left behind by Christopherson and is not directly related to Desertshore.
The whole project is haunted by mournfulness and death. And that of course suits a Nico tribute well. (A child in Germany during World War II, she died in 1988 at age 49, the result of bicycling injuries in Ibiza. All the existential cruelties of life can be found in her time on earth, but also the ability of music to alleviate them.)
The three Throbbing Gristle members generally favor an atmospherically simmering, ominous minimalism in their use of keyboards, synths, guitars, percussion and sonic treatments. This approach showcases the singers and underscores the beauty and the gravity of the undertaking.
Marc Almond’s voice is wonderful on “The Falconer” as he explores both his low and high ranges. And Antony’s high singing is so swooping and lovely on “Janitor of Lunacy” that he injects an ethereal hopefulness into the song’s gloom, while X-TG’s accompaniment provides overtones of symphonic grandeur.
On two German-language numbers, “Abschied” and “Mutterlein,” Blixa Bargeld – certainly a kindred spirit to Throbbing Gristle – sings with a Brecht-Weill sense of enunciated importance. Tutti’s own singing is empathetic on “My Only Child,” whose gentle soundscape and choral-like harmonies is Eno-esque, while she suitably anchors the more industrial arrangement of “All That Is My Own.”
That leaves two odd ducks, both from the film world’s more extreme quarters. Sasha Grey, the former post-modern porn actress, somewhat tentatively warbles “Afraid,” and director Gasper Noe’s heavily treated croak winds up a footnote in “Le Petit Chevalier’s” no-nonsense repetitive arrangement.
A final selection, an ambient original called “Desertshores,” serves as a way of saying goodbye to the ghosts that haunted both this project and Nico’s life.
DOWNLOAD: “Janitor of Lunacy,” “My Only Child”