October 22: Einsturzende Neubaten, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Faust, Genesis, Throbbing Gristle, Yes, John Zorn

In Clive Barker’s ‘Cabal’, there’s a place called Midian which is a sanctuary for all the freaks, monsters and outsiders with nowhere else to go. This week’s collection is kind of like that: square pegs in round holes anywhere else, here they find their square holes to go in. We’re going from Genesis to Genesis P-Orridge as we look at some of the weirder stuff on the list, and take in some of the prog oddities – sorry, odysseys – too. Hold onto your hats…

Einsturzende Neubaten, ‘Kollaps’ (not on Spotify)

The main things I knew about Neubaten were that Blixa Bargeld also plays in the Bad Seeds, and that they’ve often upset venues by trying to drill through the stage. Most of their better-known albums are on Spotify but, in another of the list’s trademark curveballs, the one that makes the cut is their hard-to-source debut. Comprising of Blixa on vocals and guitar with two found-item percussionists, the album is mostly a bracing mix of shouting over sheet metal pounding and power tools: imagine if Killing Joke only used items found in a scrap yard. When a melody finally surfaces, it’s ‘Je T’Aime (Moi Non Plus)’, renamed ‘Jet’M’. The title track is the most accessible thing here, but it’s relative: little resembles ‘normal’ music. Exciting in small doses, this is an unsettling, disorientating experience.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ (link)

Utter crap but sort of a historical curio in how major labels worked in the 70s: they didn’t want to put out ELP’s classical covers album, but were galvanised to do so when the band’s album about a Mesolithic armoured armadillo sold well. This is Mussorgsky’s multi-part opus re-arranged for rock band, with some cruddy new words and segue sections added (Greg Lake’s solo bit ‘The Sage’ sounds like Floyd’s ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’). You can imagine Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer tearing their hair out as organ solo follows organ solo almost as clearly as you can imagine your older brother arguing with his mates about which way the seven-sided die landed in a room that stinks of weed. Fortunately, this is our last visit to ELP, possibly my least favourite band of the project.

Faust, ‘Faust IV’ (link)

The fourth and last album of the German band’s original incarnation and supposedly the one where they sold out, containing two actual songs (‘The Sad Skinhead’ and the masterful ‘Jennifer’. It’s not exactly ‘Let’s Dance’, though: it starts with a ten-minute Tangerine Dream drone called ‘Krautrock’ and each track seems to subvert expectations set by the previous one.

Genesis, ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ (not on Spotify)

Our final visit to Genesis is also Peter Gabriel’s last album with the band. Sorry Patrick Bateman, but no Phil Collins-led albums. This is a 90-minute opus about a Puerto Rican called Rael who undertakes a strange subterranean adventure following a blackout. Its most striking image, and perhaps one that came to define 70s prog ridiculousness, is of Gabriel adopting the persona of the fearsome Slippermen while a bandmate plays a double-necked guitar:

slipperman.jpg

There’s a lot of bloat and meander on this album, of course, but the album features at least one excellent song in ‘Carpet Crawlers’.

Throbbing Gristle, ‘DOA: The Third and Final Report’ (link)

Neither the band’s third album nor their final one, ‘DOA’ also feels like an unexpected inclusion over ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’. Here, the proto-industrial art collective technically include the single (‘United’, sped up so it lasts just 0:16), contribute four solo tracks and make impenetrably bleak, grisly songs as if soundtracking a JG Ballard reading. The album’s primary ingredients are moody, beatless abstractions, muttered vocals and uncompromising noise: sounds that would perhaps be better supported if only there was a synth and a drum machine behind them, as Nine Inch Nails and KMFDM later realised. The best stuff here is the Krautrock-ish ‘AB/7A’ and ‘Dead on Arrival’. The Gristle’s grim sound isn’t for everyone, and they’re certainly not to my taste, but I’m glad they’re on here to offset some of the tuneful-but-uninspiring fare elsewhere. (Best wishes too to TG frontperson Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, diagnosed with leukemia this week.)

Yes, ‘Fragile’ (link)

I’ve kind of become fond of Yes through this project, ‘The Yes Album’ being my favourite. This is the follow-up to that album, and sees a significant personnel shift with Rick Wakeman joining the band and contributing a Brahms cover as early as track 2. I always thought Jon Anderson’s voice was the band’s defining feature, but I’m starting to think it’s actually Chris Squire on bass: many of the songs here, such as ‘Roundabout’ and ‘South Side of the Sky’, are driven by a robust rhythm section mixed high and demanding attention. The album is maybe a bit too tricksy for my taste overall, but they’re less alienatingly tedious than their reputation or their peers.

John Zorn, ‘Spy vs Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman’ (not on Spotify)

Ornette Coleman was a saxophonist who released a seminal album, ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’, which isn’t on the list. I’ve listened to it; its Fast Show atonal skronk is about as accessible as Sun Ra. On this album, Zorn fuses that sound with what sounds like Napalm Death’s rhythm section, resulting in a blending of free jazz and grindcore. I mean, fucking hell right? Released in 1988 and therefore the only jazz album post-1980 to make the list, this is an aggressive, hectic take on the genre which could have breathed more life into jazz, but instead is without any real precedent or antecedent. The most listenable thing here is ‘Feet Music’, which starts with a conventional 80s 4/4 rhythm section jam and has the saxes playing identifiable melodies for once. Almost definitely one I won’t be listening to again.

Next week: it’s Editor’s Choice! After this week, it might just have to be seven of the most melodic records I can find…

Status update: 665 listened to (66%), 336 remain.

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Author: JT Wilson

Listening to all of the albums in the '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' book (2006 edition).

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