With the imminent release of Control the bio-pic of frontman Ian Curtis, the death of Tony Wilson, and former members Hooky and Barney making the news by squabbling over the name New Order, there again seems to be a large rise of interest in one of the most pioneering bands this world has ever seen - Joy Division. Being ones never to miss a trick, the label that owns the rights to the music, Warner Bros., have reissued the debut album Unknown Pleasures complete with a live CD from The Factory Club night on July 13th 1979, and Closer backed with the set from the ULU and Still with a live CD recorded in High Wycombe just days before Curtis took his life (long have I believed that visiting the rotting shit hole of High Wycombe is the most likely reason for his suicide, but that is more fitting for a blog one day).
Released in June of 1979, Unknown Pleasures is one of, if not the, greatest debut albums ever recorded. The sonic wash of Disorder as the guitars and drums flow over you during the intro to the song is something that has long stayed with me; there is something chillingly satisfying about how producer Martin Hannett (trust me we will come back to him time and time again) managed to make Curtis sound like he was singing just to you and you alone. Day of the Lords brutal drone like riffs and simple drum beats fit Curtis pained cries of Where Will it End? so perfectly that you feel dragged into the bands sound.
New Dawn Fades is simply a work of art; there is no other way to describe this song. With Peter Hooks heavy bass line, the dark somber drum line, Bernard Sumners guitar line that floats along throughout the song, and the dark intent in Curtis lyrics as he slowly but surely starts to rise in power with his vocals singing A loaded gun wont set you free / So they say, so they say, this song is what every band wants to write and so few will ever come near. They follow it with Shes Lost Control, which is one heck of dance song, and is also a perfect song to drive through an empty city at night.
While Unknown Pleasure is the better album musically, Closer is something else lyrically. A dark and bumpy ride through the troubled and dark mind of Curtis as he edged closer to the end. From the invitation of the repeated This is the way / Step inside on opener Atrocity Exhibition to the final breath on Decades, you find yourself in a darker place as Curtis opens up with all of his pain and anguish.
Released a little over two months after Curtis death, many see this as a suicide note in musical form. Those that do are missing the point of this album as Curtis rails against his failing health and marriage and the pressures that everyone was heaping on top of him.
Many people that saw them will talk about how great Joy Division were live with Curtis manic dancing and the sheer power of the band on the stage, but I feel that with the help of Hannett they managed to find their sound most truly on record. The use of delay, reverb, and the way both albums fill the space in such strange ways is what makes them so unique. Sure, Hannett may have used the band to experiment in sound but he never made any albums that can hold a candle to the two he made with Joy Division. In fact, it seems to have been that after Curtis death Hannett lost his way. Coincidence or not, after Joy Division there was very little that went right for Martin Hannett.
I often wonder what would have happened to Joy Division if Curtis had managed to make it to America in 1980. Sure, he may have taken his life there or maybe the band would have imploded soon after. We will never know. But what we do have is two perfect albums that have stood the test of time for over twenty-five years, and will probably stand as examples of great music for at least another twenty-five years. When you look back on it and look at the huge influence these two albums have had on most modern music, its almost frightening to think four Manc lads would end up becoming one of the greatest influences on music. Maybe that is the fitting memorial for Curtis.
Unknown Pleasures: 10.0/10
New Order's Movement, 24 Hour Party People, Touching From A Distance
10.0 / 10
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