This is the first in a series of music reviews. The focus will be on new releases or classic albums that I still listen to and enjoy today. My taste in music covers all genres and time periods, but few albums can last the ravages of time and retain their potency and magic.
Review Number: 1
Review Date: 12 November 2012
Album: Unknown Pleasures
Artist: Joy Division
Release Date: 1979
Genres: New Wave, Post-Punk
Once the sound and fury of the English punk revolution in the late 1970s had subsided, a new order of post-punk emerged. Probably the greatest of those bands was Joy Division and their debut studio album Unknown Pleasures, released in 1979, is an astonishing work of dark energy.
“I’ve got the spirit, but lose the feeling.”
Opening track “Disorder” races out of the blocks, driven by pulsating drums and bass. Yes, it has that punk feeling, but this is more cerebral and abstract. There’s no talk of rebellion or politics on this whole album. It’s an analysis of love, sorrow and betrayal; which enables it to stand the test of time so well.
The band were only in their early 20s and had formed in 1976. But after plenty of gigs and sessions they began to refine their skills and find their voice. The mixture of musical influences – Iggy Pop, Bowie, Velvet Underground – and the grim environment of 1970s Manchester, helped to create their distinct music. Nobody has ever quite captured their essence since.
“I did everything, everything I wanted to, I let them use you for their own ends.”
On tracks like “Candidate” and “I Remember Nothing” the sound is stripped down to the bare bones. While on “Shadowplay” and “Interzone” the volume and speed are cranked to the max for hardcore rock. All of this is underpinned by the production of Martin Hannett. He added a collection of disturbing sounds – glass breaking and eerie echoes – which augment the whole experience.
Joy Division’s influence on others is testament to their legacy. The vast majority of modern indie bands cite them as having an impact. Moby memorably covered “New Dawn Fades”, which was used to great effect in the 1995 film “Heat”. The Killers had a stab at “Shadowplay”, but their version is insipid and passionless.
“Guess the dreams always end, they don’t rise up just descend, but I don’t care anymore, I’ve lost the will to want more.”
Unknown Pleasures never offers easy listening, but it’s a work of art containing a brutal elegance that rose well above all its peers in 1979. The lyrics of Ian Curtis are brilliant and heartfelt, and show how this well-read young man was enthralled by the literature of J.G. Ballard and William Burroughs.
“I guess you were right, when we talked in the heat, there’s no room for the weak.”
A year after the album’s release, lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide. It’s a tragic story well documented and adds poignancy to the lyrics and driving force behind its creation.
Side one: Outside
2. Day of the Lords
5. New Dawn Fades
Side two: Inside
6. She’s Lost Control
10. I Remember Nothing