Friday, 21 September 2018
Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979)
Released June 1979
Recorded at Strawberry Studios, Stockport
I distinctly remember first seeing Ian Curtis singing with Joy Division on "The Old Grey Whistle Test" for the first time and just thinking "what he hell was that?". This totally wired-up, frankly disturbed-looking weird bloke jerking, as if electrocuted, to a dense, throbbing sombre beat. It all seemed most bizarre and it took me a while to get into Joy Division. Indeed, I have probably appreciated them more in the last twenty years or so than I ever did at the time, when, for a while they simply weren't for me. That said, this was a completely innovative, ground-breaking piece of work and has rightly been acknowledged thus in the subsequent years.
Magazine and Public Image Ltd had started the whole "post punk" thing, but this pretty much wrote the handbook. Dark, brooding, industrially heavy rhythms. Scratchy, metallic guitars. Thumping, sonorous drums. Rumbling deep bass. Introspective, creepily haughty-sounding vocals. It is all so atmospheric and evocative of those dark evenings of 1979-1981. Even the cover is monochrome and full of foreboding.
Not much had been recorded like this before - the rhythmic but disturbing "Disorder" hits like a steam hammer. "Day Of The Lords" continues in the same vein. Just listen to that huge bass on the morose, enervating "Candidate". Also the doom-laden portentous lyrics. It all seems to point to some sort of miserable apocalypse, with the population dying in its own depression.
"Insight" has an intoxicating, deep throbbing rhythm and some wonderful electronic sound effects a minute or so in, as the insistent guitar and programmed drum beat continues, inexorably, like some nightmare you can't shake off. The "when we were young" bit brings to mind Roxy Music's "If There Is Something". "New Dawn Fades" has echoes of David Bowie in places on the vocals. Or maybe Bowie's later work had echoes of this? "She's Lost Control" has always been a favourite of mine, with its eighties electronic percussion sound and beguiling vocals.
"Shadowplay" is another good one. The whole sound influenced so many "electronica" bands. Ultravox's "Vienna" album is full of influences from here as is much of Gang Of Four's material. Peter Hook's bass on "Wilderness" is simply sublime. Booming but melodic in its massiveness. "Interzone" is as rocking as they ever get, with a faster drumbeat and a punky vocal. Things slow down for the spooky, "Heroes"-esque "I Remember Nothing" that also has real hints of The Doors' "The End" about it and some weird breaking-glass noises too. You actually think something has broken in your room at the beginning.
This album is certainly no uplifting one, but it gets under your skin and you become oddly addicted to it.