Guest review: Joy Division – “Unknown Pleasures” (1979, Factory Records)

 

Sometimes, for different reviewers, there are such albums that they wouldn’t even dare to review – such an influence they had on them, or such an emotional effect, that they wouldn’t even dare to attempt evaluate their feelings for it. Such albums for yours truly are The Beatles’ “Revolver”, My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless”, probably a couple of others, and this one. However, it would be incredibly far from the truth to say that “Unknown Pleasures” by Joy Division is this for me only, because lots of indie bands today owe a huge debt to this album – it wouldn’t be too exaggerated to say that if there weren’t no “Unknown Pleasures”, the music scene as we know it today would be extremely different.

Let me explain – you know the drill, Joy Division were from Manchester, Ian Curtis hung himself, the rest became New Order and had a lot of money but I’d say it’s beyond the point – “Unknown Pleasures” was one of the first records to turn the anger of punk inwards, rather than outwards. While John Lydon’s first album with Public Image Ltd., one of the first post-punk ones, still had violent jabs at religion, Malcolm McLaren, celebrity and whatnot, “Unknown Pleasures” is lyrically devoted entirely to Curtis’ literate, desperate, abstract, yet suprisingly thinly veiled pleads for attention, and for human connection. No small wonder that many kids afterwards, who felt disillusioned and detached from their peers, picked up Joy Division’s oeuvre and absorbed it.

Then, there’s the production – even though Martin Hannett was one of the most unbearable producers to work with (would you work with a man who turns the temperature in the recording booth down to get some kind of “Arctic” feeling from the performance?), he was also practically the man who singlehandedly sculpted the Joy Division sound, emphasizing the spatial aspects of the sound, rather than the performances of the band. This is where the rest comes into play: Bernard Sumner (then Albrecht-Dicken), Peter Hook and Stephen Morris’s performances are economic, concise and straight to the point. Peter Hook, in particular, deemphasizes the bass in stark contrast to Public Image Ltd.’s Jah Wobble, opting to play high notes and most of the riffs rather than the latter’s thunderous, earth-shattering tones (it’s not as bad thing as I’m describing anyway), Sumner favoring texture over leads and Morris sticking mostly to the minimalistic, simple at first sight drum patterns.

As the result of all this, the music strikes quite a monochrome sensation with the listener – just like most of the band’s photos, and their LP covers. Speaking of covers, the minimalist design of the record sleeve, done by Peter Saville, has established the image of Factory Records for years to come, and also served as the possible inspiration for the indie designers to come, together with Vaughan Oliver and v23 who worked for 4AD. So yeah, this album was influential in all aspects you could possibly imagine, as well as their next album, “Closer”, that will be reviewed by The Death of CDs itself sometime later.

Sergey Konovalov / Love Songs on the Radio

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